Sunday Salon: Reading just for pleasure

The Sunday SalonI have always read for pleasure. I was never one of those people who resented the books I had to read for school or university – I did choose to study English lit after all. But I must admit I looked forward to the time after my degree when I would be free to read whenever I wanted to.

And that is what I have aimed to do ever since – reading by whim, not feeling bad about setting aside a book I’m not enjoying, or choosing a gripping crime novel over a slower, more “literary” alternative.

Except of course, my reading wasn’t entirely free. I have some self-imposed logic behind each choice. There are books I have agreed to review, selections for book groups I attend, reading challenges I’ve signed up to. And even beyond those, the reasons for my choices are not purely pleasure. There’s also self-education – expanding my horizons, reading books I feel I ought to read and literally learning stuff – and the guilt of the TBR, that I really should read that book my Dad bought because I put it on my Amazon wishlist 10 years ago in an ambitious moment.

Reading just for pleasure is surprisingly rare for me. And it’s also hard to pin down quite what that means. Because there is a certain enjoyment in racing through an easy, pacy read, but they can be badly written and the effect is not unlike eating junk food – very tasty initially but even before you’re done you feel bloated and dissatisfied.

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Maybe if I keep trying, I really won’t feel anything

Lies We Tell Ourselves
by Robin Talley

When this book was chosen by my book group I was worried it would be a tough read due to the subject matter. But it turned out, the problem I had was with the narrators’ tone and voice.

That’s not to say the subject matter isn’t tough, but I was reading this at the same time as dipping in and out of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and by comparison, well, it shows that Talley’s book is intended for a young adult audience.

It’s 1959 and some school districts in Virginia are holding out against integration. Sarah is one of 10 black pupils who were specially chosen to attend the white-only Jefferson High School after years of court battles. No-one at Jefferson wants them there and more than that, they don’t understand why the black students would want to come to their school.

“I wipe the tears away and stare at my reflection until my face smooths out and my eyes go empty.

This is how they have to see me. If they know I feel things, they’ll only try to make me feel worse.

Maybe if I keep trying, I really won’t feel anything.”

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Give a girl an education

Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen

So I’m still not sold on Jane Austen, having read four of her seven novels. I don’t think I will ever be a big fan, but I do increasingly appreciate her smart wit, her irony and sarcasm.

Fanny Price, however, is my least favourite Austen heroine so far. Her fate is predictable, telegraphed from the first few pages, but that’s not so bad if the journey is still enjoyable. However, Fanny is no fun at all. She’s delicate of health, oversensitive, prim, determined to believe that people can’t change, surprisingly impractical and generally a right goody-two-shoes.

Fanny is the oldest girl in a very large, not very well off family. When she is 10 she is adopted by her aunt Maria, who is married to the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram, so Fanny moves from her chaotic but happy home in Southampton to the grandeur of Mansfield Park in Northamptonshire. She is shy, scared of her uncle and badly misses her home and family.

“Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”

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