My Middlebrow Reading List 2015

Monday, 12 January 2015

A personal reading challenge to be read in no particular order by the end of this year.


This list has grown from a desire to not run out of reading material, to read some of the unread books on my shelves and to read some new authors. Also I enjoyed writing about the books I read last year and want to continue writing regular bookish posts.

I started by selecting three Dorothy L Sayers books after discovering that The Nine Tailors would be an ideal book to read at the turning of the year beginning as it does on New Year's Eve. I have not finished it yet due to my habit of only reading novels in bed -a habit I intend to break this year.

Then I read Cornflower's recommendation of The Runaways (also known as Linnets and Valerians) by Elizabeth Goudge and decided I must read it as well as finish the two Elizabeth Goudges I bought last year. This led me to tracking down some lovely vintage editions of some of her other works. They are not all in print and the 1970s paperbacks have the most appalling covers but there are hardback copies to be had (ebay) from the fifties and sixties which are both attractive and in pretty good nick.

And then there is my six month subscription to Persephone Books which I was given for my birthday. I have read one, received another and have four more to come. Plus there are a few Persephones already on my shelves which I have not yet read.

It dawned on me that all my chosen books were by women writers, all British and all written in the thirties, forties and fifties (more or less). This realisation led me to Scott's blog Furrowed Middlebrow. I've spent most the past week furrowing my middlebrow and if this sort of fiction is your thing too then I suggest you follow my example and visit Scott's blog, you will not regret it. As a result of my time spent there I added more books to my list several of which were already on my shelves.

Despite all my books being from the same period written by authors with similar backgrounds there is a wide a variety of subject matter and style among them. There is romance, crime, mystery, family saga, stories with spiritual themes, stories with domestic themes, there is melodrama and comedy, and also a couple of children's books. Some are more literary than others and I shall enjoy the contrasts.  There are twenty-six novels (three are in one volume) on my list. One a fortnight then, which gives me two days to finish The Nine Tailors. I will be posting updates on my progress through my list plus more information on the books and my reasons for choosing particular books***.

And please note my reading is done the old-fashioned way, not on a device.


* Also published as Pilgrim's Inn.
** I shall be buying this in spring when Persephone republish it.
*** Nearly always because I like the cover.



I am a sucker for a pretty cover.








56 comments:

  1. Some fabulous reads coming up there Sue. I have just received my first Persephone book, but I can see that I would love to read several more, so will likely be following in your footsteps with some of these. Happy reading! xx

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  2. I love DL Sayers. At New Year we were in East Anglia, and took some friends out for a meal to the Inn at Denver Sluice - felt very Wimsey-cal!! Happy New Year xx

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    1. You've taught me something Angela, I can see I shall have to research Lord Peter a bit more thoroughly.

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  3. I bought a Persephone book on your recommendation last week and I love it. The book is beautifully produced with such lovely fine paper. It's the New House, by Lettice Cooper. A lovely read and so well written. I'm going to copy your list too if I may. Ages since I read Elizabeth Goudge.

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  4. I've read all of Elizabeth Goudge's book and go back and periodically read the Elliot books, a particular favorite. Georgette Heyer is my guilty pleasure. I've read nearly all of Rumer Godden's books, but for some reason I've never read any Dorothy Sayer, perhaps this is the year.

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  5. Great list. Always worth seeking out the covers that give pleasure. I did that with a set of Colette books. Isn't 'The Scent of Water' a blog title? Now I know where it comes from.
    Have you read 'Crooked Heart' by Lissa Evans? It has just been recommended to me.
    I was surprised to find Angela Thirkell amusing. Ive just finished 'Before Lunch' in an orange Penguin edition.

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    1. The Scent of Water is Megan's lovely blog (see my sidebar), I don't know if she was inspired by the book though. Perhaps she'll tell us. The Lissa Evans is unknown to me, I am frankly, very bad at reading contemporary writers.

