Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book report: holiday reading (pre-, mid-, and post-) (part 3)

Okay, in this post I am going to get completely caught up with my recent reading or very grievously injure myself trying.

It's odd how I tend to veer wildly in my reading, but once I'm into or out of a genre, it takes a while to cycle back around. After obsessing over them for several months, I've been reading very few school stories in the past couple of months, and very little children's fiction in general. But, two exceptions to note:

I read St. Kelvern's Launches Out by CAROL ANN PEARCE not long ago, and found it completely enjoyable and amusing, but—either because of my particular mood (perhaps just not being in a school story frame of mind) or because of other distractions or some other deficiency on my part—I'm also finding it hard to recall now, apart from the difficulties of one character in deciding what career she'd like to pursue. 

Front flap blurb of St. Kelvern's Launches Out

But I did enjoy it at the time, and my memory is notoriously bad, plus I know this is a favorite of many school story fans, so bear all of that in mind and don't hate me for not falling instantly in love with it.

Then, here's one it took me an embarrassing amount of time to get to. I wrote about having acquired a copy of VIRGINIA PYE's The Prices Return I don't know how long ago. It had been recommended by Call Me Madam for my World War II Book List, as an appropriate addition to the Postwar section, and it certainly does belong on that list. I was even a bit surprised by the number of references—in what is very much a book for teenagers, I assume—to bombed out buildings, memories of blackouts and doodlebugs, and even one character having been "twice dug out after air rairs". In addition to which, the head of the family, Mr. Price, is, we are told, off in Germany helping with the refugee situation there.

Front flap of
The Prices Return

The postwar housing shortage is clearly delineated in Mrs. Price's difficulties in finding even a temporary abode near her new job in London. Moreover, rationing in part leads to the central adventure of the novel—the children's attempt to maintain a goat in the middle of London (indeed, at one point, accidentally finding themselves and the goat in the middle of Piccadilly Circus) while keeping it a secret from their mother. It's not a terribly plausible sub-plot, and it wore just a bit thin for me, but the characters and story are so cheerful and charming that I can't quibble much. I'm on the lookout for Pye's other wartime titles now, and I had forgotten, while reading the book, that she was Margaret Kennedy's sister.

Just before New Year's, I had another strange shift in interest (or shift in obsession?). It had, for whatever strange reason, been quite a while since I'd read a Virago, though I have a couple of shelves full of those wonderful little green paperbacks from the 1980s, and they probably went a long way toward launching me on my current expeditions into ever more obscure books and writers.

First, something made me pick up DOROTHY STRACHEY's one and only novel, Olivia (1949), published under the pseudonym Olivia as well (presumably indicating a considerable level of autobiographical content in the novel, if the title character and author are supposed to be one and the same). Strachey was the big sister of historian and Bloomsbury-ite Lytton Strachey and Freud translator James Strachey, not to mention the sister of Marjorie Strachey, who also published fiction, sister-in-law of Ray Strachey, who published novels and a prominent history of the suffragists, and aunt of novelist and Persephone author Julia Strachey. But despite all the prominent, scandalous nonconformity of her relatives, she chose to publish her (mildly) lesbian-themed novel under a pen name.

In fact, anyone who approached Olivia hoping for something scandalous must have been—even at the time it first appeared—rather disappointed. It's actually a well-written, serious exploration of an English schoolgirl's infatuation with an attractive headmistress at a French boarding school. It could practically be a girls' school story itself, for all of the titillation you'll find, except that the rollicking adventures and near-death experiences are absent and the crush and all its implications and torments are treated with respect and dignity. It's true that the headmistress and her partner in running the school have presumably been lovers in the past, though that relationship has now deteriorated and is tainted with jealousy and spite. But it's hard to imagine anyone getting their knickers in a twist over that. If Olivia isn't one of my favorites (if nothing else, it's just too short to be fully satisfying), it's still a quite interesting read, especially for anyone who enjoys school settings.

Holding the little green Virago edition of Olivia in my hands seems to have been an appealing experience, because I immediately proceeded to another of the unread Viragos languishing on my TBR shelves. And it was a great way to celebrate the New Year's that the first book I completed in 2016 was a new favorite. Does it subtract from that felicitousness that multiple kindred spirits—friends and fellow bloggers alike—have been telling me for years that I should read E. H. YOUNG in general and Miss Mole (1930) in particular?

