Category Archives: Classics

The Short and the Sweet (1), or, Catching up on Reviews for 2015

While I have not read many books this year, I cannot say I have encountered any that have disappointed me thus far. So instead of focusing on the negative, let me hold on to that thought. While all of these books thus deserve proper posts, I think it is best to catch up before hopefully moving on to full posts somewhere in the future. So, below: the short and sweet of four titles read in 2015.

The short and sweet 1

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
I read two books by Von Arnim this year, one of my go-to ereader authors providing contented leisurely reading at night. Vera, however, is a lot darker than the previous works I have read by Von Arnim. I have experienced before how Von Arnim is a master in playing with my expectations, my fervent hopes for happy endings, and sometimes letting them down by sticking closer to the everyday reality for women. In case of Vera, which revolves around a controlling and abusive husband, this quality of Von Arnim makes for a haunting read. Gripping, emotional, and therefore very very worthwhile, but definitely dark.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
was the book I opened on my ereader after finishing Vera. It took me quite a while to finish this reread, because of lots of stuff in my life that left very little time for reading. However, finally rereading this book at a much quieter pace than last time left me able to appreciate it much better. Conclusion: I’d loved to have been there with these four ladies on their holiday, made their acquaintance, and learn a little from their ability to refocus on what life has to offer us. I am thinking I should make The Enchanted April one of those books I reread every few years.

Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The same goes for the Miss Buncle books, really. These are my perfect comfort reads. Miss Buncle is the kind of character you’d wish was your friend. The humor provided by Stevenson lifts me up and the general atmosphere of the book just breezes coziness. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could stay in Miss Buncle’s world forever. There were tiny moments when the book gave me pause, as it seems very quick to assert conventional gender roles and conceptions of manliness and womanhood in places. But then Miss Buncle, through her observations, tone, and personal style, distracted me from it. Or perhaps it is that she is never victimised per se, and asserts her own happiness within this framework which was of course the daily reality for most people for a very long time. I am not saying it is a comforting thought, and there are political implications to the dreamy comfort-read quality of books that reassert gender patterns in a gentle manner, but I enjoyed the book all the same. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Even though I haven’t read enough of these types of books, I think I can conclude that historical fiction with fantasy elements are my cup of tea. Particularly when they explore women’s position both through this historical context and the fantasy elements. Shades of Milk and Honey certainly fits that bill, although it is hardly as strong as for example Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. Jane Austenesque elements feature heavily in this story, which was something I appreciated. However, I did feel that the characterisation was sometimes a little flat, and the ending a little too fast to my taste. A very enjoyable read that was nevertheless not perfect, and I haven’t quite decided whether I want to continue with the series.

Persephone’s “A Book a Month”


At the beginning of this year I treated myself to a 12-month subscription to Persephone Books. Two weeks later I had forgotten which books I had picked out to be delivered to my doorstep. And so, once a month I am surprised but happy to find a new Persephone in the mail.

Pictured at the front are the books I have received thus far. Have I read each of them as they came in, which is what I pictured when I bought the subscription? If you know about my current reading habits (which you do not, since I fail to write about them so spectacularly) you know the answer is a resounding no. I have read 14 books in 2015, including quite a few small picture books, where I usually would have read 30+ by now. But does it matter really? Persephones are pretty on your shelf and you know that once you pick them up, you are in for a treat.

And so, since this week I have been reading the very first book that came through the mailbox this year: Miss Buncle Married. And I was right: it is a treat. Miss Buncle is lovely as ever. This is the perfect book to pick up once Pim is in bed (and he seems to have decent bedtimes now, let us keep our fingers crossed that this sticks), after a long day of writing and more writing on my thesis.

Thursday (Without) Tea: A Room With a View

I still love the idea of Thursday Tea, so I have been thinking that if I cannot get an actual bookish post written, I might just settle for an update of sorts through this format. Until I arrived back home from work today and realised that there is one problem: The water boiler I use for tea has been moved to the new house already, and here, in this apartment with only the bare essentials (and all the books in boxes) left, I cannot drink any tea anymore!

So instead, I give you: a thursday without tea.