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  6. How wonderful to see someone else with a book pile and what a fantastic selection. My sister and I are constantly bemoaning the size of our piles (no double entendre intended) and the accompanying lack of time to do anything about them. I fear my predicament may be increased by my discovery of the sublime Persephone Press. Good luck with your challenge

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  7. Sue, thank you for sharing this book list. I've read all the Sayers books (and might enjoy re-reading them, too,) as well as quite a few of the others you mention. However, Elizabeth Goudge would be new territory for me. I am going to have a look at the library and promise to let you know how I get one with EG.

    xo

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  8. I love the photographs of your book piles. I didn't realise that Elizabeth Gouge had written so many books; I adore 'Little White Horse' so may have to investigate her other titles. I have read a few of the Persephone books you have listed. I dislike hideous book covers too, always a sucker for a pretty hardback edition! X

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  9. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a tendency to read female authors from the same period, and it's reassuring to see you also intend to read many books by the same writer. Of course, the Cazalet chronicles I was stuck into for much of 2014 were set during the 1930s-1950s but not actually written then, but that's neither here nor there...
    I'm looking forward to looking some of your list up. Must start noting my 'to reads' down again. Some of the covers you've photographed are indeed lovely, particularly the Elizabeth Goudge ones.
    Despite having acquired a Kindle last year I've barely used it. Even though 'The Magic Apple Tree', recommended by several bloggers, is sitting on it waiting to be read.
    There are few things more promising than a big pile of books ready to enjoy, particularly at this time of year. I hope you enjoy them - and find time for novel-reading during the day. Either that or you could retire upstairs for the odd hour during the afternoon!
    Sarah.

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    1. My copy of the Magic Apple Tree has fallen apart now it's been thumbed so many times. Having read your blog Sarah, I think you'll love it. Niki.

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    2. Yes, Niki is right you will love The Magic Apple Tree. I also recommend the lovely little cookbook by Susan Hill called Through the Kitchen Window.

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    3. I third the above.

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  10. My reading list is ever growing too, and yours looks very interesting, so thanks and for all the links as well. I'm sure I'll be pinching a few.
    The Runaways is proving hard to track down but I have the Dean's Watch coming on the library bus next month.
    Have just read H is for Hawk, which I highly recommend. Both Nick and I loved it.
    It's almost always female authors I enjoy most. I did try Phil Rickman but it wasn't for me, whereas Nick is on the ninth Merrily Watkins.
    Coming to end of the Sea House by Esther Freud which I couldn't put down, with the fourth in the Cazalet Chronicles waiting on top of the pile.
    But the thing I've been completely lost in, since June, has been Bleak House on audio book, 28 discs and over 35 hours, read by Sean Barrett and Teresa Gallagher, both superb. I can't recommend it enough, and felt quite bereft when the last words were spoken. It kept me company many a time when stuck on the A12.
    Don't forget PD James Sue when you hanker after some crime. I thought her last Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was one of her best.
    I love your reading posts.

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    1. I will certainly look out for the Bleak House audio. I know how good audio books can be. May I recommend juliet Stevenson reading Jane Austen -Emma and Persuasion especially. It's funny that you didn't like Merrily but your husband did, it was the other way around with us. I've stalled at number 8 though. I've read all the Dalglish books I think, marvellous stuff.

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    2. I have Persuasion read by Juliet Stevenson, who as you've said before, is wonderful.
      (Nick didn't enjoy one Merrily book though when he kept referring to Fred West.)
      For Christmas I was given a Radio 4 dramatisation of Mansfield Park, with Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant. And being a play, there were sound effects of course, like peacocks crowing and the chink of tea cups, it felt quite different from narration.

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    3. Cumberbatch and Tennant, oh good lord! Must investigate. I know which book your husband refers to -grim but gripping. Are you both Nicks?!

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  11. That's a good-looking pile! I loved Tiger in the Smoke.

