Category Archives: Bookends
Throughout 2017 I was making a note on the first day of the month of what I was reading and the level of what I call my personal library (otherwise known as the TBR mountain). I forgot to do this in January but here’s how things stood on February 1, 2018.
I limped my way through Muriel Spark’s The Comforters which was her first published novel. Such a disappointment after the other two novels I’d read by her: Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means.
When I complained recently that I’d hit a reading slump there were many bloggers coming forward with ideas of how to get the enthusiasm back. Melanie at Grab the Labels recommended: “return to a book or genre you deeply enjoyed before you started blogging” which advice I duly followed that very evening when I was looking for something new to begin reading. Two writers called out to me: Louise Penny whose Chief Inspector Gamache series I’ve loved so far and Emile Zola who I have sadly neglected this last year. Since I had recently read and listened to a few crime fiction novels I plumped for Monsieur Zola.
Melanie’s advice proved the perfect medicine. I am now happily ensconced in the world of a Parisienne department store in the nineteenth century via The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames). It was one recommended by Lisa at ANZLitLovers to whom I shall be eternally grateful. Zola’s usual approach of conducting meticulous research before writing his novels is very much in evidence here. We get details about how every department works, from the cashiers to the sales people who work the floor, and some colourful details about the wonders to be purchased in this emporium. Department stores are nothing remarkable to us now but in the time Zola was writing, they were a revolution.
State of the personal library
Once again I find my numerical skills – or is my cataloguing skills – leave something to be desired. I thought I was doing a pretty good job last year of keeping track of all the owned but unread books in my home. I even had a spreadsheet with formulae designed so that I wouldn’t have to do the counting manually.
Well something clearly went wrong because instead of the downward trend I was congratulating myself upon all throug
h the year, I thought I ended 2017 with 225 books in my library. But somehow I have started 2018 with 245. Where that extra 15 books came from is a mystery. But no amount of double checking my spreadsheet or my formulae is giving me the answer. So I just have to accept that the number is 245.
But instead of going down, it’s already gone up from that…
I won two books in a giveaway hosted by Kath who blogs at Nutpress. I might just be the only person on the planet who hasn’t read Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. I now have no excuses since Kath presented me with this plus Cannon’s latest novel Three Things About Elsie.
I’ve also just taken delivery of the first book from my year-long subscription to the Asymptote Book Club. As part of this I’ll receive 12 books from around the world. January’s choice comes from the Indian sub-continent. Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was written between 1937 and 39 and looks at the conflict created between the need to cultivate the land for food and shelter and the need to preserve ancient forests and the traditional ways of life followed by its indigenous population.
My recent blue period also saw me indulge in a few purchases….
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty. This is the selection for our next book club meeting in March
Since I was in the shop buying this I couldn’t help but have a mooch. So ended up buying a book I’ve seen attracting a lot of comment recently. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Walker is a professor and Director of the University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab so he knows a little about sleeping. In the book he explains the science about sleep and the consequences of too little sleep (clearly not something I should be reading on nights when I wake in the wee hours and can’t get back to sleep again).
I’ve also picked up a copy of Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett. This wasn’t an intentional acquisition but driving to the gym one day I noticed a little free library outside a house. It’s the first one I’ve seen in the UK. So of course I had to stop and have a peek at the contents …. a lot of the titles were thrillers or crime so not of interest but I saw the Bennett and knew I had to have this because most of this series which is set in the fictional Potteries towns of Stoke, are out of print. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…..
Hopefully by the time March 1 comes along and it’s time for another snapshot I will have actually read something from my growing collection….. But I won’t guarantee it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that January is the least favourite of months for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Sleet, rain and wind do not a happy formula make especially when combined with chilly mornings and loss of daylight around 4pm. Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled to get back into a reading and blogging groove this month.
The beginning of June, things looked promising. My first book of the year was a stunner -— A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I was curious how Towles would manage to sustain interest in a 400+page novel about a member of the Russian aristocracy under house arrest in a plush Moscow hotel. Wouldn’t it get rather repetitive I thought? The short answer is no, absolutely not. This is a master class in how to construct a narrative. I’ll get around to posting my review shortly but in the meantime I’ll simply say that if you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing something special.
