1 February 2020 Susannah

Books I’ve read recently

I have read some lovely books recently which I’d like to recommend. I hope you’ll find some of these interesting and read them also.

Jane Sullivan’s Storytime was gorgeous – a reminiscence of childhood reading. In each chapter the author looked back at a book she had loved as a child, trying to remember why she loved it and what it was all about. Then she re-reads the book, sometimes finding the same thrills and joys in reading it, but sometimes disappointed. I had read most of the books she chose and while I did not always agree with her (especially in the chapter on Little Women) she made me think and reflect and the book was a joy.

Then I read A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (who shot to fame with her The Girl with a Pearl Earring), This was a novel about a single woman living in Winchester between the wars. She gets involved in stitching kneeler cushions for the great cathedral – visitors can still see those cushions there today. I like the way Chevalier mixes well-researched history with a good story.

Constable in Love by Martin Gayford was a book for every art-lover. It tells of John Constable’s long courtship of Maria Bicknell, whose family thought he was too poor to marry her, but it is also a fascinating analysis of how the relationship affected his art. I loved every page of this book and wanted to rush off to the Tate and see all those Constables again!

It’s an extremely rare thing for me to read a book about sport! However, I was intrigued by Fredrik Backmann’s Beartown which was superbly read on audio (Backmann is best known for A Man Called Ove). It’s about a small Swedish community obsessed with ice-hockey, and when a girl is raped by the best player in the team, the ramifications are enormous. It was gripping, depressing and memorable. But don’t hold your breath for another book on sport any time soon!

Have you read any of these books? Which was your favourite? Let me know in a comment.

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Header image credit- Storytime by Jane Sullivan, A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, Constable in Love by Martin Gayford, Beartown by Fredrik Backmann, images from https://www.goodreads.com/
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Comments (12)

  1. Hi Susannah

    I completely agree with you about Jane Sullivan’s “Storytime” … a delightful book and a terrific idea well realised by Jane. You and your readers may be interested to know that Jane and I are offering a event called Storytime based on the story of how she went about creating the book as a featured event in Melbourne Rare Book Week this July. It will include live readings by one of Melbourne’s leading voice artists Abbe Holmes.

    However, Susannah I have to take issue with you and side with Jane concerning Little Women!
    What a completely awful book! I hated it when I first read it as a teenager, and re-hated it when I more recently returned to give it a second chance, having read Geraldine Brooks splendid “March”. Like Jane, my reaction was Marmie-Smarmy! I can confidently predict that I will never read it again.

    Back to agreement mode, I also greatly enjoyed Tracy Chevalier’s “A Single Thread.” I thought she captured the feel of the life of the “surplus woman” of the twenties and thirties with great sensitivity, and I found myself surprisingly engaged with the whole craft of embroidery.

    Anyway, how could you go wrong with a good book set in Jane Austen country in God’s own county of Hampshire! Like you, I suspect, I have found all of Tracy Chevalier’s books highly enjoyable, with my favourite, after the wonderful “Girl with the Pearl Earring” being “Remarkable Creatures”,also with a Jane Austen connection.

    Best wishes

    Chris

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for letting me know about the event you are doing with Jane re Storytime. Wish I could be there.
      I’m sad that you hated Little Women. I read and reread it and learned so much from it and am thrilled my new granddaughter is named Josephine like that wonderful heroine. Unlike you, I hated March and felt that Geraldine Brooks had no right to take a beloved character and distort his personality in the way she did.
      I really enjoy Tracy Chevalier and like you, enjoyed Remarkable Creatures, but I thought A Single Thread was better. I don’t embroider but can’t wait to go to Winchester Cathedral in May and see the cushions which have recently been restored. I also found the bell-ringing curiously interesting. It was such a good picture of the plight of single women between the wars. And of course Hampshire is my favourite county in England, so a book there is off to a great start with me.
      So next time we meet, we’ll have to enjoy an argument about Little Women, but am glad we can agree on most books.

  2. Harriet Cartwright

    I loved Beartown and it sequel. I haven’t read A Single Thread but have enjoyed many of her others so I will add it to my list.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      In Beartown you have to be prepared to cope with a fair bit about ice hockey in the first few chapters, but the book was really gripping and thought-provoking.
      I thought the Tracy Chevalier was one of her best books and it really made you think about the position of single women between the wars.

  3. MarshaD

    Thanks for providing your usual insightful views. They have given me some new titles to add to my must-read list!

      • Oh no no no! Little Women is a classic, one has to remember the era in which it was written, and the American attitude to what constituted a ‘ wholesome family.’I was about 13, 14 years when my mother gave me Little Women and Anne Of Green Gables, while my father gave me my beloved Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters. My dear mother tried to encourage my three daughter to read those books beloved by her, not successfully, unrealistic and too sweet were there comments. My eldest daughter now in her 40s recently saw the latest film of Little Women, enjoyed it and returned to the book, saying she felt it was a social comment on choices available to women in that era, and that all took paths to their happiness. However she loved the brave Jo. My granddaughter some years ago fell in love with the television version of Anne of Green Gables and became determined to visit Canada, she may not have fallen in love with reading, but she has certainly fallen in love with travel. Isn’t it wonderful what great books can do

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Books are a passport to so many new worlds! I adored Anne of Green Gables and have visited Prince Edward Island so many times, and have always loved Little Women as well. I also failed to get my daughter to love those books. However, if film versions bring young readers back to the novels, that will be fabulous.

  4. Fi Morgan

    I too very much enjoyed A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. The weaving of a tale, the strength and knowingness of women and from a single to intricate threading made it a marvellous read

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It gave such a vivid picture of life for single women after WWI. I am going to Winchester in May and am so keen to see those cushions.

  5. Alexandra Young

    Thanks for your book recommendations Susannah, I always like good book for our book group discussions.
    Loving the Literary notes as always, only read Kidnapped last year as we did classics in the book group and I found it wonderful.
    The history is interesting and the descriptions of them trekking around that Scottish landscape marvellous.

    Alex

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