How many others have read it?

I was musing, while reading Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, how curious it is to think of all the other people who have read whatever book I happen to be reading at any one time… and how widely that varies.

This probably wouldn’t strike the sort of person who picks up their books from the bestselling table, or who subsists on a diet of accepted classics. But most of us go back and forth, between Jane Austen and the latest literary author and an out of print author from the 1930s. We mix and match. And it definitely changes the way that I think about a book – or, more particularly, the way I think about my blog posts.

While reading Barchester Towers, I’ve occasionally thought “Oh, this section is wonderful, I must jot it down.” And I have, and I will tell you about it when I’ve finished reading it – but I certainly shan’t be surprising anybody. Nobody is going to think “Thank goodness old Anthony is finally getting a bit of a leg-up”, or “What is this Barchester Towers, then?” Everybody’s heard of it. Many of us haven’t read it yet, but it is hardly going to be a revelation to praise it. When I’m writing about (say) Miss Hargreaves, Patricia Brent: Spinster, or Guard Your Daughters (all wonderful books that others recommended to me before I started spreading the word) I can be confident that most of my blog readers won’t have heard of them, and that my praise might send people off in pursuit.

It isn’t necessarily more worthwhile to advocate those novels, but I feel on firmer ground when starting a review. Perhaps because I don’t feel the weight of a hundred thousand readers on my back? Whatever else my thoughts will be, they won’t be controversial or flying in the face of public opinion.  They also won’t be unoriginal! What can I say about Barchester Towers that hasn’t been said before? What can I say about Guard Your Daughters that has been said before?

And, more abstractly, it feels very different to join the legions of people who have read and loved Trollope than joining the hundred or so who have really loved Patricia Brent: Spinster, or the half-dozen alive today who think Economy Must Be Our Watchword by Joyce Denys is a rare gem.

Just some musings while I put off writing you another book review (teehee!)

18 thoughts on “How many others have read it?

  • January 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm
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    Can we read both? I have Barchester Towers on my nightstand, but so many people said they had also read Patricia B. that I just had to go look for it. :)

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    • January 8, 2015 at 11:28 am
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      Ha – I am planning just that this month! One for my Reading a Century project and one for my Starting Trollope project! Just had to say that I, at least, will be doing so …

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  • January 5, 2015 at 11:50 pm
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    But also, no matter how many other people have read it, no one is reading it from your unique perspective, or mine, or Audrey's, with our own experiences, and also all the other books that we've read. So of course you'll have something different to say about the book. I already know that you properly appreciate Mr Harding :) and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 12:27 am
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    Yes, what Lisa said! I'm hoping to reread The Warden this year and continue on with Barchester Towers.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 4:19 am
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    I agree with Lisa and JoAnn — I'm sure many of your readers have read BT, but we want to know what YOU think of it! Blogging is kind of like a virtual book group for me — fun to find people who actually like the same books as me!

    I do know what you mean, though — I'm often late to the party with the trendy books, since I'm so busy reading triple-decker Victorians and middlebrow British women's fiction, that by the time I get to them, I feel like everyone's already said whatever I'm thinking. Everyone had already reviewed The Goldfinch and Life After Life by the time I got round to them. I've just started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell which was big about 10 years ago, but I'll bet people will start reading it again soon when the TV series comes out (which is what inspired me to finally read it).

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  • January 6, 2015 at 5:00 am
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    There is no pleasure quite so sweet as discussing much-loved books with others who love them. This is why we can talk about Austen or Trollope or whoever for years on end even though any sane person would assume that everything that could be said should have been said by 1900 at the latest. Maybe it has. But we haven't had the satisfaction of saying ourselves it yet.

    And I wonder if it might be a mistake to assume that all your readers are as familiar with certain titles or authors as you are. I'm vaguely literate but I'd never read a word of Trollope before I started blogging and was only vaguely aware of him at all because of the Pallisers DVDs at the library. He's been sadly out of fashion for a long time now.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 6:30 am
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    Yes, what everyone else said. We want to hear what YOU think of it, Simon. (And Claire and Lisa and Audrey and Susan and JoAnne and Karen and of course those surprise reviewers one happily stumbles upon when least expected – but it's especially grand hearing from people we're already "in the conversation" with. Your review/thoughts needn't be long and detailed – a sentence or two (okay, how about a few paragraphs) would be enough. Though of course longer and more detailed is more than welcome. Haven't read these myself for years – but more than ready eavesdrop on the discussion as it makes its rounds through your blogs. Carry on!

