The Year in Books

I am reading voraciously at the moment, diving into a book and barely coming up for air in the way I did as a child and a teenager.  I must need the comfort of other worlds.  I have always been a reader but how I read changes as my life does.  When my children were young I could hardly find the time to read novels and developed an addiction to magazines which continues to this day.  When I was working sixty and seventy hour weeks I had very little to spare for reading in a concentrated way and tended to lose myself in gardening books with the occasional foray into chick lit fiction when I was travelling and needed the quick hit of a book for the train or the plane.  I have gradually picked up fiction again since I left work but in the last few months I have become an addict again in the way I was in my teens, whizzing through two or three books a week, sometimes struggling to remember what it was I read last week in the torrent of other books that have followed, reading crime fiction, romantic fiction, historical fiction and modern fiction indiscriminately.  A few years ago I thought I might have finished with fiction for good and became hooked on history and biography but fiction has certainly found me again and is holding on tight.

So when I read on one of my favourite blogs, knitsofacto, about A Year in Books, hosted by Laura at Circle of Pines, I thought it might harness my reading and make me pause a bit and reflect before steaming on to the next book.  The idea is to read a book a month and blog about it, linking to Laura so that there is one place where you can see who is joining in.  It might, I thought,  also give me some new ideas of things to read which I might not choose for myself.


Typically I am now too late to join the links on Laura's blog for the January books but I shall blog my first book anyway, mainly to share with you the joys of "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day".


On one of Laura's posts I found a recommendation for Persephone books which I admit I had never heard of.  It sounded like my kind of thing and off I went to explore.   In their own words: Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of 104 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written...  


I rooted about the website. looking for one of Laura's recommendations, and there it was: "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day" by Winifred Watson.  I have been reading more and more on Kindle for the ipad, partly because of how easy it is, how portable things are when I am moving up and down the country and partly just to try to curb the number of books in the house, but Persephone books are a thing of beauty in themselves.  I ordered one, a present for myself.






And what a lovely thing this book is, with its pale grey cover and its decorated end papers.  (Do you like my entirely uncharacteristic nail polish?  I have gardener's hands normally.  This is an odd little foray into self indulgence and self care.)




There are pen and ink drawings scattered throughout the book which would tell you it is set in the 1930s even if you never read a word.






The writing is as crisp and clear as the illustrations and has the fizz and astringency of a good gin and tonic. Miss Pettigrew is an impoverished gentlewoman in her forties, the archetypal pale spinster, working reluctantly and sadly as a governess or nursemaid for a series of dreadful unappreciative employers.  With her last post finished and unable to pay her rent she is about to be homeless and goes, in her flat shoes and her dreadful brown coat, for an interview for a post with the improbably named Delysia La Fosse. What happens next is doubtless pure escapism but it is so fabulously written that we are whirled along as Miss Pettigrew is into a world of nightclub singers and louche but kindly gentlemen so that our feet barely touch the ground.  Miss Pettigrew's perceptiveness and kindly good sense save the day more than once and we share her amazed delight as she emerges blinking into a world of warmth, good clothes and cocktails.


This is a book to lift the spirits, to make you smile and occasionally laugh out loud, to make you feel that sometimes fortune does indeed favour the brave, especially the timidly but determinedly brave like Miss Pettigrew.  I know this is a book I will read again and again.  If you have a cold, wet winter afternoon or dark evening to pass, curl up on the sofa by the fire and read this book.  Why I have never come across Winifred Watson before I have no idea but I will be looking out for her books and will certainly be wandering the shelves of Persephone's website again.  Thank you Annie and thank you Laura.  What a find!

Comments

  1. Today I was sorting two shelves of books gleaned from my mother's collection. Cornwall, London and Russia. Languages and literature. Biographies of interesting women. And gardening. With Constable and Sargent.

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    1. How much you learn about a person from their bookshelves! Your mother sounds a very interesting woman herself.

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  2. This sounds perfect. I am going to make a purchase this instant and add it to the pile of books I am working through next to the bed. I too am reading avidly at the moment and go through waves of devouring books and then not touching one for months. I have just finished a Maggie O'Farrell book: Instructions for a Heatwave - my favourite type of narrative where the focus is on the characters and their interactions with each other rather than a pacy plot xxx

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    1. I think you would love it Lindsay. Haven't read that Maggie O'Farrell but have read some others of hers. I will put it on the list!

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  3. I do love a beautifully presented book - a lot of them these days are very flimsy, not nice to hold or read. I loved the Miss Pettigrew film but wish I had read the book first as it is so much more fulfilling. Looking forward to seeing your future book choices - I am joining in too - and maybe will find some books that take me out of my comfort zone a little.

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    1. I think so much of what makes the book sing is its language. I haven't seen the film which I wonder how much of that transfers to film? And yes, the book is a lovely thing to handle.

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  4. I love Persephone books and find their website good at helping me choose which I might read next. I can also recommend dredging out early Virago books via Amazon, using their date--of-publication function. I buy second-hand online when I can, then pass them on to a charity shop. It really does help to assuage the guilt!