After that things went downhill rapidly.
I’d agreed to review the fourth book in a crime series which pays homage to the Golden Age of detective fiction. Sadly, A Death in the Night wasn’t much more than just ok. So then I turned to Muriel Spark and her first published novel The Comforters. I chose it because it was published in 1957, the first year of my ‘reading my life’ project. Now I’d enjoyed two other novels by her: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means so I had similar expectations to be as entertained by The Comforters. Far from being entertained, I found it a struggle to get to the end and was heartily glad when I did. Clearly her kind of humour isn’t for me.
Even my audio book choices have been disappointing this month. I’ve abandoned most of them: The Untouchable by John Banville (about an esteemed art historian revealed to be a double agent); Father Brown Stories by G K Chesterton and Agatha Christie Close Up (a collection of archive radio programmes about Christie). None of them held my attention.
I’ve also struggled to get enthused by blogging this month. Hence why I am way behind with reviews, many from last year even. I’m way behind also on reading posts from other bloggers even those that are my favourites. As for Twitter, well I seem to barely look at it some days. I’m just a tad tired of seeing message after message about book cover reveals…. So if you’ve not heard from me for a while, I promise it’s not because I don’t love you any more.
This fug is not anything I’ve experienced before. I hope it doesn’t last much longer. In fact I hope I can break out of the cycle tonight when I’m going to be opening a new book. In keeping with my intention to make 2018 the year of reading naked I have a completely free hand in selecting that book. There has to be something in my bookshelves that will tickle the taste buds back to life again.
It’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation. This month we begin in Botswana and the colourful detective Mma Precious Ramotswe (isn’t that a delicious name?) created by Alexander McCall Smith for his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I did enjoy the book but never went on to read any of the later titles, nor watch the TV adaptation.
Crime and Africa provide me with my first link. There’s even a direct connection to book 2 in the chain because on the back of my copy of Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartery is a comment from The Booklist that the novel will be relished by fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.
Actually Quartery’s novel is much darker than McCall Smith’s because in order to solve the murder of a young female medical student, the investigating detective has to contend with a veil of secrecy about a practice which sees young girls offered as trokosi (or Wives of the Gods) to fetish priests. He finds important clues in the Adinkra symbols that are used to decorate the cloth worn as wraps. Never having heard of these symbols I spent an enjoyable hour searching the web for images to explain their symbolism.
The book in my next link also dealt with fashion accessories, but this time in the form of the jewellery worn by Indian brides. The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee blends family saga and political turbulence in India during the second half of the 1960s. For light relief we get the squabbling members of the Ghosh family and their petty jealousies over gifts of saris and wedding jewellery. Looking at some images of young brides dressed in jewel-encrusted saris and double their body weight in gold, I remembered a visit to the royal jewellery collection at the Kremlin. What the Tsarinas had to wear for their coronation was so phenomenally heavy I couldn’t imagine how they managed to stand let alone walk.
A gift of jewellery from India is the catalyst for the plot of the next book in my chain. The large diamond in Wilkie Collins’ novel The Moonstone was stolen by a British army officer and bequeathed to his niece Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. But on the night of her party it goes missing, believed stolen, an event which results in unhappiness, turmoil and ill fortune for her and the cousin who had hoped to be her husband.
Jewels+India+turmoil= The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. This is the first part in his Raj Quartet collection about the dying days of the British in India and one of my favourite novels of all time. You can see why it has such a special place in my affection by reading the ‘Books that Built the Blogger’ post I wrote for Cathy at 746books.com (here’s the link if you’re interested.)
The link to book number 5 in my chain may be a bit obvious but I’m going there anyway. Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir is the first in her series about the women who wore the crown of a Queen of England by virtue of their marriage to King Henry VIII. Some managed to hold onto it for a few years, others lost their head over it which just proves the validity of that line from Shakespeare’s Henry 1V part 2 ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown‘
In Alison Weir’s novel we first meet Katherine as a young and beautiful bride to be who has left Spain to marry the heir to the English throne, Prince Arthur. When he dies she marries his brother Henry and gets to be queen. Weir shows Katherine as more than a match for Henry’s intellect and energy but fate, and Henry’s roving eye, means she ends up divorced and a lonely figure banished to draughty manor houses well away from the court.