Well, better late than never. And it's certainly a worthy addition to my imaginary "top shelf," where all of the books I love most are virtually kept. (In actual fact, those "top shelf" books that I own in physical copies are scattered throughout my bookcases at present—not the least reason for this being that one shelf probably isn't large enough to hold them all—not to mention those I have only as e-books.) 

At any rate, what a wonderful, odd, and, indeed, wonderfully odd novel Miss Mole is. It's the tale of a 40-ish spinster with a troubled past, who has drifted from post to post—sometimes a companion, sometimes a housekeeper—never staying for long because she possesses a bit too much dignity, a troubled relationship with the truth, and a tendency to speak her mind a bit too eloquently.

Wouldn't I love to have a copy of Miss Mole
in this original edition?

It's certainly "uncozy" and therefore right up my alley, and it's also, I found myself thinking, more "grown up" than most novels. Which brought to mind Virginia Woolf's famous declaration—about George Eliot's Middlemarch—that it's one of the few serious works of fiction written for grownups (i.e. presumably—though I hate to assume I know what Virginia means, ever—those readers who aren't looking merely for adventure or thrills, and aren't satisfied with romanticized, easy portrayals of the comedies, conflicts and tragedies of life). And if that's what Woolf meant, then she should certainly have read Miss Mole (though, now that I think of it, perhaps she did, and probably, just to spite me, she wrote something snarky about it, as she was so prone to do with her contemporaries).

[And of course, after I had already written that paragraph, a Google search for something completely different revealed by chance that Woolf had indeed been snarky about Miss Mole, which frankly makes me feel a bit snarky about Woolf herself, and nothing good can come of everybody being snarky, now can it? So I will move on.]

For me, the idea of grownup-ness stemmed from the fact that Miss Mole, with her unpredictable attitudes, morals, and philosophies, is so plainly not any kind of romantic heroine for a novel—not even any kind of heroine at all, for any kind of novelist with less vision and wisdom than E. H. Young. Any reasonably talented writer might have made Miss Mole an interesting supporting character, but to make her likeable—even lovable—as a main character seems to me an extraordinary achievement.

And she is interesting because she is completely convincingly damaged—even rather seriously damaged—by past experiences, and her position in regard to the world is always one of defensiveness and mistrust, interpreting everyone around her for the possible threat they could pose or the possible benefit or entertainment to be obtained from them. But this rather tense way of going through life is tempered by a surprising ability to take joy in the simple things that come her way—observing people on the street, taking a solitary walk, treasuring her few possessions—that makes us pull for her despite her occasional shadiness (which Young also doesn't hesitate to show us).

I found myself relating to Miss Mole quite a lot—sometimes in ways that made me do a bit of soul-searching about my own damage and my own sometimes paranoid approach to other people or strange situations. Which made the novel that much more satisfying. However clever they may be, stories with easy happy endings that solve everyone's problems, and characters who are pristine and undamaged apart from one easily-solved dilemma, can be quite fun to read, and some of them might belong on an imaginary "second shelf," but for me, a certain amount of realism about the fact that we all have our scars and ghosts from the past, and there's no such thing as a pure and simple happy ending (however lovely life may be overall, as indeed it is), seems to be required for a book to belong on my "top shelf."

And now I'm excited because there are ten more E. H. Young novels for me to explore (it will probably take me ages to work my way through them, what with everything else I want to be reading too, but I am excited nevertheless), and most of her books were either reprinted by Virago in the 1980s and so are fairly readily available or (in the case of the first four) are out of copyright in the U.S. and available for free online. I wonder, too: Young apparently also wrote two works of children's fiction—Caravan Island (1940) and River Holiday (1942). Has anyone sampled those?

But all of this leads to the usual bewildering question: why on earth are none of E. H. Young's novels in print, either in the U.K. or the U.S.?! Clearly, she belongs on the exclusive list of titles I would love to publish myself were that ever to be a possibility.

Well, that brings me up to date with just one intentional omission. There is one more lovely Virago that I've read recently, but I've just learned that the other of this author's two novels, the one which was not reprinted by Virago and is now rather rare, the one that is held by only one U.S. library apart from the Library of Congress, seems to be wending its merry way toward me via interlibrary loan. I am therefore going to wait and mention both of her novels together. I quite liked the latter one; what will I think of the former? And one more hint as to this author's identity: she has a much more famous sibling…

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book report: holiday reading (pre-, mid-, and post-) (part 2)

Can I keep my comments on the books in this post as concise as in my last post? What's more, can I actually get more or less caught up on telling you about what I've reading before I've already read ten more books? We shall see.