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    1. I used to read virago! I haven't looked at them in ages. What a good suggestion, thank you.

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  5. I' ve know of Persephone books for years and have got Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. I really enjoyed reading it too. Must read it again.

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    1. It is the kind of book you could read and reread

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  6. The last thing I need is another book to add to my way-too-long list, but you do make this sound very appealing. I really enjoyed this post -- so interesting to hear how other readers cycle through different phases. . . and I've added knitsofact to my blogs to follow, thanks!

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    1. I am acquiring a very long list too! It's rather comforting I think.

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  7. Delightfully bookish post. I've never developed much of a taste for fiction; there are so many other interesting books to read. Hope you enjoy Miss Pettigrew, and stay well connected with Persephone.

    Blessings and Bear hugs.

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    1. I certainly have phases where there seems no room for fiction. Not quite sure why it cycles in and out.

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  8. I love Miss Pettigrew! Thanks, Elizabeth, I must reread...

    (I used to work round the corner from Persephone; they had a little shop at the front of their editorial office. Far too tempting.)

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    1. Just round the corner! That would be my lunch times sorted out!

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  9. You're welcome, but it's all Laura's wonderful idea :)

    Aren't the Persephone books wonderful. I'm not really in a fiction phase at the moment - those come and go - but so many of the Persephone titles are utterly readable. I've seen the film of Miss Pettigrew but must admit to never having read the book. I'll have to remedy that :)

    Happy reading!

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    1. I love the idea that there are all sorts of Persephone books to read through. Like having a pile of presents to unwrap!

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  10. I have read this Elizabeth - it is a joy to read, a joy to just look at and even a joy to hold.

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    1. Agree totally. It has reminded me of the physical beauty if a book.

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  11. I am delighted to have discovered your blog last evening, Elizabeth! (Thanks, Cait O'Connor!) The photo of the snowdrops--one of my favorite flowers--pulled me straight in. Being a teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday's post on books and reading. Then, of course, I scrolled through previous posts, feeling more and more as if I had found a kindred spirit! Then I "toured" your guest cottage… Oh, my goodness! I am ready to book my flight today and come visit! Well, ready in spirit, anyway! The expansive view from the bedroom window is etched in my brain and carried in my heart. One day I hope to throw open those windows and lean, chin in hand, upon the windowsill, and feast my eyes upon such a view!

    You write beautifully, and I shall enjoy visiting your blog until I can visit in person!

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    1. You are very welcome to the blog, as you would be welcome if you can ever come in person. Lovely to meet you and I hope you will come often and join in as much as you wish.

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  12. PS I am so smitten with your blog and lost in my fantasy of visiting Wales that I quite forgot about my oatmeal cooking on the stove… I'm afraid it's a bit scorched, but I think it was worth it! ;-)

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  13. What a beautifully bound book! Yes, I've heard of Persephone Books from other British blog buddies. I love the concept. I'm pleased that you've rediscovered the joy of fiction. A year full of books is a good one.

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    1. Of course now I am in February I should be thinking of another book for review. Must try not to miss the deadline next time!

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  14. I don't know this one but you've tempted me into it. I love a bit of 30s good sense. The world seemed so manageable then, but of course it wasn't at all. They were doing just as we do, struggling along, averting their eyes. You do share an enthusiasm well, and so nicely yourself.

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    1. As you say the world was just as confusing and chaotic but there is often a fabulously down to earth response. Think Stella in cold comfort farm. And a robust absence of self pity and self absorption seems much more typical of the middle of the last century than of now when we tend more to a rather self obsessed "because I'm worth it" view of the world. Whoops, just had a little rant.

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  15. I've heard of it, but I haven't read it so I'll have to put that right. Your hands look beautiful!

    I've been doing quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to do with parents and loved ones so I've been escaping with Mary Stewart's beautiful writing and exquisite descriptions of the natural world. It's a very different world she's describing in many ways, not least because everyone smokes like chimneys!

    Keep up the self-care. All best, Chrisx

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    1. Thanks so much for the reminder about Mary Stewart. I haven't read her for years but she totally fits the bill - light but gripping narrative and beautifully and intelligently written. I am on "This Rough Magic" today

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    2. Oh what a delight, I was needing some comfort reading myself, and had forgotten about Mary Stewart! My kindle is now fully loaded, and I am happily absorbed in "The Gabriel Hounds". I love returning to books that are old friends, the perfect comfort blanket for a wet and blustery evening.

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  16. What a coincidence, Miss Pettigrew is the very same book that introduced me to the delicious Persephone books. Your post has made me tempted to go and re-read the book and rootle out my catalogue... Jane x

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    1. Must get into the catalogue myself, except I know I will be seriously tempted!

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  17. What a beautiful looking book Elizabeth. I love reading with a kindle, but you can't beat a beautifully bound real-life book.I really relate to your changing reading habits, I go through similar phases. I am so glad I was brought up to be relaxed about reading everything from trashy chicklit to "posh" prize-winning novels. I hope you continue to find books that meet your moods and help you through.