Fortunately, I have been reading in between packing and preparing for a paper presentation (Seriously, WHY did I figure it was a good idea to attempt to write a paper for a conference in between pregnancy and moving, even if the conference theme is perfect?!)

These past few days, I have been reading A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Another one of those classics that has lingered on my shelves for years and years and years. I never knew quite what to expect of it, but then I read the back cover while packing and decided that I simply must give it a go.

And it is turning out to be rather lovely! The writing is wonderful. The plot might seem predictable, but it is executed very nicely. And I love the themed critique of the power of what imagery of women can do to curtail women from being individuals and instead constantly aiming to live up to an image that society imposes. I also like how it shows that this imagery harms both women ánd men, because both struggle to look beyond it to the person behind the facade that is expected at every turn. The image of the room, used in discourse between Lucy and Cecil as a metaphor for this kind of relationship and between Lucy and George for what might be found beyond societal expectations: it’s simple, but it really spoke to me.

Conclusion: I am enjoying my time with this book very much. Even if I have to read it with plain water instead of tea.

101 and Counting..

I have passed the 100 books mark in the combined 1001 Books Your Must Read Before You Die List. There are times when I do not care about the list at all, there are others where I find it quite a nice challenge to read something that is on there.. Very often I find myself discussing with the list: Why is this book on there and not this one? Why so little fantasy? Why still an overrepresentation of “white men”? Etc.

Nevertheless, here are some brief thoughts on the three books I recently read that were on the list.

Diary of a Nobody - George and Weedon GrossmithThe Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith*
Penguin Books, 2003 (first published: 1892)

Basically, this quote sums it all up:

“I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why my diary should not be interesting.”

Diary of a Nobody is the (fictional) diary of average middle class(?) Mr Pooter. We follow his everyday adventures and observations, as he renovates parts of his house, some of his friends come to visit, and his son starts living at home again after losing his job. It is a humorous book that at once proves that the life of an ordinary person can make for worthwhile reading, while simultaneously poking fun at the habits of people like Mr Pooter and the idea that their lives might be interesting at all.

While Diary of a Nobody is a fast and perfectly entertaining read, I wasn’t as enraptured by it as I expected from some of the reactions that I have seen on the internet. I mostly blame me though. I tend to find humour a little tiring after a while, and I might have liked this better had I not read it in one sitting, but in several.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle*
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008 (first published 1892)

Many years ago [I cannot believe it was back in 2010!] I won a complete set of Sherlock Holmes books through a twitter competition held by Oxford World’s Classics. Being me, I continuously planned to start reading them and yet never did. I finally picked up one of the books last week.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of 12 stories about Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, many of these are considered widely known, but uneducated Iris did not know any of them. I cannot say that these mysteries had me riveted and on the edge of my seat, but I do not think that is what these stories are supposed to do. Instead, they are very entertaining stories, and that is exactly what I was: entertained  much more so than I expected to be. Perhaps it is time to read one of the novels next?

The White Tiger - Aravind AdigaThe White Tiger – Aravind Adiga*
Atlantic Books, 2008

The White Tiger is the story of “entrepreneur” Balram and how he came to be succesful. He writes the story of his success to the Chinese minister who is supposed to visit India to learn about entrepreneurship. Balram, who has adopted the nickname White Tiger because it indicates a very rare species, is not a very reliable narrator, nor is the reader ever sure if we should be on his side. Pretty early on in th story (the last sentence of the first chapter), we find out that Balram’s vision of entrepreneurship entails something that very few of us would capture under that heading. He then continues to explain why he did what he did. Meanwhile, he portrays the stark divides between the rich and poor in India, and the manner in which corruption works to keep this divide in tact.

Again, The White Tiger is a very readable book. I read this in one sitting (which seems to be my reading mode lately). I had expected this one to be difficult, both in style and theme, but really it is not. The theme is heavy but is wrapped in a deceptively lighthearted style. And somehow this works? Even though I would never have expected it, and it still bewilders me a little after finishing the book. I wish I could offer you a more in-depth opinion than this one, but honestly? bewildered seems to be a key word in how I feel about this book. It was entertaining, and cruel, and a little horrid at times. The narrator is fascinating but occasionally entirely unsympathetic. I feel as if I could never say I loved this book, yet it is hard to pinpoint why except that its topic is.. well.. difficult? And I did think it a good book? Perhaps a little bleak… But then again, that hardly seems a reason to detract from the quality of the novel.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Wrapping Up War & Peace 2013

During my absence I failed to participate fully in the event Amy and I organised to celebrate reading War and Peace in 2013. I felt I should at least give you the answers to the questions posted in Amy’s wrap-up post for this Read Along, given how much time I spent with the book last year I would feel bad about not writing up my final thoughts in the end.