I think I can make fairly short work of some mysteries I read before and during the holidays. I started off by going back to the beginning of the wonderful Mrs. Malory series, by HAZEL HOLT, in honor of her passing in late November. I suspect I'll work my way gradually through the entire series again, and it was interesting to recall that in the first book, Mrs. Malory Investigates (1989, published in the UK as Gone Away?), Sheila is described as being in her 50s and still relatively fresh from the dual loss of her husband and mother. Holt seems to have allowed her creation to age gracefully along with her.

I sampled one of MABEL ESTHER ALLAN's late novels written under the pseudonym Priscilla Hagon. I came across a copy of Cruising to Danger (1966) and was imagining that perhaps its tale of a young heroine uncovering a dastardly plot on a Mediterranean cruise while acting as companion to a family with small children just might evoke some of Allan's best works about girls coming to maturity. It did, just a little, and was perfectly enjoyable, but it's certainly not on a par with Margaret Finds a Future or Swiss Holiday/The Vine-Clad Hill. Interesting to see Allan working in "thriller" mode, though, however mildly.

When I'm feeling really lazy, of course, I often turn to AGATHA CHRISTIE, and the holidays brought a re-reading of Sleeping Murder (1976, but probably written in the 1940s), the final Miss Marple mystery. It's one of my favorites, and as it happens probably one of the first books I remember buying. The battered old paperbackwhich I still have, though it's been supplemented by a lovely hardcover first edition as wellis from only a year or two after the book first appeared.

As I recall, my 9 or 10-year-old self had a wee bit of difficulty following the story, but that didn't stop me from finishing it and reading it a second time soon after. There's something very seductive about its themes of past experiences long forgotten that come back to haunt one in the present. This is one of the Christies whose murderer I always remember at once, but I can never recall the details, and the book is so well-written, and Miss Marple so charmingly and enjoyably present, that knowing whodunnit makes little difference.

I already mentioned that Andy and I spent a couple of days in Monterey after Christmas, and I visited a favorite bookstore there (one of the only surviving bookshops in town), Old Capitol Books. The shop leans a bit more on the American side than the British side in its selection of beautiful old books, but I managed to do quite enough damage anyway. I actually purchased a second copy of Rose Macaulay's The World My Wilderness, purely because this copy had a lovely dustjacket that my other one lacked (which of course I will share with you here). 

I also had Andy scrambling to look up Hilary March, whose 1966 novel, A Question of Love, was unknown to me but tantalizingly available. As it turns out, March was a pseudonym used (presumably) because of the novel's lesbian themes, but the author, Isobel Lalage Pulvertaft (and that's the real name, not a pseudonym!), had already published three earlier novels that qualify her for my Overwhelming List.

And while I was in a buying mood, I also picked up two mysteries—an Ian Rankin, the setting of which may be relevant to an upcoming trip (more on that later), and one by a favorite author, Patricia Moyes. Although I had (of course!) brought other books on our trip to read, I found myself diving into Moyes' Night Ferry to Death (1985) before falling asleep that night, and I had finished it by the time we left Monterey. I don’t know that it's a particularly outstanding mystery in terms of its plot, though Moyes is always quite good, but I loved it for the fact that Henry Tibbett, her protagonist, and his wife Emmy do some traveling in the novel (in this case to the Netherlands) and their holidays together are usually entertaining, plus their personal dynamic is always charming and enjoyable.

Finally, I mentioned previously my happy acquisition, at the last Friends of the San Francisco Public Library book sale, of an obscure little mystery called Murder at Calamity House (1947), by an author named Ann Cardwell, which turned out to be the pseudonym of Jean Makins Pawley, a Canadian author. Calamity is the second of only two books she published, both of them mysteries, and even within their own realm of fairly deep obscurity, Calamity is the lesser-known of the two (which makes me happy that it's the one I happened across).

When I picked it up at the book sale, I figured it would be more or less a throwaway. I even imagined just scanning the rather seductive cover and then donating it back (such things are possible when you're paying only $1 per book). But it turned out to be surprisingly interesting. It may not be as polished and smooth as some of my other favorite mystery writers, and it’s a fairly dark little tale, but I found it hard to put down. There's a surreal quality about the dysfunctional family residing at "Calamity House" and their cold, casual cruelty to one another, but the bizarreness of it all certainly held my interest.

