Books that stay with us: a year of reading in 12 brief examples

Photo of a teacup and books to illustrate a blog by Brian McGee

Books: relaxing, escapist, style-enhancing, frugal, empathy-boosting, portable – take your pick. Alphabetical by author – just how those bookshelves will be soon again – here are 12 that I delved back into.

As a new year (of reading too) gets underway, these excerpts might even remind you of the books you also turned to for enjoyment and even solace. So, sitting comfortably? Let’s go.

Louisa May Alcott – Little Women – Wordsworth Classics, 2018

“Jo threw open the door of the closet, and displayed Laurie sitting on a rag-bag, flushed and twinkling with suppressed laughter.” p100

“<Then you may come, and I’ll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do; there’s a demand for socks just now,> added Jo, waving hers as they parted at the gate.” p142

An earlier blog: Burns: Scottish poet’s lonely glens, tim’rous beastie, homage to haggis

“Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is.” p209

Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Penguin 20th-Century Classics, 1961

“a palace of a birdcage, a mosque of minarets and bamboo rooms yearning to be filled with talkative parrots” p19

“Trees, a lake with little-boy sailboats, statues went by licketysplit.” p81

“Flanked by potted plants and framed by clean lace curtains, he was seated in the window of a warm-looking room.” p100

A photo of a sleeping ginger cat in a blog by Brian McGee about books

Marie Darrieussecq – My Phantom Husband – Faber and Faber, 1999

“will he again point out my lack of application, the minimal energy I put into housework? For that (very brief) instant when I renounced the vacuum cleaner, I felt a throbbing sense of freedom” p36

“I improvised a telescopic arm and a neck that stretched out like a tortoise. I was a homing head with all my parts broken – radar, antennae, scales, ultrasound equipment and infra-red eyes.” p83

“All of a sudden I felt so soothed by the idea of her departure I could have dissolved in tears of sheer relief. Having been stunned into submission for twenty-five years by her all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, I was moved by the sight of this, her very last performance.” p122

Len Deighton – SS-GB – Penguin Modern Classics, 2021

“<Now don’t be a bloody misery, Superintendent. We’ve all had a nice day — and strictly legit, too.>
<Good health,> said Douglas and drank.” p86

“She nodded, pleased that he’d not taken offence at the clumsy way she’d expressed herself.” p228

“More than once, footsore and hungry, Douglas was ready to abandon his task. And yet he knew that, if the positions were reversed, Harry would never give up looking for Douglas, simply because the idea would not occur to him.” p238

A related blog: Lest we forget: events, resources, media (a very brief selection)

E.M. Delafield – The Diary of a Provincial Lady – Virago Modern Classics

“Just as I think we are over the worst, Bank Manager reduces me to spiritual pulp by suggesting that we should see how the Account Stands at the Moment.” p51

A cup of tea, with traditional furniture in the background, in a blog by Brian McGee about books

We drink cups of tea,
eat excellent buns…

“After what feels like some hours of this, Miss P. becomes personal, and says that I strike her as being a woman whose life has never known fulfilment. Have often thought exactly the same thing myself, but this not prevent my feeling entirely furious with Miss P. for saying so.” p99

“We drink cups of tea, eat excellent buns, sing several Community Songs and Meeting comes to an end. Doctor’s sister’s two-seater, now altogether home-like, receives me once again, and I congratulate her on Institute.” p115

Do you ever read a book and want to read everything else that author has produced? Fiction, plays, anything by E.M. Delafield: I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

(This Virago edition also includes the three other books in the Provincial Lady series.)

Charles Dickens – Hard Times – Penguin Classics, 2003

“<Why, there’s awmost nobody but has their troubles, missus.>” p80

“He was not so honest, he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense.” p137

“It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy, that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render any help without purchase.” p278

(No idea now where this book came from. A snip at 33p. What the Dickens?)

