Now is the month of maying and as we enjoy the spring weather we have a brand new set of challenges for you to enjoy.
May Day will see celebrations across the country dedicated to our glorious countryside and traditions. Celebrate by choosing this challenge to read a book set in the British countryside. Now where is my Pimms?
|Roll in the Hay
May also sees the return of the prestigious Hay festival in Wales. Pick a book set in the country to cellect the point.
A little trickier so you will be awarded 2 points. Read a book by an author who used or uses a pen name.
Remember to keep track of your points and tell us which books you are reading in our comments section below. We are looking forward to reading your choices.
Missed a previous Month? Take a look at our Monthly Challenges section.
Highly acclaimed historian and writer Peter Ackroyd delves into the depths of London in his latest exploration of what lies beneath one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
The book gives an extraordinary insight into the history that has been discovered under the pavements we walk on every day. We aren’t talking about a few old coins and trinkets here but monasteries, plague pits, roman baths, pagan temples, wells and waterways long forgotten. It’s also easy to forget the labyrinth of tunnels created in our more recent history moving thousands of people through the city every day.
The majority of this book focuses on the waterways and tunnels including the Tube which opened in 1864. Ackroyd explores our perceptions of the underground as a place where we think demons and the un-dead belong but also as a place of escape and shelter which Londoners used during the Blitz.
The book may be a bit thin compared to some of his other works and admittedly you could easily read more, but even if you do feel a little short changed, it is still a great introduction for further reading on the topic. One thing is for sure, it will leave you wondering what is under your feet every time you step onto a London Street and the stories of London Under will stay with you for a long time.
The First World War has been an era that has provided writers with inspiration for some very moving and poignant fiction. This latest offering by Louisa Young, follows the men on the frontline and the women they leave behind.
Riley Purefoy signs up in attempt to escape from a broken heart after Mrs Waveney makes it clear he isn’t good enough for her daughter, Nadine who is destined for an advantageous marriage. As his luck continues during the war and the rising death toll means he is promoted fast, he begins to see the war as an opportunity to prove his worth to her disapproving family.
Fighting alongside Riley, is Peter Locke. A man of wealth and high standing who joins to protect his new wife. After having newly married life abruptly interrupted, Julia Locke waits anxiously in her new home contemplating how her preparation of becoming a wife didn’t include life without a husband. Embracing the new opportunities is Peter’s cousin Rose who after accepting life as a spinster suddenly finds herself with work and purpose in her life.
The book explores most of the issues that the war uncovered in Britain, especially the class system and women’s rights but the character’s seem slightly stereotyped which stopped the story from being unique.
For those keen on World War One fiction the story has essences of Atonement and Birdsong but isn’t quite as powerful. Perhaps due to the characters not as multi-dimensional as you hope but there is also some difficulty getting completely engrossed as Young’s writing style includes a variety of speech and thoughts in one swift flurry making it quite difficult to follow.
Many will love this book and appreciate the experience of being transported back to one of the most interesting and tragic periods of history. However, there are other books written during and after the era which I’d recommend before this.
…a ‘textbook’ ghost story
When a group of friends set off on an exploration of the Arctic, eager for adventure, they are oblivious to the danger and darkness they face ahead.
You are invited to read Jack’s diary, a young man whose luck turns when he is offered the life changing experience of wireless operator which he sees as an opportunity to make a name for himself.
When unfortunate events start forcing the others to abandon the expedition Jack finds himself with the difficult choice of abandoning the trip or staying behind to face whatever is walking among them.
Sounds like a great premise doesn’t it? An Arctic winter, an era when communications were basic, something unknown walking around the camp, in the endless days of darkness. Enough to give you Goosebumps before reading the first page but does the story live up the hype?
Well, it would apart from one major problem. You end up not really caring about the main character, Jack. His bitterness of everything from what he perceives as the others not liking him, mainly because he is poor, to complaining he is poor and resenting the easy lives he perceives the others of having. Why they bothered taking him on the trip is beyond me. So if you can get over this dislike of Jack you might be able to enjoy him shudder and shake at every shadow in the dark. Hash, aren’t I?
There is one saving grace about this book, the description of living a lonely existence in the Arctic winter is both chilling and atmospheric, so much so you will start feeling the cold yourself. Yet it has to be mentioned that the ghost story itself is slightly predictable. Even in the 1930’s, when your weather-beaten Captain refuses to drop you off at the spot you requested with no further explanation and a look of horror on his face you must know there is a good reason for it. Perhaps as a modern audience our ghost sensors are mature and we are used to spotting the clues but this is simple ‘text book’ ghost story telling you wouldn’t expect from this novel.
Nevertheless, its a good story to keep you company over a couple of dark evenings even if it is just to experience being left alone through an Arctic winter. If it hadn’t been for the obvious ghost story this book would have received an ‘excellent’ instead of a simple ‘good.’
A new month brings a new secret film at a new secret location with a new secret audience, from the team at Secret Cinema. It will be a gathering of keen movie enthusiasts who not only love film but want to be part of an experience Secret Cinema are famous for delivering. This month ReaderIReadIt has been invited to be part of this ever growing underground movement. It’s popularity is evident as the organisation boasted 16,000 attendees in March and has an extended run of events this April. As my excitement gathers in anticipation for the event and the clues start rolling out across Facebook and Twitter, the discussion about what film it could be begins.
Firstly, attendees must complete a census form with questions like, ‘Which is more important: Personal Liberty, Ideology or Humanity?’ and ‘Which activity would you most likely be engaged in of an evening: Go dancing, play chess, watch documentaries?’ So what shall I be, a liberal dancer or a humane chess player? I decide on a humane dancer. This is part of the Identification Document we all must carry with us and produce when asked. Perhaps we’ll be grouped…in that case I will certainly be glad I didn’t choose chess player. We have also been treated to a video of Bob Dylan’s classic ‘Guess, I’m doing Fine’. Any idea what the film is yet?
