Four-decker book sandwich

DSCN7753As usual I have (mis)managed my reading by finding myself in the middle of four books simultaneously. I don’t know how many of you have the same experience, but there is a strange crossfire between books as a result… I have just checked my list and realised that three more books have crept into this sandwich (this is embarrassing, but I have finished two of these and lent the third to a friend who had left her iPad behind).

DSCN7754 - Version 2So, I started David Willetts’, The Pinch, on holiday in the wonderful library in Borgo Pignano, and ordered a second-had copy on my return. As a Baby Boomer myself, I’d like to understand this discrepancy between what we have had and what our children will inherit. What I have read so far, about how the historical structure of the British family make  it different from the rest of the continent (and much of the rest of world) I find fascinating. I reserve judgement on some of the lines he is taking.


[I ended the holiday by re-reading an old friend, Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground. Returning to my stacked bedside I picked up The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey, a serious and riveting piece of research taking in the upper echelons of British Society, and WWI. Don’t be put off by the way it is uncomfortably dolled up for marketing purposes as a ‘True Gothic Mystery’. The research and the story are good and very revealing. I finished this in time for the visit last week by the kind friend who had given it me.]

DSCN7756 - Version 2A WWII Spitfire pilot, Geoffrey Wellum, appeared on TV the other night and my husband dropped the book he published in 2002, First Light, onto my desk. Had I really not read it? With an Mosquito navigator uncle and Halifax pilot father-in-law, I should have read this enthralling classic  So I started and am totally involved. This is heart-beating stuff told without the least swagger, carrying you from the schoolboy who writes to the Air Ministry to the (very) young Spitfire pilot trying to keep his end up in the battle of Britain.

DSCN7755 - Version 2However, I have a reading group meeting tomorrow night, so, slightly out of breath, I started Longbourn by Jo Baker. This is unpromisingly billed as: Pride and Prejudice – the servants’ story. It turns out to be an excellent read, full of interesting life and detail and a totally absorbing story in its own right. The P & P narrative is there, above stairs, and acts as a brilliant backstory, because we already know it. I am impressed and read happily and quickly.

DSCN7757 - Version 2In the meantime the winner of the Poetry Business Competition, is a young poet, Paul Stephenson, whose work I really enjoy. The result of the win is his first published poetry pamphlet, Those People. I can’t resist browsing. Some I recognise from individual magazine publications, others are new. There is a delightful mixture of his impish (Passwords) and tragic (Birthday Cards) take on life and delight in words (Wake Up And…) and sharp and hilarious observations (Angle End) and all these elements crossfire within the poems.


I’ve finished Longbourn, and returned to First Light; The Pinch next (though I need to fit in Golding’s The Spire for Other Reading group) and I’m dropping in on Those People at intervals. Now I must get down to the serious business of the Researching FEPOW (Far East POW) History conference this Friday in Liverpool.

28 thoughts on “Four-decker book sandwich

  1. Wow, you’ve been busy! I tend to read one book at a time, though sometimes I’ll read a nonfiction book simultaneously with a fiction book. But four at once? Impressive! Not sure I could pull that off. 🙂

  2. I fall for this a lot. I am reading Oblomov just now, at home. But for my frequent travels on public transport I take something less heavy (in weight), right now Kaysan from the Beautiful Lands, by Turgenev. When there is a third it is usually a book I am reading for review.

  3. I recall telling a friend, years ago, that I no longer wanted to go into bookstores because I would O.D. (overdose) on all there was for me to read. This friend was also one who used to buy books and let them stack up, unread. We had a long talk about owning books, versus borrowed books (from a friend, or the public library) and how the latter usually got read first. It was as if acquiring the book meant owning its contents, somehow, sometime, even if not yet read. I’ve always had a good chuckle from the quotation of Mark Twain: “Reading is for people who wish they were somewhere else.”

    • Yes, books amount to an addiction for some of us. Love the Mark Twain quote. The number of books on our shelves that I have ‘not yet read’ is beyond counting. I have this idea that one day I will stop running around and read them (well some of them), but I also know that this day may never come.

  4. I am back in Kafka territory. A book of his short stories including The Metamorphosis again. A really impressive reader is Helvi. She got books piled up almost surrounding and above her pillow. Soon there will be an accident or avalanche of books tumbling down.