Saturday 20 April, Dover… #oldfindsnewstories: terracotta pots, plants, books, artwork – curated

Shelves of modern books in a blog by Brian McGee

“a uniquely
portable magic”
– Stephen King
(credit: Audible blog)

George Eliot – Middlemarch – Oxford World’s Classics, 2019

“He felt sure that if he did not come to a bargain with the farmer, Bambridge would; for the stress of circumstances, Fred felt, was sharpening his acuteness and endowing him with all the constructive power of suspicion.” p225

“But how little we know what would make paradise for our neighbours! We judge from our own desires, and our neighbours themselves are not always open enough even to throw out even a hint of theirs.” p488

“<I am out of spirits.
My father is so cut up — home is not like itself.
I can’t bear any more bad news.>” p778

From the archive… Father’s Day: four things my dad taught me – by doing them

Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm – Penguin Classics, 2006

“The cries from the little hut had stopped. An exhausted silence, brimmed with the enervating weakness which follows a stupendous effort, mounted from the stagnant air in the yard, like a miasma.” p65

A photo of a cow in a blog by Brian McGee about books

“He, Claud, would of course be charmed to partner Flora, but, candidly, Seth sounded pretty squalid. Need he come?” p128

“A handsome lady of some sixty years stood at the head of the staircase to welcome those guests who passed from the hall on the way to the ball-room, and at her side, aiding her in the task of welcoming each guest, stood a large young woman in a cruel shade of electric blue” p156

Recently, in the #BMweeklyblogchallenge series:
Food, farming, frugal living: my focus for 2024. Here’s a flavour

Graham Greene – Monsignor Quixote – Penguin Books, 1984

“before reading more than a few sentences he fell asleep, and all that he could remember after he had woken was that he had been climbing a high tree and he had dislodged a dry nest, empty and dry and brittle, the relic of a year gone by” p37

"Father Quixote had always been inquisitive in small ways. 
His greatest temptation in the confessional box was to ask 
unnecessary and even irrelevant questions." p116

“That night in bed Father Quixote opened his volume of St Francis de Sales. He still found himself worried by those scenes of love-making in the cinema – worried by his failure to be moved by any emotion except amusement.” p140

Have you also decided that, given the countless number of books you’ll never get to read, why not revisit one that you remember loving? In my case, the first time was while visiting family in beautiful West Cork, back in the day.

A related blog: St Patrick (diplomat, snake chaser) – and the gifts of language from Ireland

Farley Mowat – Never Cry Wolf – Back Bay Books, 2001

“The two most senior men, both “majors,” bowed coldly, and left the room without a word.” p13

Photo of  a wolf in a blog by Brian McGee about books

“trying desperately
to cover her paws,
her tail, and her head”

“I was treated to the spectacle of the demon killer of the wilds trying desperately to cover her paws, her tail, and her head at one and the same instant.” p95

“the three wolves separated, shook themselves, sniffed noses, wagged their tails hard, and trotted back towards the den with every indication that a good time had been had by all.” p171

I stumbled on this book – those North American paperbacks with pages lovely to the touch – in a Dover charity shop. The title had me at wolf: 50p later…

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club – Penguin Books, 2021

“Ron Ritchie is, as so often, having none of it. He is jabbing a practised finger at a copy of his lease.” p28

“You know those people? People who feel the world is theirs alone? They say you see it more and more these days, this selfishness, but some people were always awful. Not many, that’s what I’m saying, but always a few.” p176

“At least I have discovered that online dating is not for me. You can have too much choice in this world. And when everyone has too much choice, it is also much harder to get chosen. And we all want to be chosen.” p330

Anna Sewell – Black Beauty – Regent Classics

“He kept our feet on the smoothest part of the road, and if the uphill was very long, he set the carriage wheels a little across the road, so as not to run back, and gave us a breathing. All these little things help a horse very much, particularly if he gets kind words into the bargain.” p71

Photo of a black horse in a blog by Brian McGee about books

there is nothing my horse
would like so well
as to have an hour or two
in your beautiful meadow

“<If your cows would not be offended,> said Jerry, <there is nothing my horse would like so well as to have an hour or two in your beautiful meadow; he’s quiet, and it would be a rare treat for him.>” p187

“After this we continued our journey, and as they got out of the cab, our friend was saying, <My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.>” p193

My previous blog in this series:
Post Office scandal: 10 (quick, free) ways to lend your support – and keep up the pressure #BeMoreAlanBates

Image credits: hudsoncrafted, Tikovka1355, 822640, LubosHouska, RyanMcGuire, Wildfaces, Lindsay66, Didgeman; all on Pixabay

*Is there a book you read over and again?
What books have you especially enjoyed recently?
Please add a comment below, I’ll be sure to respond.
My target is for five comments on this blog.*

Abstract purple image in a blog by Brian McGee about books

the relic of a year gone by –
Graham Greene
Monsignor Quixote

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