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    1. There are so many ways in a which a book can appeal, it depends on my mood or my life at the time!

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  18. The lure of other worlds through reading is practically the only thing that has got me through this January. So comforting to think there are just so many more books to read too!

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    1. That is rather marvellous isn't it, the sense that you can never run out!

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  19. This book sounds like a joy to be part of. Thanks for your review!

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  20. Elizabeth, here's a wonderful example of the circular, twirly road that blogdom shows us how small a world we live in. Persephone Books is a fabulous publishing house, and I am lucky to know the lady behind this effort.

    On my October 2013 visit to London, I made stop into the Persephone shop in Bloomsbury and actually got to help Nicola do some of the envelope stuffing involved in their most recent mailing to regular customers.

    You would love this shop. I also think that if you do a bit of www clicking, you will also be able to sign up for the Persephone emails that really do help to reinforce the notion that writing and reading does matter.

    xo

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    1. I love these connections! How marvellous. I will definitely put the shop on my list of places to go next time I go to London.

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  21. I love Persephone books - beautiful to hold and behold. I've read Miss Pettigrew too, some time ago - just the thing for one of these bleak afternooons.

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    1. This sort of reading is the best use of winter!

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  22. I loved Miss Pettigrew too - and the Persephone books themselves are such a joy to own, to handle, to look admiringly at their lovely end papers. I like to revisit books from my teens and twenties, although some I find unreadable nowadays; but I've just re-read a Monica Dickens romance, 'The Happy Prisoner' - again, shocking to remember how much people smoked!!

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    1. I used to read Monica dickens. Wonder how she has stood the test of time? Must have a go.

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  23. I am going to gamble on adding to the Leaning Tower of Pisa that is the stack of books on my bedside table. I'll have to look at the website that Frances mentions, as well. Thank you for the introduction to this book and the writer.

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    1. My pile has morphed into three piles, all pretending to be tidy and sorted but actually just neat piles!

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    1. I would love to know what you think about it marcheline. I think it might be right up your street.!

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  25. I like the idea of blogging about books and will have to check the site out. Like you, I used to get lost in books but nowadays it seems most of my reading time is spent on blogs. However, as much as I love reading how others are living their lives and how they feel about it, I miss becoming lost in a good book. I will also have to check out Persephone books and Miss Pettigrew.

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    1. I enjoy blog reading too but it is less immersive than a good book, isn't it ?

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  26. I'm not reading as much now as I used to, but I'm always keen to note books that have been recommended. I still read lots on holiday. This book does look beautifully presented and I'm glad it was a good read, too!

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    1. It was a pleasure to handle the book Wendy. I had rather forgotten about that.

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  27. The Persephone books sound wonderful, and I'm planning to check them out. I haven't read Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, but I did see the movie, and it was utterly charming. Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew was a delight. A real departure for her after her Oscar-winning star turn in Fargo! But I will definitely have to read the book too. I like to do that, and compare the two versions when I can. Thanks for a great post.

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    1. I often find that I prefer the book unless I have seen the film first and it was particularly good. Would like to know how you find it.

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  28. I love Persephone books too. My passion for reading fiction goes up and down - it is up at the moment. I am just about to start The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. and a non fiction book Out of Time by Lynne Segal (book on agieng).

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    1. Just read about the Lynne segal book. Looks very interesting!

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  29. I'm so pleased you are going to write about your reading. This was such a great post. I, too, really enjoyed the book, and wrote about it here, if you are interested:
    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/01/miss-pettigrew-lives-for-day-by.html
    I did try the movie and didn't like it. :<)

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    1. Thank you. I have read your review too and love your phrasing!

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  30. Just discovered your delightful blog via Pondside, I will be back as now following.

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  31. I go through phases where I absolutely consume books (and usually stay up far too late reading them) at a monstrous pace - typically when I've found a new author and want to read everything they've written. I love the sound of Miss Pettigrew - reminds me a bit of Miss Buncle (D E Stevenson - I went on a spree after I found her, as well.) Another series from that era that I really enjoy are the 'Provincial Lady' books. Books sustained me through a transient expatriate childhood, and I still turn to them for comfort - a place to go when the outside world is a bit much. It sounds like they are just what the doctor ordered about now. xx
    PS - have tagged you in a question/answer thing over at mine if you feel like playing. If not - enjoy your books - oh, and Spring is coming! : )

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  32. My partner gave me this book a few years ago as a present and a beautiful present it is too. Such an unusual book, and a real pleasure to own.

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  33. I am about to read a book " Major Pettigrew's last stand " for book club. No link to yours though, I rushed to check. I love reading and have managed to keep it up despite having my four boys. I felt it was important for them to see me read and the pleasure it gives me if I was ever to inspire them likewise. Nice to see your still blogging, I used to be Anna Karenin, using the same avitar. Hello again,
    Rachelxx

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