1989 reprint of Crazy to Kill

In fact, I immediately did an Abe Books search to see if I could find Cardwell's one other, slightly better-known novel, Crazy to Kill (1941). I could (in a reprint edition from 1989, which seems to be pretty readily available) and I did. I have to say that it really is more enjoyable—and even more odd—than Calamity House. A mystery novel, gruesomely loaded with multiple corpses and methods of murder, set in a mental institution and narrated by a sixty-ish inmate named Agatha Lawson, who has been a resident for ten years now but is expecting to be released soon, is certainly not your run-of-the-mill whodunnit. At times, its humor and Agatha's charming voice make it seem like a cozy mystery that could almost have been written today. At other times, it seems just a bit too dark for that.

I found the solution not altogether surprising, but I had great fun getting to it, and it was reviewed at Mystery File back in 2011, where the reviewer also had positive things to say (I am also shamelessly swiping the cover art used for that review—hopefully without offending anyone). Since the 1989 reprint is not impossible to find, you might want to consider it if you're open to a rather offbeat, morbid read.

Obviously, I'll need a Part 3 of this catch-up post, but I am getting there!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book report: holiday reading (pre-, mid-, and post-) (part 1)

Well, here goes—my first attempt at a reading catch-all post that (hopefully) won't be the length of a Dostoevsky novel—though there are quite a few books to mention…

I did a bit of reading before the holidays that I think I can actually sum up briefly. For example, I read RC SHERRIFF's Greengates (1936), newly reprinted by Persephone, which I had been looking forward to for months before it arrived. I have to report that I was just a bit underwhelmed, but this is probably because The Fortnight in September, his earlier novel about an ordinary family's quiet holiday by the seaside, is one of my all-time favorites. I may therefore have had unrealistically high hopes that Greengates, about a middle-aged couple coming to terms with the extra time they have together after the husband retires, would provide similar delights. If I had read Greengates first, I might have loved it—and how unfair for me to be disappointed that it's not another Fortnight. I wonder just how often one book or another is ruined simply because one has read another book first? Or, for that matter, because one hasn't read another book first. Has this happened to you?

On a similarly disappointing note, I was so excited to have tracked down a copy of WINIFRED DUKE's Death and His Sweetheart (1938), which was apparently a bestseller in its time and one of Duke's most successful and well-known novels (and I won't resist sharing the cover with you, as I think it's a rather nice one). But my original assumption that this was one of her mysteries turned out to be quite incorrect. It is, in fact, a ghost tale, set—as per Duke's norm—in a rather ominous Scottish village. There is a framing story set more or less in the present time, with the arrival of a new minister in the village, then a flashback to around the turn of the 19th century, when a previous minister and his wife seem to have scandalized the village and met their doom.

Book club advert from back of Duke's
Death and His Sweetheart

My problem with the novel—which, sadly, I chose not to finish reading—may have been a slight variant on my problem with the Sherriff. I had already read Duke's later novel, Dirge for a Dead Witch, which uses a very similar structure and setting, and that might well be the source of my slight "been there, done that" feeling when trying to get engrossed in Sweetheart. I'm certainly not giving up on Duke, however. There are some other titles which should be available via Interlibrary Loan, and I'm determined to find more of her mysteries, since The Dancing of the Fox was such an odd little pleasure. Let's hope that that one, her final work, wasn't the only really high point in her long and prolific career.

Then there was COMPTON MACKENZIE's Extraordinary Women (1928), which I had long meant to read because of its links to gay and lesbian literature and to modernism, but it took finding a lovely (and cheap) copy of the Hogarth Press edition to make me finally commit. It doesn't entirely fit the main topic of this blog, but I'm mentioning this rather over-the-top portrayal of a whole slew of eccentric lesbians staying on the Isle of Capri around the time of World War I because some of you (especially fans of an E. F. Benson type of comedy) might happen to enjoy it. It was also published the same year as Radclyffe Hall's scandalous The Well of Loneliness, and, interestingly, aroused no particular controversy with its subject matter, while Hall's book was famously the target of censorship and outrage. Was this because Mackenzie was straight while Hall was—definitively—not? Or was it because Hall's portrayal of lesbianism (or, more accurately in the language and understanding of today, a transgendered man) was deadly serious, while the romantic trials and tribulations of Mackenzie's lesbians are unquestionably played for laughs?