Katherine in her role as abandoned wife is a key figure in my final book. Hilary Mantel’s dazzling novel Wolf Hall vividly recreates the life of the man the former queen holds responsible for her demise: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief advisor. Cromwell is usually depicted in fiction as a shrewd, manipulative and cold figure who will go to any lengths in his master’s service. Mantel turns the traditional portrait on its head and shows Cromwell also as a loving husband and caring father. It’s an extraordinary work of historical fiction; lyrical yet tightly written, bursting with scenes and images that linger in the mind. Quite simply, the most inventive and thrilling historical novel I’ve ever read (apart of course from Mantel’s follow up Bring Up the Bodies).
And so we’ve reached the end of this chain. We’ve travelled from Africa via India to England, from crime and sensational fiction to historical fiction. Is there a connection between our starting book and the one with which I ended? Maybe it’s stretching a point to call the way Katherine was treated as a crime, but she was certainly an innocent victim in a political game.
If you want to play along with Six Degrees of Separation head to Books Are My Favourite and Best where Kate sets us off with a new book each month. As always all the books I’ve included are ones I have read though not necessarily reviewed.
I’ve come across Reading Bingo several times over the years since I started this blog but never joined in because it seemed the idea was to commit to reading books that fitted the squares. I know from experience I am hopeless at reading to order. But this year I’ve seen a few bloggers Marina at Finding Time to Write , Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks and Susan at ALifeinBooks fill in the squares in retrospect first. Since I am too stuffed with Christmas pudding to move too far from the sofa it seemed a fun way to look back on the year and see how well I could match my books read with the 2017 bingo card. I’ve done way better than I expected with just two blank squares…
A Book with More Than 500 Pages – weighing in with more than 600 pages is the Booker-award winning Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
A Forgotten Classic – Gerard Reve’s The Evenings has been called a masterpiece of Dutch literature (I’m not convinced about that). Published in Amsterdam in 1946 it took 60 years before an English language version became available.
A Book That Became a Movie – You may not have heard of the book Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac but I’m confident you’ve heard, and may have watched the version by Alfred Hitchcock.
A Book Published This Year – Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch brilliantly captures the atmosphere of Hull in UK at the time when the poet Phillip Larkin was head of its university library.
A Book with a Number in the Title – one of the best two novels I have read all year is Jon McGregor’s superbly constructed Reservoir 13, A contender for the Booker Prize in 2017, it sadly lost out in the final round.
A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty – I don’t know Alys Conran’s exact age (it would have been impertinent to ask her when I met her at the Wales Book Awards) but I’m confident she is younger than I am so that’s enough for me to justify including her hear with her multi award-winning debut novel Pigeon.
A Book with Non-Human Characters – Limited options here since I dislike books of this kind. The nearest I can get is Strangers by Taichi Yamada which features ghosts.
A Funny Book – HagSeed by Margaret Atwood is a touching and imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There are some genuinely funny scenes set in a prison where the inmates become the cast members and have to decide what swear words will be acceptable.
A Book By A Female Author: The most extraordinary novel I read all year was The Vegetarian by the South Korean author Han Kang. It’s a short novel but deals with some big issues such as the clash between personal desire and society’s expectations.
A Book with a Mystery – an easy one this since the word mystery appears in the title. The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts, comes from the Golden Age of Crime and is part of the British Library Classic Crime series. A meticulously plotted murder mystery that will test your powers of memory and logic.
A Book with a One-word title – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi won multiple awards and a six figure advance from a publisher (good going for a debut author). I enjoyed many elements but overall felt it could have been an even better novel.
A Book of Short Stories – Failed on this one. I have several collections of short stories but seldom get around to reading them. I did start one collection but only read three stories.
Free square – My Antonia by Willa Cather, a classic of a farming community set in Nebraska. It was so beautifully written I’m keen to read more by Cather.
