Summer reading part 1

 Yes, this is part 1.  I'm having a library binge this summer, and let's face it,our sodden, cold summer is just right for cosy evenings spent reading indoors, ideally in front of an open fire or wood-burning stove.  Since we lack those in Edinburgh I can be found keeping warm sitting on the large squashy sofa under a soft Swedish throw.  There is now a 'reading dent' in the sofa.  We are desperate not to put on the central heating, so it's a case of that good Scottish solution of putting another layer on.

I am fascinated by the 1930s - literature, art, politics.  I've read a lot about Britain in the period, but shamefully for a French graduate I'm rather ignorant of the feel of the decade in France.  This is a fairly dense read, and it's not going to be too cheerful.  Right now I'm still in the aftermath of the First World War and its effect on the French social and political psyche.

 When I want cheered up I turn to Ned Boulting's account of the 2014 Tour de France.  This is funny in the category of "Oh no, Mum's laughing out loud at a book on a transatlantic flight" - blame Bill Bryson for that one. In fact I've enjoyed it so much I extended its loan period and am on my second reading.  I now accept I'm going to have to buy it.

Because I'm new to this following cycling lark, I've only just become aware of Matt Rendell.  Matt is a freelance cycling commentator/author.  During this year's Tour he did an exquisite interview in French with a former French cycling professional turned journalist about his sceptical comments on Chris Froome's performance.  You can see it at the end of this short clip here.  Just shows the power of being able to speak other languages. After all that I felt I should read Matt's book about the history of the Tour de France.  As the French would say, 'j'ai appris des choses', discovering the even more extreme, punishing early days of the race, how the time trial and peleton came about, and how the race has adapted over the years.

A very pastoral, ideal-for summer read next - the life of an English meadow through a year.  Poetic yet brutally realistic about nature.  I've learned about moles harvesting worms and keeping them in suspended animation in worm-larders underground.  The Wind in the Willows didn't mention that.

Ever since watching the original BBC TV series of Survivors in the late 1970s I've been fascinated by post-apocalyptic scenarios.  That fascination has been tempered a bit since I've become a mother.  No hospitals! dentists! pain relief!   But without going as far as being a prepper I am concerned that we are really pretty helpless about even basic survival skills.  This was a very technical book, some of which I glazed over because of my complete lack of scientific knowledge.  I guess I could be useful growing food and making contact with French survivors.  In fact this year's Scottish summer made me conclude that the only sensible thing to do would be to pack up here and head for the south of France, where at least post-apocalyptic misery would be slightly warmer.

Last year I read a fascinating account of life in North Korea - a survival situation if ever there was one - by a former British diplomat there: 'Only Beautiful Please'.   'North Korea Undercover' is by a journalist who travelled to North Korea embedded in a party of students.  There was a fuss about it in the news when the subterfuge came out.  I was disappointed by this book - I felt it was sensationalist/tabloid-ish in parts, and I limped along to the end.

This account of six 19th century English women who made second lives in America is by one of my favourite travel writers.  I've read all her other exploration books, but found this very difficult to warm to.  There was a tenuous thread of the author's own inner turmoil at turning 50, but it came across to me as rather contrived.  Oh dear, I've gone into lit crit mode.  What impressed me in this book was the tenacity of these women at a time when they were expected just to fade out and grow old quietly, so perhaps it was a worthwhile read just for that message.  

That's another thing to add to my 'appreciating Edinburgh' list - great public libraries. 


  1. First, i did not realize summer is/was cold where you are . . thank you for sharing stuff . .

    Second, oooh, entirely new reading list for me - some of these i will want to order from the library here . . (Midwest USA) -

    Worm Larders? Who Knew . . .

    I often wonder what humanity will do when the "power' goes off . . at least you've read the book . . 9well, as much as possible . . )

    I certainly enjoyed visiting your blog today - Thank you.

  2. No wood stove or fireplace? I would be sad! You have a great list of books here. I might have to read, "101 Damnations".

  3. Meadowland would be my favorite from your list!!!
    I have been thinking about Scotland this past week. On Facebook there is a Time Hop thing that pops up showing what I posted in years past. Friday - SIX years ago - Amber and Mike had a big going away party as they prepared to leave for Scotland where they lived for a year. Yesterday - FIVE years ago - they returned home and I had posted a pic of Amber and I embracing at the International Arrivals gate at DFW!
    I wish I could post pictures to the comments and I would share these with you! They are ever so grateful they took advantage of the opportunity to spend a year in beautiful Scotland! Little did they know they would return home and become parents to quadruplets - who are now THREE years old!!!
    Life is amazing!!!

  4. I am loving the image if the reading dent! First cousin to the writing bump on the middle finger of the right (or left!) hand! Lots of interesting reads there. I have long since given up and our central heating has been on loads this summer x

  5. They sound like interesting reads. I'm a quarter of the way through Gormenhhast and seeing as term is about to start again very soon, I reckon it'll take me a good while to finish it!

  6. Ah yes, the thorny issue of central heating in July and August. It is blankets also chez nous. You'd love our bookshelves, full of Tour the France literature, the Matt Rendell book amongst them. I would enjoy most of the books here. I am reading quite a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction just now. I guess the required survival skills depend on the scenario that led up to the end of the world as we know it. I'd be pretty rubbish in any but going South sounds like a good plan. Glasgow is dreich just now. x

  7. I'm reading mysteries - my escape from real life! ;-))

  8. What a great collection of books; I love seeing what other people choose to read and these sound fascinating. We too have a reading dent in the sofa, although I prefer to read in bed. The only problem is that I can only manage a few pages before my eyes start to close! Happy reading! xx

  9. Quite a variety of reading material!

    I'm reading Michael Palin's book on following the trail of Hemingway across the world at the moment.

  10. Ooh, a good collection of reading material which will keep you going on chilly days. Like VeggieMummy,I'm more of a bedtime reader with the same nodding-off problem. I've been reading a couple of poetry anthologies recently, but am feeling the call of a novel. I'm too chicken to read about post-apocalyptic scenarios - I wouldn't be able to sleep!
    Cathy x

  11. You've set yourself quite a challenge - lots of books to be read and all within the library's three week limit! It's pretty soggy down here in Sussex too and I've been wearing jumpers as well and those sofa-blankets are constantly in use. Let's just hope next year is better! Judy.

  12. Very interesting! I might try the Sara Wheeler one sometime. I am always interested in late bloomers, and also pioneers. We have had to put the heat on from time to time here, as our poor daughter's teeth begin chattering sometimes. PLenty of blankets and slippers on the go too...

  13. will check all of them out ! and read samples
    thanks for this brilliant list

  14. Wish you could send us some of your cold weather this summer; I'd happily send some hot sunshine and blue skies in return! Your book list is certainly wide ranging, always a good thing. The Sara Wheeler book is one I'd be interested in as it might give me some insight into the lives of some of my foremothers who probably had similar experiences. I'll have to look for it. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

  15. Postscript - me again! I looked up the Wheeler book and found an interesting but not so flattering review here: My ancestors came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, and they weren't women of stature like some of these, so I guess the book doesn't really apply to them. Oh well! It still sounds interesting though.


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