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Sample Sunday: Decision Time On Henry James

Sample Sunday is an opportunity to check all the books on my shelves and decide what to keep

I’ve moved further along the shelves of my unread books, to land on authors whose surnames all start with the letter J. The three books I’m featuring this week are a mix of classics, crime fiction and non fiction.

Let’s see whether these are books I want to keep or move along to a more receptive home.

The Ambassadors by Henry James

This is a left over from my ClassicsClub project. I added it to that project without being sure I really wanted to read it because I’m have something of a chequered history with Mr James. His slow and ultra-detailed prose is an acquired taste.

I tried, but failed with The Wings Of A Dove many years ago. Struggled with Portrait of A Lady though ended up enjoying it and may well read it again. Then enjoyed two of his shorter works: Daisy Miller and Washington Square.

The Ambassadors is one of his final novels and James counted it as his favourite. It’s a portrait of a man’s late awakening to the importance of morality that is founded not on the dictates of convention but on its value per se. Graham Greene and E.M. Forster thought it was marvellous but F.R. Leavis considered it to be ‘not only not one of his great books, but to be a bad one.’

The Verdict: I’m tempted to keep it knowing that I will need to be in the right frame of mind to read it.

A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone

I’m pretty sure I bought this as a Kindle daily deal. I should really learn not to open those emails late at night. It’s book one in a series featuring three generations of the Skelf family from Edinburgh. When the patriarch die, his wife, daughter and grand-daughter step in to run the family funeral home and private investigation business. Each ends up with a mystery to unravel.

I’ve read only one book by Johnstone — The Jump — and thought it was a clever pyschological study about grief though some of the plotting was far-fetched. Dark Matter sounds a very different kettle of fish. I’ve seen it described as “darkly funny ” which doesn’t give me confidence that it won’t end up being a stupid narrative about amateurs bumbling about looking for clues. I see RavenCrimeReads rated it highly, ranking it as one of her favourite Doug Johnstone novels but I don’t think I can get over my incredulity that he same family would run a private investigation business AND a funeral parlour.

The Verdict: Abandon. I have some of Johnstone’s other novels which could suit me better.

The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones l

I’m partial to the odd splurge of history, but can’t always find books that hit the sweet spot between the very academic and the very popular (for that read simplistic). I heard Dan Jones talk about this book when he was a guest on a BBC History Today podcast and it sounded as if he is a historian who can tell a rattling good story but back it up with sound research.

This is going to help fill in the gaps in my knowledge about the period of the Wars of the Roses and how in-flighting amongst the Plantagenets cost them the throne.

The Verdict: Keep. A book to maybe dip into rather than read cover to cover.

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read.What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

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