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  12. Hey Sue,
    I am often drawn to a book because of the cover. Another reason to ditch the Kindle for all but camping trips.
    Leanne xx

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  13. A lovely list. I've read most of your Pesephone choices and the Angela Thirkell, I read Georgette Heyer during the 1970s when I worked in a library. Love the covers of the Elizabeth Goudge - haven't read any must remedy that. I have some 1970s reprints of DE Stevenson which are hilarious, nothing to do with the actual story but making them look like Mills and Boons!
    I'm not linking in with the Year in Books this year as I read so many and like to mention them on my blog as they are read . And also my blog followers like my Library book photo which is often at the wrong part of the month for the Link. I will be dipping in to look at what everyone else is reading.

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    1. The 1970s covers of Elizabeth Goudge's books also have nothing to do with the story and look like Mills and Boons!

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  14. so cool! I haven't heard of any of those authors... I must keep an eye out for them...

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  15. Anonymous5:39 pm GMT

    Fun. It'll be interesting to read your opinions as the year progresses. I've read a bit about, and by, Rumer Godden. Interesting person. Oddly, I cam across a short story by her of her childhood in India in a collection of holiday stories for children, and that got me interested in her. I think few people in America know of her, though I somehow managed to stumbled on a couple of her books. Love all the covers.

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  16. Thank you so much for the link to Furrowed Middlebrow. Except now I will get nothing done as I'll be spending hours going through this blog. And the covers of those books you found are to die for. Lucky you.

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  17. That looks a long and exhausting list to me ... actually, it looks like hard work but it's commendable that you are intending reading from your bookshelves and truly, I should do the same. And, like you, I read the real books, not from an electronic device.
    Margaret P

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    1. Not all from my shelves Margaret, quite a lot of new purchases and new second-hand books too. I don't think any of them will too hard-going, I hope not anyway.

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  18. Hi Sue we have a few overlaps on our reading lists as I'm a bit of a Persephone addict. Thanks to you I'm also a Merrily addict and am starting book 8. I'm wondering if you've read Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford? I think you'd like it.

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    1. I haven't read Pursuit of Love Deb, I'm a bit prejudiced against Nancy Mitford and the whole Mitford set for no very good reason (the nature of prejudice I suppose) but maybe I'll give her a chance one of these days.

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    2. Anonymous8:32 pm GMT

      I would highly recommend Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford if you ever feel inclined...
      Sarah

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  19. Interesting that you read more women writers. I would say 90-95% of the books I read are by women, but 90-95% of the music I listen to is by men (I have no idea what this signifies......)

    I used too hunt out 1950's and 60's Book Club editions from charity shops and found some wonderful authors this way. I also lived in Wellington in NZ for a while, and thought their library was the best I've ever visited - one of the reasons (apart from the view and the great coffee and hundreds of current magazines) was that the library stacks were open to the public - they contained thousands of books which would probably be deemed too old fashioned to lend by most libraries, but there were many gems.

    Have a look at Rumer Godden's two volumes of autobiography - truth definitely stranger than her fiction. (Apologies if my comment appears twice, I appeared to lose the first one!)

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    1. I know Rumer Godden had an extremely interesting life, I must look up her autobiographies. I can't remember the last male author I read, but when I think of music, then yes mostly men for me too.

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  20. Smashing list! I will have a look at Furrowed Middlebrow, as this is just my sort of fiction. Elizabeth Goudge I have long loved, but I only came recently to DL Sayers. I haven't read Nine Tailors, but I adore Gaudy Night for the romance. Busman's Honeymoon is a bit overdone in comparison, although the mystery is still good. Heyer I inherited after my Dad passed away - a surprising light fiction choice for him! And Thirkell I just tried this Christmas after buying myself a Book People three pack, including Wild Strawberries. I could stand a fair bit more of her!

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    1. Funny you should say your dad like Heyer because my grandpa, an uncompromising Yorkshireman was also a fan. He like Jean Plaidy too I seem to remember.

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    2. Can't believe I made the same typo twice -I meant liked of course.