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  • January 6, 2015 at 8:26 am
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    I'm just wondering how many of your readers have been so inspired by the Barchester novels that they have made a wine bottle doorstop in the character of Septimus Harding…. am I unique?

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  • January 6, 2015 at 9:01 am
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    I'm personally not bothered about reading Trollope – maybe one day – but I love to read what other bloggers think about his books – reading vicariously!

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  • January 6, 2015 at 12:52 pm
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    Why yes, I did read Barchester Towers a millions years ago, and enjoyed it muchly. What I mostly recall is how the charming widow had two suitors, including the odious Mr. Slope, and Mr Trollope assured the readers right off she was going to marry neither of them, and justified making this revelation so the reader wouldn't be on tenterhooks throughout the book worrying over her fate.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 1:23 pm
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    I think I feel much the opposite – writing about Trollope I feel free to say whatever I like because the book is already secure in it's reputation. I'm not sure I'd ever dare offer a negative opinion of Jane Austen (not that I have one) for fear of being lynched. If I'm reading something more obscure, especially if it has a bit of a cult following – like some of the Persephone books it's a bit more daunting as there's a definite feeling that someone somewhere will be very upset over faint praise. As for new books there's a reason I will only blog about books I have enjoyed.

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  • January 6, 2015 at 3:16 pm
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    Interesting post! I usually consider whether I can bring something new to the discussion of a classic. Because the answer is always "no" I tend to be much more chatty in those posts, skipping the summary and jumping right into the feeling and gut feelings (good and bad), with little intention of writing a logical and academic-style post. Because of that I have no problem in calling War & Peace boring or The Scarlet Letter moralistic :P

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  • January 6, 2015 at 5:14 pm
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    I know exactly what you mean, Simon – I felt like that when I approached Anna Karenina (or indeed whenever I go near Dickens) but then I just remind myself that I'm simply giving my rambling thoughts on a book for what they're worth, and go ahead and say what I think. We definitely follow the bloggers we want to hear from, because everyone has a different opinion on books (whether classic or not) and that's the joy of reading!

    kaggsysbookishramblings (not even going to *try* to post under WordPress!)

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  • January 7, 2015 at 6:24 pm
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    The Barchester series is wonderful, the Pallisers even better if that's possible. And if you can get hold of the old Pallisers TV series on DVD or video, it's utterly addictive!
    Sally Tarbox

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  • January 8, 2015 at 2:03 am
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    In case not all of you are aware: April 24 is Anthony Trollope's bicentennial! My sister and I have marked our calendars, because we intend to get together and raise a glass in Mr. Trollope's honor that day, and then start reading The Way We Live Now. My sister, a faster reader than I, has read all the Barchester books and several of the stand-alones. I've read all the Barchesters except Last Chronicle, which I'm eager to get to this year. Then we hope to launch, more or less together, into the Palliser novels. Is anyone else planning an event, personal or public, to commemorate Mr. Trollope's Big 2-0-0?

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    • January 10, 2015 at 4:11 am
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      Hi, Renata,
      I'm planning to finish reading the Barchester Books (I've read three of them, though not in order!)

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    • January 14, 2015 at 9:13 am
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      I'm starting Barchester this year – I've never read any Trollope – not sure how – and really looking forward to them. I don't have a plan as such, I'm just going to pick each one up as I fancy starting it.

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  • January 8, 2015 at 11:30 am
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    Hm, I get this feeling I should be reading Patricia Brent, Spinster, not sure where I've got that from. I love this post; I often think about my own younger self reading a book when I do a re-read, and I love thinking about the other people reading alongside me, e.g. with the Forsyte Saga (re)read some of us are doing. I suppose it's my "death of the author" thing that makes me concentrate on my own reaction to the text, but this is certainly something to think about.

    And I'm looking forward to reading your take on B Towers, as I'm planning to start that, too, this month!

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