1) When did you finish?
I finished reading War and Peace on the third of November. So yeah, it has been a while! By that time I had been busy catching up with my reading for October, and once I had finished that I felt I might as well try and read through what was left of the rest of the book. I still feel that although dividing the book up into chunks of 100 pages each month made it seem more doable, at the same time I think I might have been less confused and perhaps a little more interested in parts of the book if I had read more of it at once.

2) What surprised you most about reading War & Peace?
I know this must sound silly, given that War and Peace is about, well.. a lot of war.. but I was not prepared for the long battle scenes. Or at least, I was not aware beforehand of how much my mind would wander when reading about battle scenes. I really struggled with those parts, particularly during the first half of the book.

3) Who was your favorite character and did that change during the course of reading?
I think more than anything, I liked the female characters. This might simply show my own prejudice, or the fact that I failed to connect to the masculinity of the male characters (even if Tolstoy undermined the ideal in lots of places). Strengthening my sympathy for the women, particularly the younger generation of Natasha, Sonya, and Marya, was definitely some of Tolstoy’s characters ideas about women (ugh!). As for the women, I had been told to expect to really love Natasha, but I think I felt for Marya more, in the end.

4) Do you feel like a better historian after Tolstoy’s lectures? ;)
Hahaha, do I really need answer this? His lectures were definitely the parts I struggled with most in the second half of the book. I tried to engage with some of it, and I could even agree with some of the sentiments he expressed, but his general philosophy just did not sit right with me. Then again, this is 21st-century Iris speaking, who was rolling her eyes at some of the dated (read: 19th-century, as in, the time during which Tolstoy wrote the book) ideas. I hardly think that is fair on my part. And yet.. it just felt so repetitive, and hardly necessary most of the time.

5) Is there anything you would have changed about the book?
The lectures. That is not to say that I do not appreciate what Tolstoy was trying to do. Or that I think he did not accomplish it. I just think that at times I would’ve liked the story to speak for itself more, with a little less of the explanatory philosophy chapters in between. I think that might have made his sentiments about war, about glorified masculinity that will lead to unmistakable disappointment, about the unfairness of politics that has old men deciding on the fates of masses of younger men more powerful, somehow? They are definitely there, and I think these might be the things I remember most strongly about War and Peace apart from the storylines of the three younger women, I just think I would have appreciated the book as a whole better if there had been less repetition of his central idea in philosophical language.

6) What did you like best about it?
The ideas articulated through stories (see above). Moreover, I enjoyed the family scenes much better than I would have expected. The lives and fates of the different main characters were intriguing and very well-shaped. I felt sympathy for many of the characters, and often felt deeply for their fates. More so than I would have expected 1/4th into the book.

7) What did you like least about it?
The second epilogue! The historical philosophy. And some of the sentiments on women that were occasionally expressed by some of the characters.

8) What advice would you give someone who is planning to read War & Peace in 2014?
Definitely give yourself the time to read the book. Dividing it up in sizeable chunks might work wonders. At the same time, I would not recommend reading 100 pages in one day, setting the book aside for a month, and then repeating the exercise. The book and its storyline are too intricate for that, and I will guarantee that you will have forgotten some of the names or developments. Personally, I seemed to get into the story only after a chapter or 3-4 each time I began reading again. Give yourself time to enjoy the reading. And if you do not enjoy it, perhaps stop reading altogether and try again at some other time in life, or just accept that this might not be the book for you. (although I feel that had I taken that advice, I might not be writing this post right now. And I am not even sure if I would’ve felt that I had missed out on the book as a whole.. But on some of the characters, some of the scenes? Yes, I would miss those).

9) Did you reward yourself when you finished?
No! I feel I ought to though. Is there any reward you would recommend?