Thursday, October 8, 2009

What to read next...

I feel at a bit of a reading loose end today. The weather is putting me in the mood for something properly melodramatic and gothic to which end I’ve been waiting patiently for the penguin reissues of Shirley Jackson to hit the shelves. The bookshop assures me they’re due in any day which has put me off ordering online, and now I realise I could have had them a week ago, but then a week ago the weather wasn’t saying gothic melodrama, and if I order them now by the time they turn up I’ll most likely be deep into something else.

I have no shortage of books waiting to be read, but I can’t find anything under 600 pages which suits my mood and that’s more commitment then I can handle today. Help is at hand though. It turns out I live not 200 yards from a university bookshop, a fact I was oblivious to until last night, but thanks to road works I was led right past it, and couldn’t help but notice a juicy looking fiction section through the locked doors. I’m going to have a look this morning hoping to find something short and possibly 19th century, after making cinnamon buns (also something the weather is calling for) to help me enjoy my last few days of under employment.

For inspiration I turned to John Sutherland’s classic fiction puzzles. I’ve had these books for years and pull them out semi regularly for inspiration at times like this. The general result is that I end up reading Austen again. I like Sutherland’s books, literary criticism normally has me jumping up and down in indignation over something that I disagree with, but the puzzle approach is fun (if not really criticism). For a non English student it feels like an appropriate level of speculation and examination, enough to make me pick out more from a book, but not so didactic that I feel uncomfortable with the conclusions drawn.

It has however been a while since I’d picked up any of the Sutherland books and it came as a surprise how limited the number of novels and authors discussed are. Since I last looked inside one of them I’ve discovered Margaret Oliphant, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ellen Wood and George Gissing and it was something more along these lines that I was after (Though Austen is sorely tempting again). It makes me realise how much more accessible the literature of previous generations is becoming to any interested reader, rather than being limited to dedicated English Lit students.

I am off to explore the bookshop now whilst the buns are proving, and am feeling pretty optimistic about finding something to spend money on (this by the way is the same £10 that’s been put aside for buying a new book for 2 weeks now, fingers crossed this unprecedented inability to spend money is about to come to an end).


  1. I checked my local chain bookshops (there are no independents in Oxford, shamefully) and Shirley Jackson reprints only in Waterstones, not Borders or Blackwells. Tut tut. Worth waiting for, Hayley!

  2. I've never heard of John Sutherland. I'm really interested to get a hold of some these books. Can you recommend one to start with?

  3. Honestly all good. There's a Shakespeare one called 'Henry v war criminal?' which is possibly my favourite title ever. The books are short chapter long explorations of questions like 'Can Jane Eyre be Happy' or 'who betrays Elizabeth Bennett' and picks up on inconsistancies or unanswered questions in (mostly)19th c classics. All pretty cheap on amazon uk, and it doesn't matter which one you start with.

  4. I've not heard of these fiction puzzles - can you explain more about them?

    Last few days of underemployment - are you off to a new job soon?

  5. I love these books! Regrettably my copies are at home at my parents' house, which is a shame as I would love to read them again. Do you have the slightly different So You Think You Know Jane Austen? I do have a copy of that here and think I'll go through that again soon and of course subsequently read some Austen.

  6. I don't have So you think you know Jane Austen, but will look out for it. Verity the puzzles are really just questions like 'How vulgar is Mrs Elton?' which looks at social history and trys to work out exactly how Austen meant her to be read or 'Who gets what in Heathcliffe's will?' which sorts out easily over looked/very obscure references in the text. I guess it's the sort of questions english lecturers try and amuse their students with,'Where does Fanny Hill keep her contraceptives?' is another one, sometimes he's answered questions I've had about books, more often it's given me something new to think about.