A Book Set on a Different Continent – Even though I haven’t read as many novels in translation as I would have liked this year, I did read a few set in Australasia. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey was one I highly enjoyed.
A Non-fiction Book – The Good Women of China by Xinran relates the real life stories of women who live within the constraints of a society that doesn’t value women. All the stories were featured on her radio programme.
The First Book by a Favourite Author – Fail again. Although there were a number of authors I read this year whose work I have enjoyed in the past (John Banville, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Atwood for example) none of the books were their first published works.
A Book You Heard About Online – I can’t believe it took me so long to discover We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson but it was only through other bloggers that this came to my attention.
A Bestselling Book – Published in 1930, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, may well pre-date best seller lists so I can’t tell you how many copies of this have been purchased. But it’s never been out of print and has spawned many tv and screen adaptations including one in 2016 so on the basis of its enduring popularity I’m classing it as a best-seller.
A Book Based on a True Story – Off to Philadelphia in the Morning by Jack Jones is a fictionalised account of the life of Joseph Parry, one of the most famous composers to hail from Wales. Born into the extreme poverty of the iron and coal-mining town of Merthyr Tydfil he moved to Philadelphia with his parents at a young age. On his return to Wales he became the first person from Wales to gain a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge University.
A Book at the Bottom of Your TBR Pile – as a literature student I dipped into A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf regularly but never read the whole essay. I corrected that ommission this year. You could say I left it a bit late after 37 years but at least I got to it …
A Book your Friend Loves – I read By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie as part of the #1968club hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at kaggsysbookishramblings. My sister, who is a Christie fan, loved it more than I did.
A Book that Scares You – Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel isn’t a scary book in the sense it is populated by aliens or things that hide in the woodshed. But it did send shivers down my spine with its premise that the world is hit by flu pandemic so virulent its victims die within 48 hours. In a few short weeks it claims the lives of 99.99 per cent of the world’s population. What made me nervous was that the survivors find a lot of the objects and technologies they had felt essential to their lives (like mobile phones) prove useless in this new world. I started to worry that I don’t have any of the skills that would help me survive.
A Book that is More Than 10 Years Old – What a joy it was to read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Yes it was sensational and a romp of a story but du Maurier also managed to underpin this with a more thoughtful theme about the female situation.
The Second Book in a Series – Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a prequel to his best seller Shadow of the Wind but was actually his second to be published. It’s more patchy in quality than Shadow of the Wind but is still a fast moving adventure story that can be enjoyed just for its setting in Barcelona.
A Book with a Blue Cover – Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin. The story is complex (multiple narrators and timelines) but is handled well and is strong on atmosphere. The cover is gorgeous.
If you haven’t come across Reading Bingo before, do give it a go. You might be as surprised as I was. And do take a look at the other bloggers who have participated so far this year:
Marina at Finding Time to Write
Emma at Book Around the Corner
Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks
What a difference a year has made. Last year I was anxiously awaiting surgery to deal with cancer and couldn’t face the idea of a family get together. I chose to,spend Christmas very quietly at home with my husband, the first time in almost 35 years of marriage we hadn’t gone to our family or hosted them at our place.
One year later the surgery is over, the cancer has gone and I’m bouncing back. Time for me to play host again and to suffer all the anxieties that go with that. Should I put the turkey in a brine bath or cook it sitting on a base of vegetables? How do you get sprouts to taste of anything other than sulphur (you can tell I am not a lover). What are the rules of Black Jack again? Is it possible for six people to play Scrabble for an hour without an argument about what constitutes a proper noun?
Whether you are spending Christmas in your own home or with friends and family, marking the festive season with a BBQ on the beach or in front of a cosy fire, I hope you have a wonderful time. And may your tree be laden with bookish goodies….
Many bloggers like to mark the end of a year with a look back over the last 12 months. I’ve not done this before but some recent posts from Lisa at ANZLitLovers and Sue at WhisperingGums alerted me to an interesting variation on the end-of-year meme.
This involves taking the first line of each month’s post in the past year to see what light it shines on the blogging year in general.
