I’m late, I’m late, I’m late…. I’m on vacation and apparently my drive to not spend time in front of a pc was greater than my attention to detail when scheduling my “weekly” reading update. Even if it is ever so brief.

Work has been madly busy last week as I tried to close out projects before going on leave for a week. So even when I had the head-space, I haven’t had as much time to read as usually. Of course, this didn’t keep me from starting a few new books, but I only managed to finish two:

My first book was Stella Gibbons’ Starlight, originally published in 1967 (but with a setting that feels more like the 1950s than the late 1960s).

Until last week, I had only read Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm, which is a favourite comfort read of mine when suffering from the flu. Her other books were something I was faintly aware of but hadn’t looked into because – mainly – the descriptions and the covers (especially the one for Nightingale Wood) made them sound like chick-lit romance novels, and this is a genre that I just have no interest in.
Anyway, I added a separate review for Starlight and am already looking forward to reading more by Gibbons.

The second book I finished was Genius and Ink: Virginia Woolf on How to Read (2019), which is a collection of articles introduced by Francesca Wade (and with a foreword by Ali Smith) that Woolf wrote (originally) for the Times Literary Supplement, and some (if not most of) which were later reworked by Woolf in her collection The Common Reader. I have a lovely Hogarth edition of The Common Reader (both parts) on my shelf, but haven’t read them, yet. I’m taking my time with Woolf.
Judging by the fact that I’ve read half of this book in one afternoon, I think it supports my theory that Woolf’s non-fiction is a) brilliantly clear, and b) just so much easier on the reader than her fiction.
I say this from a place of love. I have a buddy read lined up for Night and Day next week.

The downside of basically having ploughed through this is that I need to go back through and extract the many fun quotations that I failed to mark with sticky notes because I was having so much fun reading.

What has struck me about her TLS (Times Literary Supplement) articles is that it must have been odd at times to combine a defense of traditional classics (that she loved) with an equal passion for new writing which sought to abandon the structures and themes of the past.
There are quite a few references to literary criticism of her contemporaries, which it must have been odd to write: does one review a book by a friend (or another author fighting her corner) honestly even if one doesn’t like it, or does one feel the need to be generous?
It seems that reviewing issues have not changed.

Some of her very diplomatic put-downs were hilarious, though:
“The diary, for whose sake we are remembering his three-hundredth birthday, is sometimes composed like a memoir, sometimes jotted down like a calendar. But he never used its pages to reveal the secrets of his heart, and all he wrote might have been read aloud in the evening to his children. If we wonder, then, why we still trouble to read what we must consider the uninspired work of a good man, we have to confess what everybody knows – that it is impossible to read works of genius all day long.”

(in “John Evelyn” p.81/82)

Finally, I need to find out whether the TLS essay “Hours in a Library” (the title of which is borrowed from her one of her father’s books) is available on the Internet somewhere for free because it is basically a love letter to reading and deserves to be shared. Woolf even mentions TBRs (as “lists”, not as “tbrs”) and how much fun it is to compile them!

Other reviews posted this week:
Stella Gibbons: Starlight