I’m still here!

Hello everyone!

Yes, I know there’s been a deafening roar of absolute silence from “up North” for ages. My sole and only excuse is that I have started an Open University Course (no doubt to be mentioned at some stage…) and I had to get back into the habit of reading non fiction (although some historical tomes seem more like fiction than fact) and my novel reading plummeted as a result.  I didn’t think that somehow you really wanted a blow by blow review of my set books.

Anyway, I have read one or two books as well. I also met the lovely Barbara Fox again whose  Bedpans and Bobby Socks I have mentioned before.  This time was in one of the local book chains where she was signing books along with the actual nurse whose adventures the book relates, Gwenda Gofton.

This is a lovely picture from the Morpeth Herald I have found. I can’t take photos like this!

There is no doubt still time to buy a cheerful book for Christmas…

I’m looking forward to Santa’s visit for the three new Persephones I believe may be headed my way. http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/ for more details.  I have had an interesting time rereading Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson  which impressed me once more with its immediacy and realism.Reading a book written when no one really knew what their future held, whether they would survive in wartime London, and whether the country would be invaded is always a memorable experience.

Another Persephone that fits this description is the very different novel, number 31, A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair. This is a book about the rural home front, where war intrudes through the people that are so well drawn. A large house runs without servants, but with people who come and go, needing something, contributing something, being truly awful or just truly human. There is the charismatic hero who loves the heroine, but knows people too well to be able to stand by.  There is also another man who loves, but discovers a lot about himself.  Cressida is beautiful, wise, capable heroine, but her impatience with a aunt who refuses to accept that there is a war on, her feelings about the people who surround her, and the events that have shaped her life, make her so believable. She is in awe of one or two that surround her, she fears her own emotions, and she loves the house that almost becomes a character in its own right. This is not the most festive or cheerful book on the Persephone list, but it is beautifully written, poised on the edge of danger, with such interesting characters. If you have wondered what all the fuss is about Persephone books, this is a readable one to start with, if not the best known.

So, thank you to all those who have stuck with the Northernreader, and thank you for your comments while I’ve been silent. I hope your Christmas preparations proceed well!

Private Battles – a serious read

I mentioned this book in a post a little while ago. Private Battles by Simon Garfield is a serious book, but a very enjoyable one nonetheless. Compiled from four diaries maintained throughout the Second World War on the Home Front, this is the true, day to day experiences of four very different people. It is the result of the work of Mass Observation, which has been collecting  the diaries of people throughout Britain. Other books from the same source, and featuring some of the same diarists, are Our Hidden Lives and We Are At War.  While I appreciate that they are not everyone’s cup of tea, the format of keeping to a small number of diarists means that a picture emerges of each individual.  I enjoy these books precisely because they are individuals, and amid all the international changes and pressures we can read about their crisis, and their obsessions. In this book I was fascinated by Ernest Van Someren’s family and work life, relating the problems of a man whose small concerns are played out against a massive background of possible invasion and the gradual winning of the war. Even when a suspected murder happens to a member of his family in the USA, he still maintains a running commentary about his chickens and the behaviour of his young son.

It reminds me of my much prized complete collection of Persephone books (Hands off, daughter) which includes several books from the Second World War period. Unsurprisingly, one of the earliest books I bought in this series is one of my favourites, Few Eggs and no Oranges – the diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45. A big chunky diary of a single charity worker during the London blitz, it combines the concerns of a woman which transcend their particular context with the particular shortages and crisis unique to the period. Two more Persephone books are due out in the next few weeks, so I am putting in my birthday/Christmas demands, sorry requests, now. Ninety books from such a small publishing house is a great achievement, and such a lovely shop in Bloomsbury. Nicola Beauman and her staff helped keep me sane when number one son was in Great Ormond Street across the road, so if you live in, or visit London, make the time for a visit, and you won’t be disappointed. If you cannot get there in person, their website http:www.persephonebooks.co.uk  is well worth reading in its own right, as well as tempting you to spend much money…