Whatever the reason, I approached the novel a bit ambivalently, expecting perhaps a condescending or mocking attitude (straight modernist men were rarely known for their tolerance), but I was surprised how even-handed the comedy actually was. The women portrayed certainly behave in ridiculous ways, but no more ridiculous than characters in numerous novels by gay and lesbian authors (see Carl Van Vechten's Parties or Angus Wilson's Hemlock and After, for example), and indeed it seems clear that Mackenzie's attitude is that love makes fools of everyone, straight and gay alike—perhaps particularly when they are too wealthy and spoiled for their own good. For that matter, many of the characters Mackenzie portrays are thinly veiled versions of real women, such as Romaine Brooks, Mimi Franchetti, and Radclyffe Hall herself, and from what biographers tell us of them, Mackenzie's portrayals might actually be rather restrained! At any rate, I found it all to be great fun.

Then, just before the wonderful holiday break, I finally, finally got round to reading two more JOSEPHINE TEY novels, The Singing Sands (1952), the final Alan Grant novel, and The Franchise Affair (1948), in which Grant also appears, though only in a supporting role. I enjoyed both, and was (as I have been the other two or three times I've read something of Tey's) bewildered at why I hadn't read them before. Tey has easily become one of my handful of absolute favorite mystery authors, and yet there are still a few of her books I have yet to read. Too many books, yada yada yada…

Of these two, Franchise was my favorite, and I'm also adding it to my World War II book list in the Postwar section, as it makes frequent references to the war and evokes a strong atmosphere of the immediate postwar period. But that's not the only reason I liked it. It's also interesting because the main character is a small town barrister trying to defend two women charged with a far-fetched kidnapping, and our beloved Alan Grant is actually on the other side of the fence (more or less—he does have his doubts). As much as I missed Grant's more frequent presence, and being privy to his ponderings, Tey's experiment worked for me. Neither of these books has unseated Daughter of Time or Miss Pym Disposes as my favorite Teys, but that standard is reached by very few books by any author, and these were still fascinating and unputdownable. Now what should I read next by Tey?

That's enough for now. I think I've actually succeeded in reining myself in a bit, have I not? But there's still more holiday reading to catch up on.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Lingering traces (and a big thank you)

First and foremost (I think I started my last post with those very words, so my creativity is at a low ebb, but the words are fitting nevertheless), I have to say that I was so grateful for all the many comments on my last post about the shift in focus I have in mind for this blog. I think I partly expected many people to react with, more or less, a "Well, that's that then. I can remove that blog from my list of online reading material," and I was very very very pleased that so many people chimed in with their encouragement and support. It really meant a lot to me and gave me a big boost in enthusiasm for the blog—and probably in all-around ego as well, but you'll have to ask Andy about that...

I also have to thank several of you who are bloggers yourselves for the invaluable advice about cutting down spam comments by adding a word verification requirement. I should have recalled that this was an option, or should have looked into my options more thoroughly and reminded myself of it, but perhaps I can say, as my excuse, that I was so swamped by spam comments that I didn't have the time to do my homework. At any rate, I turned on word verification two or three days ago and am delighted to report that a) several of you have successfully left comments since then, so it must not be too cumbersome to navigate, and b) that I have received not one spam comment since. Which has given me a whole new lease on blogging life, so thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now, I have already started to experiment a bit with ways of briefly reporting on interesting and relevant books I've read and any particularly profound (um, sure) thoughts I've had about them (concisely!!!), but this was a particularly crazy week at work, so a planned first attempt at such a post has been waylaid for a few days.

(Note to self: Instead of taking time off during the holidays next year, be kind to yourself and take the utterly mad first week of January instead, the week when everyone suddenly awakens from an eggnog- and Christmas cooking-enhanced stupor and realizes they've done no work since Thanksgiving, then panics and tries to catch up while manically attempting to keep irrationally glorious New Year resolutions that are, let's face it, doomed to fail in another week or two. Ugh.)

But over the past couple of weeks, I have been delving a little into books on my TBR shelves that I've been meaning to get to for ages (more on the actual reading soon), and I've come across a couple of interesting tidbits buried within the pages. I admit I first thought of a post about items found in my books a long time ago (and there's nothing whatsoever original about such an idea, of course, as numerous other people have done the same), but it somehow felt too forced at the time and I scrapped it. But having come across three rather evocative items in a short span of time, I figured I might as well share them.