The ‘rule’ is to use the first sentence in the first post of each month.
I’ve had to bend this rule a little because I discovered that my first post was often a meme or in the Snapshot category. This is where I try to capture what I’m reading on the first day of the month, what I plan to read next and the state of my unread books collection (aka the TBR). Just using those posts for this exercise wouldn’t make for very interesting reading.
So I adopted my own rule where I selected the first substantive post of each month.
This is how the year worked out for me.
Post Title: The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
By the time they’ve reached the end of the novel, most readers of crime fiction expect to find the author has answered the key questions: who , committed the crime, how and why.
The Murder of Halland was published by Pereine Press in 2012 as part The Small Epic series. Translated from the Danish original by Martin Aitken.
Post Title: Dominion by C. J Sansom
C.J Sansom took a gamble with his political thriller Dominion in which he imagines a world where, having failed to defeat the Nazi regime, Great Britain becomes one of Germany’s subject territories.
Post Title: The Greatest Novels from Wales? #WritingWales
A few years ago, the Wales Arts Review magazine asked readers: Which is the Greatest Welsh Novel?
Post Title: Tomorrow by Graham Swift
Some protagonists are designed to be annoying. Some simply are that way. But no matter how annoying, frustrating or distasteful they can still be fascinating and memorable for readers.
Post Title: The Cheltenham Square Murders by John Bude
The town of Cheltenham has a reputation for being the rather genteel, upmarket part of Gloucestershire.
Post Title: My Ántonia by Willa Cather
It’s taken me long enough but the experience of reading Willa Cather’s My Ántonia was well worth the wait.
Post Title: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
If you’d asked me a few weeks ago whether I’d be likely to enjoy a novel about everything from Zen and the meaning of time to the Japanese tsunami and environmental degradation, I’d probably have said no way.
Post Title: Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee
I approached J. M Coetzee’s Booker Prize winning novella The Life & Times of Michael K hoping against hope it would be easier to penetrate than the last novel I read by him: The Schooldays of Jesus
Of all the books long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker prize, Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor was the one I most wanted to read.
Post Title: Chocky by John Wyndham #1968 club
Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a child? Apparently I did for a few months when I was about four years old.
Post Title: Hag Seed by Margaret Atwood
I usually ignore reinterpretations and retellings of classic novels but the premise of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed was so enticing I set aside my normal cynicism.
What does this tell me about my blogging year?
- It reflects accurately that I’m a butterfly reader. I flit around a lot between classics (My Ántonia and Chocky), Booker prize winners and contenders (Life and Times of Michael X and A Tale for the Time Being) with a smattering of crime (Cheltenham Square Murders) and translated fiction (Murder of Halland).
- Most of my posts are either reviews or memes (I do the Six Degrees of Separation and Top Ten Tuesday memes). The Between the Lines post in September is a new type of content for me this year where I do a Q&A with an author.
- I’ve clearly not made much progress with two of my long term challenges (Classics Club and Literature around the World) since there were very few posts on books in those categories.
- My new interest in fiction by authors and publishers in Wales is beginning to come through with three of the posts reflecting that topic.
- I’ve read very very little new fiction this year.Reservoir 13 was published this year as was Larkinland. It’s not quite as dire as this set of first lines suggests but it doesn’t surprise me considering that one of my goals for 2017 was to read more of the books I already own rather than buy yet more.
- My intro sentences need a bit of jazzing up. I know they are taken out of context which doesn’t help but they do sound rather dull to me.
Although the idea, which originated with The Indextrious Reader., is to use this exercise to reflect on the past year I’ve found it’s also been helpful in giving me some ideas for next year. I’d like to do more Between the Lines interviews for example. I think my interest in Top Ten Tuesday has fizzled out and will come to a dead end next year. I’ve already skipped many week’s prompts because I found the topic wasn’t that interesting. It was fun for a while but I’m feel I’m getting list fatique. But all that is still in the future since 2017 isn’t yet over…
If you are minded to play along with the Year in First Lines, but want some further inspiration take a look at what some of the other participants have published.
