Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading in instalments

Do you enjoy the suspense of reading in instalments? I usually have at least one or two instalment reads on the go & I enjoy the feeling of reading a book as lots of people read novels in the 19th century. Of course, sometimes when the suspense is too much, I have the luxury of having the entire book in my hand so I can race ahead if I want to. But, if I'm taking part in a discussion of the book, it's easier to avoid spoilers if I try my best to stick to this week's instalment - at least until the very end when I usually read the last couple of sections in a great rush.

I belong to an online reading group that specialises in 19th century literature. At the moment we're reading The Ordeal of Richard Feverel by George Meredith. Meredith was one of the towering figures of 19th century literature but he's virtually forgotten nowadays. I've read his poem, really a novel in verse, Modern Love, & I've had a Virago edition of his Diana of the Crossways on the tbr shelves for years so I'm enjoying the nudge that this group has given me to pick up one of his novels. The group has been around for years so they've read all the usual suspects - Austen, Brontes, Dickens, Trollope - & I love the breadth they've brought to my reading with many authors I've never heard of or not read if I knew of them. Recently we've read a couple of novellas by the German Romantic writer, Theodor Storm, Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, E T A Hoffmann's Devil's Elixir & Scott's Bride of Lammermoor. Coming up this year are Joseph Conrad's Almayer's Folly, Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilych & Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser. Now that I have an e-reader, I've also been able to download most of these books for free although there's nearly always an edition in print for those without an e-reader.

Then, my group of online friends, the doves, are often reading a book in instalments. Usually there's a Persephone & often a 19th century novel as well. At the moment, it's Vere Hodgson's Few Eggs & No Oranges & Thomas Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes. I'm not reading Vere because I've read it twice already but I am reading the Hardy. I read it about 20 years ago & have forgotten everything about it so it's like reading a new book. Our discussions are usually fairly laid back & sporadic. Nothing formal but it's nice to know that others are reading along & occasionally someone posts a comment.

I've also jumped on board the troika for Dovegreyreader's Team Tolstoy read of War & Peace. I read War & Peace over 30 years ago. It took me months as I kept putting it down for something lighter (in weight) & shorter. This time, we're reading it in monthly instalments of about 120pp to celebrate the centenary of Tolstoy's death. I'm loving it. We meet up on the 9th of every month to talk about the latest instalment & we're half way through now. I find it best to read the month's chapters on the weekend before the 9th so I sat down on Saturday afternoon & read the whole lot in almost one sitting, I couldn't put it down. The current section ends with Pierre gazing up at the comet in the sky above Moscow, the comet of 1812 that presages so much for all the characters & for Russia. It was very difficult to stop just there... I regret not joining Lynne for her monumental read of Ulysses a couple of years ago. I think I could have climbed that mountain if I'd had the courage to begin.

Do you ever get distracted by your bookshelves when you're dusting? I was dusting the other day & came across a battered little Penguin paperback, A Book of English Poetry, collected by G B Harrison. First published in 1937, revised in 1950 (although he still stops at Rossetti, Gabriel not Christina) & my copy, bought for $2 at the Lake Daylesford Book Barn in the 1980s, is the 1974 reprint. I used to read a lot of poetry & there are a lot of lines & phrases rattling around in my head, but I realised as I looked through this book that I don't read much poetry any more. So, I've decided to set myself a challenge. To read through this anthology, from Chaucer to Rossetti, a couple of poets a week. Maybe I'll post some favourites along the way. Last night, I read Chaucer & Sir Thomas Wyatt before I went to sleep. Wyatt has always been a favourite for his beautiful lyrics & his connection with Anne Boleyn & the Court of Henry VIII.

And I'm going to use my Lake Daylesford Book Barn bookmark to keep my place. I spent a lot of time in Daylesford in the 1980s. My friend, P, had a house right on the Lake, just two doors up from the Book Barn. I spent many cold Sunday afternoons browsing there by the warmth of the potbelly stove. So, a bit of a nostalgia trip as well as reacquainting myself with G B Harrison's choice of English poetry.


  1. Ivan Ilyich is just wonderful. I read it years ago and college and I still remember it. It inspired me to take an entire semester class of Tolstoy (which was basically all of War and Peace, which I need to reread someday). How great that your online groups lead you to new books. I also have Few Eggs on my bookshelf and I'm a little intimidated by the size of it, it is my longest unread Persephone.

  2. Thanks for drawing my attention to that online reading group you're part of! I've just joined, pretty much because I want an excuse to read Anne Hereford again, and the episodic style seems as though it could be a good way of doing it. It links in to my research on 19th century sensation fiction and reading a novel in the manner they would've can only help!

  3. Karen, I read Ivan so many years ago that ir will be like a new book to me just like the Hardy. Do try Few Eggs. It's very addictive once you get into it. I thought Vere & her friends were so heroic, just keeping life going under such difficult conditions. CharmedLassie, welcome to the 19th century group! I've read quite a bit of sensation fiction but I've never heard of Anne Hereford. I only know Ellen Wood's famous East Lynne which I loved. Is your research for a book or are you studying?

  4. I'm not very good at reading in instalments. I always get too tied up with the plot and the characters and want to know what happens next now, not when the next instalment is due. However, since I've started to listen to audiobooks that has changed as the length of time I can listen is usually dictated by where I'm listening, especially if I happen to be in transit between two places. Now I find even when I'm at home listening in the evening I will always pause between CDs and happily wait twenty-four hours for the next chapter.