Now I don't know if other people feel that some irrevocable meaning attaches to found items from the books in which they're found, or if such a daft notion would never occur to anyone but me. But I do.

So, for example, a bit of extra poetic meaning attaches to the fact that a ticket to a St. Martin-in-the-Fields concert, dating from 1994, wound up in my copy of E. H. Young's Miss Mole, acquired nearly 20 years later at a Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale.

I could almost imagine that a latter-day Miss Mole attended this concert and left her ticket behind. And of course the ticket made me yearn for London even more than I ordinarily am on any given day of the week.

And it's certainly not inappropriate that tucked inside my long-unread Virago edition of Dorothy Strachey's Olivia was a ticket (sadly undated) for the P&O European Ferries. Someone was taking this very short novel, about a British girl at a French boarding school, along with them on their journey from Portsmouth to Le Havre.

Nowadays, it looks like a similar ferry (P&O seems to no longer exist and the only ferries on this route are operated by Brittany Ferries) takes a little under four hours, so if the former owner of the novel was a fast reader, I hope he/she had other reading material as well or was planning for a little sightseeing or a nap along the way as well.

In view of the fact that the location in which a book is found adds meaning to the book for me, it is with regret that I admit that I can't recall for sure from which book the Du Maurier cigarette ad (or possibly an insert in the cigarette package itself?) came, but it's clearly rather old.

When was the last time the American or British government would have allowed an assurance, in a cigarette ad, that a particular brand of smokes "guards physical fitness"? Why, who knew? Smoking these cigarettes is practically good for you!

I'm including this item here with the other two because I recently came across it again, having obviously removed it from a book a while back in order to keep it from falling out and getting lost while I was reading the book. I put it in a safe place, but then forgot it there, and the rest is history. And I read so many old books that I have no clue now in which one it might have been nestled. 

But now that it has been found, I had to locate an appropriate new home for it. This is surely a problem few people would consider seriously, but I rather did. Finally, looking at my bookcase, and at the older books I have, I decided that, for me, Rosamond Lehmann somehow seems like a likely smoker, or at least an author who would have had a lot of smokers around her. So the cigarette ad's new home is my nice early copy of her novel, The Ballad and the Source.

And that’s enough of that for now. If I went through all the books on my shelves, I would find dozens more such things, so perhaps I'll do a bit more digging someday. Meanwhile, I'll get back to thinking about a workable "book report" post. Hopefully coming soon...

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year and a change of pace (literally and figuratively)

First and foremost, happy new year to all of you. Andy and I have had a very mellow week off from work, with an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas spent with friends and a short post-Christmas excursion to Monterey, further down the California coast (where I was able to visit one of my favorite second-hand bookstores). I can't say that we're ready to be back at work on Monday, but at least we can't say that we're not rested and relaxed. And I can even report that Northern California has been chillier than usual during the entire holidays, which gave me a mild taste of longed-for winter (very mild indeed, compared to what many of you are accustomed to, but enough to put a little nip in the air).

And for the new year, I do have a resolution of sorts regarding this blog. It's one I've been planning to make for a while, but I've kept putting it off. I think now it's time to make it in earnest (though how strictly I will adhere to it remains to be seen—my other New Year's resolutions rarely pan out as planned, after all).

In fact, it's a little bit funny (to quote Elton John) and a bit ironic that a rather persnickety anonymous commenter on one of my recent reviews noted, with seeming disgruntlement (though tone is admittedly hard to convey in print and with so little context), that "None of her [Kate Horn's] books are available, same as 99% of authors mentioned on this blog."

When I first read that comment, I admit I was a wee bit peeved. I mean, by all means disagree with my opinions, or my recommendations, and certainly feel free to share your own ideas and opinions even when they're different from mine, and above all don't hesitate to correct any factual information that I have got wrong. But the implication in this comment—assuming it was intended in the way that it reads—is that the reader was irritated that I consistently focus on obscure authors rather than those he or she can easily order or download at the drop of a hat.

I felt that my response at the time was rather restrained, though I naturally felt like saying something along the lines of, "This is my blog and will remain focused on what I'm interested in. If it doesn't interest you, feel free to go and start your own damn blog." Ahem. But of course I took the high road (well, until now, I suppose).