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  21. No better way to start the new year than with a stack of appealing books! And thanks so much for the link to Furrowed Middlebrow. I just gave it a look, & it promises to be a favorite. As soon as I read that his favorite author was Sylvia Townsend Warner, that did it. And BTW, I love that cover on Summer Pudding. Don't we all look just like that when we go into the garden to gather our quinces (or cucumbers, or whatever)?

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    1. The cover is what sold it to me.

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  22. I love how organised you are and how you've got your books for the year all sorted out. I have a handful in my "to be read" place at the bottom of my wardrobe. Sometimes I just go to the library and see what I fancy. All the reading here is done in the old-fashioned way as well. CJ xx

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  23. I've just finished Because of the Lockwoods which I had for Christmas - quite a page-turner

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  24. Another Elizabeth Goudge fan here ! And Rumer Godden . Eva Ibbotson is very cosy reading , too .
    All perfect for these next couple of months .

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  25. I used to read a lot of Dorothy L Sayers and Elizabeth Goudge in my teens/early twenties, and "Linnets and Valerians" (now "The Runaways") was absolutely my favourite childhood book - lots of good food in it as well. I make a special effort sometimes to read contemporary novels, sometimes even contemporary novels by men, but am much more drawn to the type of book on your list, and look forward to reading your thoughts.

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  26. Anonymous1:42 pm GMT

    Hello Sue I have been reading and enjoying your blog for ages. I found this post and the comments fascinating as I thought I must be the only one with a passion for Elizabeth Gouge these days. I thought she had gone right out of fashion (I also love Persephone books) did you read Little White Horse as a child it was my absolute favourite book. I'm looking forward the book reviews. Thank you for your lovely blog.

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    1. I certainly did - when I was 12. Like JK Rowling and yourself it was my favourite book. I treated myself to a new hardback copy at Christmas. Henrietta's House wa also a favourite.

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    2. Anonymous7:55 pm GMT

      Oh yes! I had completely forgotten Henrietta, how could I? What an enchanting book, every little girls dream.

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  27. I am always enticed by a good cover.

    Love your book list, do you think you will be able to get through them all in a year?

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    1. I don't know Sue, but I feel that now I've written about it, I will get on and do it. Mind you that didn't work with my plan to lose weight......

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  28. Hope you have fun reading these all and also writing about them.

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  29. Our taste in reading matter is very similar but I have read only three of those in your list so I have some research to do. Thank you for the link to Scott's blog, again, more research. Are you aware of Abe Books and Awesome Books? Very reasonably priced and masses to choose from.

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    1. Yes I am Toffeeapple and have used them both.

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  30. I've read about half of your list. I guarantee that you will like Jane Duncan's "My Friend..." series if you can get hold of them! My Friends the Miss Boyds" is a great starting point.

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  31. Wonderful list. I've read about half of them (I'm rereading Gaudy Night at the moment) & have 9 or 10 others on the tbr shelves. I agree with you about Scott's blog, it's a wonderful resource - & a temptation! I have several Goudges & Thirkells unread & this is the year that I'm going to get on & read them. Love the covers of your editions, most of mine are modern reprints.

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  32. Thanks so much for the shout out, Sue! And what an enticing list. Many of my favorites there, and I can't wait to read your thoughts on them. And I'm green with envy for those Goudge dustjackets. I'm determined to read more of her this year too.

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    1. And thanks to you too Scott for providing such a fab resource.

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  33. The first ten are among my very favourite books. Infact I have read and re-read the Elliots of Damerosehay and the other books in that series, I could probably recite great chunks of it. I have all the Dorothy Sayers, though I actually think Marjory Allingham is the better writer, tough her Campion is made out as a twerp in the tv series whilst De'ath (a little bit priggish to my mind) is made to be quite the serious stalwart gentleman. But that's by the by. WHat a brilliant list. I shall have to have a look at some of the others as I don't know them. Happy reading. Oh, silly me, whenever is it NOT happy? Lx

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  34. Brilliant list! It's years since I've read an Elizabeth Goudge ... you've reminded me to look my copies out. Happy reading.

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