While catching up on back issues of The Paris Review recently, I came across an article which at first glance I thought was advocating a rather strange way of reading books.
Elisa Gabbert, a poet and writer, said that “reading the introductions to great books …” was one of the great pleasures in her life. Nothing remarkable about that; plenty of readers can agree with that sentiment. It was the next phrase in her sentence that got my attention for she went on to say “.. and not the books themselves.” That seemed a bizarre idea. An introduction is surely not meant to stand alone but to provide a form of gateway to the text itself. So why would you stop at the gate and not want to enter?
For Gabbert however, the fascination with introductions is the way they often contain grand claims of a philosophical nature; theories or big ideas the meaning of which might, or might not, be clear but which she enjoys just because they exist. It’s a love affair that extends beyond the introduction into all kinds of material found at the front of books; from translator’s notes (she’s thrilled by the linguistic trivia and gossip they contain) and epigraphs. It’s a pleasure that apparently began with a Chinese classic text called Tao Te Ching which she has yet to complete yet she’s read the introduction to a 1989 edition several times and heavily underlined key passages.
I confess that I’ve read only the introduction to many books but they’ve always been business-related titles. Usually it was on occasions when the book was required reading prior to yet another strategic review (Who Moved my Cheese, The Innovators’ Dilemma spring to mind here). Getting on a transatlantic flight once I was bemused to look across the rows of seats to find a number of my colleagues all desperately trying to read enough of Jim Collins’ Good to Great to be able to look intelligent when the subject came up at the forthcoming leadership pow wow. Every one of us admitted later that we’d got no further than chapter 2 and skimmed the rest…..
But if there was a non fiction book I was really keen to read, I can’t imagine reading only the introduction. Wouldn’t that feel like going out for dinner but stopping at the appetiser? Even if the introduction didn’t give me the feeling this is a book I would understand, appreciate or even enjoy, I’d still want to read a little of it before making up my mind.
I was relieved however that Gabbert takes a different approach when it comes to fiction. For her, introductions to classic novels are so “notoriously full of spoilers” that she tends to avoid them though admits that sometimes the preface content does provide some gems of information (one novel she mentions began with a story involving Dostoevsky and a last minute reprieve as he stood before a firing squad.)
My own approach is rather haphazard. Before plunging into the meat of any new ‘classic’ I’ll scan some of the front matter. If I know nothing about the author I’ll read the biographical information and any notes which give me an idea of the period and the context in which the novel was written or explain the author’s influence on later writers. If the author has written a foreword I’ll read that also because it gives me an insight into what they were trying to achieve with their book. Some nuggets of gold lie within these sections — my edition of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for example explained how the novel’s title was changed under pressure from Charles Dickens, a change that significantly shifted the emphasis of the book away from a story of individual growth and towards social criticism. In my edition of Trollope’s Dr Thorne I found an apology from the author to his readers for the fact the novel begins with “two long dull chapters full of description”.
The one type of front material I try hard to avoid at this stage is anything which suggests it will delve into the themes of the book or characterisation. because I don’t want to be influenced in how to read the text — I much prefer to make up my own mind.
But when I’ve got to the end of the text, then I’ll go back to the beginning and read the foreword and introductions. Over the years I’ve found Oxford World Classics and Penguin Classics editions the best at providing thoughtful analysis of the novel, particularly when they’re written by a leading academic. Often the emphasis will reflect the academic’s own field of interest. Reading an old copy of Jane Eyre I found an article by David Lodge about the significance of fire and ice in the novel (it was a shortened version of what is considered a landmark interpretation). In a later copy I found the introduction was more focused on the novel’s underlying theme of colonialism. Neither of these would have made much sense if I’d read them before reading the novel itself, but reading them afterwards enhanced the whole experience.
It seems my interest in this front material isn’t shared universally. I discovered during a tutorial for an Open University course I was pursuing a few years ago, that no-one else had even looked at the content that came before chapter 1. For them it was just a distraction, or of questionable value. I tried hard to persuade them otherwise though not sure if I ever succeeded.
You can find Elisa Gabbert’s article in the Paris Review blog here.