    • I’m so glad you like it. The print cover had already gone to the printers when I won a Cover Design prize (all of six entrants) with 99 Designs. As the conversion to eBook was still to come, I decided to have a different eBook cover incorporating a figure, which the book really needed.

    • I’m the other way round, I read frivolous stuff that I know off by heart at bedtime (otherwise I’d never go to sleep) and serious stuff with two cups of tea in the morning and with coffee after lunch. I think my brain is overstretched much of the time.

  5. I recognise the syndrome all too well. Quite remarkably though I have only one on the go at present, Naturalists in Paradise, by John Hemming. As soon as the house is in a decent state and I have a proper reading chair I suspect I shall be a recidivist and have 3 or 4 in progress at the same time.

  6. So many of us seem to be parallel book readers! For me, though, it’s a mixture of reading (only on my Kindle these days — my arthritic thumbs make holding ‘real’ books too painful) and listening. I’m currently revisiting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series during my regular long drives (one of the many joys of living out in the middle of nowhere) — I think I may love Audible even more than I love my Kindle! I bought the first of these out of nostalgia — then just kept buying the next, and the next, and the …

    • Bujold is entirely new to me, I think I’d probably better not even start that route. Everyone is praising audio, but if I have my ears plugged it’s usually with opera, and i’d miss that. My iPad also has a fine collection of books and is great on train journeys, but there are some I’m never going to read.

      • Reading books on a tablet doesn’t work for me — for a start, they’re even heavier than ‘real’ books! What I like about the Kindle is that it’s so light and so easy to use — and I can buy a new book with little more than a click 🙂

        Talking books are something I discovered about 7 or 8 years ago. I started slowly but built up quickly. Living as I do some 65 km away from Hobart, I often have comfortable, one-hour, country drives to and from the university — just enough to get a reasonable way through a book (the ‘average’ talking book is around 10 hours long — though the standard deviation is enormous: they vary from about 2 hours to 45 hours in length).

        The other time I use talking books is as a cure for insomnia which, in the unhappy days towards the end of my full-time academic career, was a major problem for me. I discovered that lying in bed with my earbuds in, listening to a book, would lead to my falling asleep within about 20 minutes – without fail! Of course, the book goes on playing, so you have wind back to the point at which you fell asleep the next morning — but who cares? Insomnia: goodbye!

      • Yes, I find even my iPad mini, though lighter than most hardbacks, a tad heavy sometimes. 45 hours? The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?
        Insomnia – my sympathy. My only help at night is to read something I know by heart, most other things keep me awake (though at 2 pm I can sometimes drop off over anything). My brother is an audiobook advocate too… maybe I’ll try.

  7. Hilary, thank you for sharing your reading list. I’ve added them to my little book with titles, so that when I go to the library my mind doesn’t go blank! I always have one audio book on the go for when I’m ironing, gardening or cooking. Then I have a real book for my evenings and reading in bed. It’s interesting when they are similar and I get the two stories entwined! Sometimes there are more than two going on, but two is my ideal.

    • I keep a list of titles i’m hoping to get to as well. Useful for when someone asks at Christmas. I seem to be incurable. I finished one of the above, read a new book on my way to the conference and started two more new ones there…

  8. Oh, yes, and I love your terminology, Hilary. I’m usually in the midst of a book (or other reading material like a magazine, journal, blog posts, etc.) sandwich, and, sadly for me, I don’t always finish every bite. Thank you for the head’s-up on reading materials, too. And double-yes on the cross-pollinations; some are wonky, but others turn out brilliant!

    • Thinking about your comment, I realise that all of the books above are stories of the British/English culture and what is good, bad and quirky about it. The blogs I follow provide a wide sweep of new threads as well, if only there was more time for it all.

  9. That looks an interesting selection of reading material. I tend to read several books at once too, mainly because I like to read different sorts of things at different times of day. It’s usually non fiction over breakfast and something not too exciting at bedtime. I usually keep fast paced novels for daytime consumption. How did the reading group like Longbourn? It sounds like a great idea for a novel.

    • I’m exactly the same, except that it is fiction with morning tea in bed and non-fiction/research after lunch (sleep danger too). Longbourn provoked plenty of discussion and was enjoyed by all (quite rare that).

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