Books · Reading Challenge

Read the Year: January

“New Beginnings”

North and South: I chose Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel about the Industrial north for my first read. Margaret Hale and her family move from the rural south to Milton, a fictional town of cotton mills and nouveau riche mill owners. Gaskell uses these outsiders to show how completely divorced the lives of owners and employees are, and put forward the notion that the owners have a responsibility to the men they employ. Add in a Pride-and-Prejudice-esque love story, and a sub-plot with a mutineer family member to add complications, and this is a cracking read. While there is perhaps a touch more moralising than a modern reader may want, Gaskell is a keen observer of humanity, and sketches her characters with sympathy and honesty, allowing us to laugh at their foibles without despising them.

Related Books

Hard Times: Dickens’ Industrial novel suffered a little in comparison by being read immediately after North and South. I tend to roll my eyes when people start praising Dickens, because I don’t rate his writing ability very highly. His characters are rarely more than stereotypes, and his taste for melodrama is tedious. But his novels are very readable, and this one was no exception. Dickens focusses on the effect of environmental pressures on the formation of the individual, and in some ways the novel is a plea for the importance of leisure, entertainment, fictions, and imagination for a fulfilling life.

I also began both Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Jenny Uglow’s biography of Elizabeth Gaskell. I found both hard work (though the biography is interesting), and will probably set them aside until I’ve finished my February challenge book.

Other Reading

Fiction

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children: I picked up this trilogy on a 3 for 2 offer and read it over the course of a weekend. The first novel has a Gothic feel, with its claustrophobic island setting, and uncertainty over what is real. The subsequent books have a more action feel to them and lose something as a result. The time travel and magical aspects expose plot holes if closely examined, and the ‘found photos’ are overused after the first novel, but this is a fun, readable series for those times when you need an undemanding read.

Non-Fiction

Dyeing to Spin & Knit: Colour is my primary draw when buying yarn, and I’ve been wanting to learn a little more about the processes used by independent dyers, and how these interact with the fibres being dyed. Felicia Lo’s book includes an overview of colour theory, instructions on different dyeing methods, and even advice on how to work with dyed spinning fibre and yarn to achieve different colour effects. It’s a great primer, and will be a valuable resource should I decide to try my hand at dyeing.

Running Total

Books read: 8

Currently reading: 5

Upcoming

Read the Year invites me to “get stuck into a story of obsessive love” in February, so I’m thinking it’s time to read Anna Karenina.

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