At any rate, I did say that it was ironic that this comment was made just recently. Because, in fact, my resolution is to make a bit of a shift in my blog, precisely for the purpose of making it a bit more focused on the obscure authors I'm interested in (and probably even more irritating to my persnickety commenter).

First, I am planning to more or less do away with proper, full-scale book reviews. I know that some of you enjoy those—indeed, maybe that's the only reason some of you visit this blog in the first place—and I do really hate to disappoint you. But the purpose of this blog, when I started it (nearly three years ago now, believe it or not), was to share my research on British women writers that have been lost in the shuffle of time and the vicissitudes of publishing—some perhaps justly, others very much unjustly. It was never my intent to focus a lot of time or attention on reviews, but somehow that's what I wound up doing.

And that is entirely my own fault. I've been attempting for some time, actually, to scale back the length of my reviews, rather than their frequency, so that I can still share thoughts on some of the more interesting authors I unearth. But I started that "scaling back" over a year ago now, and it has never worked very well because, simply put, I am just far too much of a blabbermouth. If I'm interested enough in a book to write about it at all, I find myself compelled to share all the things I noticed about it, and a whole slew of my favorite quotations as well.  So reviews have continued to take up rather too much of my available time.

Then there's the question of that "available time." My previous job, though a classic dead end on a professional level (the firm is now in the process of closing down, so I clearly got out while the getting was good), allowed me the rather luxurious perk of being able—in between crises—to do research and writing while on the clock. My new job, while a much better long-term prospect and more interesting work overall, isn't quite so flexible, and doesn't have a lot of down time to begin with. So I have had to make a decision about what part of my blog is most satisfying and enjoyable for me, and what part I could live without. For better or worse, what I can live without (at least I think I can) are proper, full-scale reviews, and what I enjoy most is researching new authors for my Overwhelming List and highlighting interesting discoveries or interesting stories about these more or less forgotten women.

So, while I don't plan to pressure myself to post any specific number of times per month (and the number of posts are definitely likely to decrease), I still plan to add occasional new posts like my recent one on Molly Spencer Simpson, as well as update posts to share new information about authors, such as the ones I did (here and here) back in October. I'm also currently at work on a large new update to the Overwhelming List, which will add (unbelievably) about 400 more authors to the list, and I'll be reporting on some of those new additions. (I remember the time when it seemed amazing that I had 500 authors on the list—now it looks like I'll reach 2,000 before long.)

But in addition to adding new authors, my hope is also to begin expanding the information on the Overwhelming List (to make it even more overwhelming, but also hopefully more informative and more detailed), and perhaps even to add posts dedicated entirely to some of the most interesting lesser-known authors, not unlike the one I posted about Molly Clavering a while back. But (no doubt to the disappointment of my persnickety commenter) my priority will be authors who seem interesting but are virtually forgotten, and for whom available information online is scarce or nonexistent. It would seem like a waste of time to dedicate a post, for example, to the careers of Georgette Heyer or Agatha Christie, for whom plentiful information is already available elsewhere.

I also hope to still do an occasional new genre or subject list, like the Mystery List and the Grownup School Story List. I'll do these as inspiration strikes, but also feel free to let me know if you have ideas for lists you'd like to see. And who knows? And I'll also be expanding the existing lists when I finally finish the new update with those 400 new authors (and there are some interesting ones, believe me).

I might also still find myself doing some kind of monthly or bi-monthly post of capsule reviews, just to (briefly!?!?) share any interesting reading I've been doing. (And surely there will still be occasional book shopping posts—how will I ever be able to resist sharing any particularly exciting purchases?!)

By the way, I have to admit that I am also reluctantly considering removing the comment function from the blog. Mind you, I love getting comments from readers, and I assure you that my considering this move has nothing to do with not wanting your interesting comments and suggestions, and everything to do with the constant barrage of spam comments that are fired at my blog every day. For each of those, I receive an email (to alert me that a comment has been left and allow me to publish or delete it), so that my email inbox is always a bit like a city dumpster when the refuse workers are on strike. Turning off comments would solve that problem, but if any of you who are bloggers yourselves have sorted out a less depressing solution to spammers, do let me know. It's sad to let the spammers defeat me, but I am afraid I'm feeling a bit defeated at the moment. But even if I do end up deciding to disable comments, I will still always love to hear from any and all readers via email.

So there it is: a somewhat different Furrowed Middlebrow for 2016. I hope that most of you will still visit regularly to see what's new and to discover lost authors—even if their books are often not very readily available...
NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!