If you can’t then the dress code might help, a mixture of late 1950’s early 1960’s. I plan to don a brown laced 50’s style dress with a white scarf which is a requirement from the state of Secret Cinema. I might even push the boat out and apply siren red lipstick, any excuse huh? Dressing up is all part of the fun but it still doesn’t help me guess the film. It must have themes of oppressed state on the brink of revolution, so the obvious guess would be 1984 but everything I have heard about Secret Cinema is that words like ‘obvious’ and ‘predictable’ need not apply. So like all the other eager film goes I will indulge in the experience of suspense until next Saturday.
This month’s secret film will be screened to the masses from 15th April – 8th May.
To find out more and book your ticket, visit http://www.secretcinema.org/
If you were to save just one book to preserve for future generations, what would it be? It’s a difficult choice for most readers, however, Orange, in partnership with Vintage Classics, has took on the challenge.
Coinciding with celebrations for the 16th anniversary of the Orange Prize for Fiction, six previous winners have chosen a title to be released in a new series as part of Orange Inheritance. Kate Mosse, Co-Founder & Honorary Director of the Orange Prize for Fiction commented on the importance of the campaign ‘This wonderful collection reminds us of how classics become classics…the books we fall in love with when we are young, the books we inherit or come to be recommended by friends and family, those novels that influence us.’ The collection will feature the following novels:
|To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf selected by Helen Dunmore, Orange Prize winner in 1996
||Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy selected by Anne Michaels, Orange Prize winner in 1997
|Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman chosen by Linda Grant, winner of the Orange Prize in 2000
||So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell selected by Ann Patchett, Orange Prize winner in 2002
|Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates selected by Lionel Shriver, Orange Prize winner in 2005
||Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac selected by Rose Tremain, Orange Prize winner in 2008
After much moaning which sounded like I was more in pain then choosing between books, I managed to decide on my choice – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. There are two main reasons for this, firstly, the author herself is part of the fascination of this novel. A painfully shy woman who overcame her terror of London in order to convince her publisher it was indeed a woman, not a man, who was penning these deeply gothic and disturbing novels. I would have paid good money to see the publishers face that day.
Ultimately, Jane Eyre is the ultimate Gothic Romance which so many British writers indulge in. Bronte contrasts the dark elements with the lighter love story whilst tackling some important issues for women at the time. If that isn’t enough to absorb a reader then what is? Jane Eyre has always been a classic and always will and I hope future generations will agree.
So, which book would you pick?
…a book you won’t regret reading
Let go of your world and be completely engrossed as Michel Faber invites you to explore the darker side of Victorian society, and what a dark site it is. The opening pages grabs your attention immediately. ‘Watch your step, keep your wits about you, you will need them. This City I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.’ Easily one of the best opening chapters you will ever read.
The narrator is your guide around London and introduces you to some very colourful characters , invites you into their homes and shares their secrets. We meet William Rackman, an unhappy failed writer who is feeling the pressure to take over the family’s perfumery business to end his money issues and a wife who spends her days in various states of illness.
Step in our heroine Sugar, a well known prostitute belonging to Mrs Castaway’s establishment, her determination to rise from poverty and her knowledge of how to please her customers while drawing on her experience to compose her own gothic novel makes for a very interesting character. William soon becomes infatuated with Sugar and as she gives him encouragement and love his wife is unable to he in unable to live without her.
The book is certainly door stopper sized with over 800 pages but is perhaps slightly unnecessary. Although you have that gut reaching feeling by the end not wanting to leave these characters behind, there are parts of the book where the plot thins and the pace drops but don’t despair, your patience will be rewarded after a few slower sections.
Faber has created a very sympathetic portrayal of the life of Victorian Women. From privileged Agnes who’s illness is treated by threats of life in the asylum to underprivileged Sugar, who has the constant battle of becoming indispensible to William as to not lose the roof over her head. The sections where Sugar is clearly making all the business decisions behind the perfumery business is especially bittersweet.
There is one last issue with this novel, there are some parts of the characters which are a little ambiguous making it difficult for you to understand their actions. Does Sugar actually care for William? Does William really think bringing a Prostitute into his household as a Governess the best thing to do? Nevertheless, you won’t regret putting the time and effort into this book. Reminiscent of Vanity Fair and with all the parts Dickens’s no doubt wished he could have written about any enthusiast of historical literature will succumb to Faber’s world.
Penguin are celebrating their 50th anniversary of the Modern Classic by publishing fifty new classics by the greatest writers of the last 100 years. Costing £3 each and roughly the same size as a postcard, the minimalistic grey and white covers contain some of the best short fiction from authors such as Kingsley Amis, H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse and Virginia Woolf which will look beautiful on your shelf.
ReaderIReadIt was lucky enough to get our hands on two of the fifty, Samuel Beckett’s The Expelled and Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler.
Samuel Beckett explores the world of love in two short stories The Expelled and First Love. Perferct if you are looking to explore Beckett’s work, the stories explore subjects of companionship and loneliness which is something that Beckett can express through literature in depth and with great poetic style.
For all those budding detectives among you, Killer in the Rain is the ultimate murder mystery where bodies appear as quickly as they disappear, fingers are pointed in a complex web of lies and double dealings and where characters name’s like Violets M’Gee adds to the atmosphere.
The books are perfectly sized to pop in your pocket for those times when you find yourself time to read out and about, and with over 50 to choose from the only difficulty you’ll have is deciding which one to read first.
Click on the covers to read more about the two books featured or treat yourself to all 50 by clicking on the box set.
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