Reviews in brief

To clear some of my review backlog (some, I realise, have been on my to-be-reviewed shelf for well over a year) I thought it would be good to run through some of the titles which aren’t going to get a whole post to themselves – sometimes because I don’t have much to say, but mostly where I can’t remember enough to do them justice.

A wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time (1963) – Madeleine L’Engle

This is a much-loved children’s book that I’ve been intending to read for ages, but it turns out that I’m the wrong person to read it. I knew it would have time travel, but I thought it would be set on earth – instead, it’s all about other planets and funny aliens and dark forces and basically all the things that don’t fit my tastes as a reader. It was quick reading, but I shan’t be returning to any of the rest of the series. I do, though, still hold out hope for L’Engle’s other books, particularly her autobiographical writing.

Train in the Meadow

The Train in the Meadow (1953) by Robert Nathan

After reviewing Mr Whittle and the Morning Star the other day, I thought I’d see if (since ebooks are available aplenty) any audiobooks of Nathan’s work were out there. And they are! Well, a few are, and they included this intriguing-sounding short book. It was just as quick a listen as the others were quick reads, but it’s rather baffling. A train stops in a meadow; on it are a lonely boy from an orphanage, a disaffected priest, a distraught singer, a couple going through strife, etc. etc. But where are they going to, and where are they coming from? Why are they exiles, and why do they all need their papers checked by the secretive security men? None of these questions are answered – I never worked out if it were a dystopic future or an early comment on McCarthyism or what. But the atmosphere was done very well.

Running in the Corridors

Running in the Corridors (2014) by Ann Thwaite

I read these short stories, mostly about childhood, by Ann Thwaite ages ago – and feel terribly guilty for not having written about them. Thwaite is best known as a biographer (of A.A. Milne, amongst others) but is also adept at the short story – and, though I don’t remember a huge amount about these stories (which I read in April), I know that I liked them. And the volume is beautifully produced by Rethink Press. (Oh, and did you know that the etymology of corridor is ‘running place’?)

God on the Rocks

God on the Rocks (1978) by Jane Gardam

I got this in a Virago Secret Santa last year – it’s such a beautiful edition – and enjoyed reading it back in May. Despite discussing it at book group, all of the details of the novel now escape me, frustratingly, though I do remember that the end had some great stuff about art. Oh, Simon. You and your terrible memory.

Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?(2011) by Mindy Kaling
Why Not Me? (2015) by Mindy Kaling

I read the first one of these, and listened to Kaling reading the second one, and it’s one of those rare occasions (for me) where the audio is better. She reads her book perfectly, which is hardly a surprise. Both are very amusing accounts of Kaling’s life and career in television – for those not in the know, she currently stars in The Mindy Project, which she also writes and produces. There’s not much deep and meaningful in these, but her way with comedy is very up my street – dry and self-deprecating and slightly silly.

Look Back With Mixed Feelings

Look Back With Mixed Feelings (1978) by Dodie Smith

Oh gosh, I read this one all the way back in September 2014… it’s the second volume of Smith’s autobiography, and chiefly concerns her time in various theatres (sometimes acting, often an assistant). It doesn’t have quite the charm of Look Back With Love, and perhaps I didn’t love it quite as much, but I certainly enjoyed it hugely. She is quite dry about her youthful passions and anxieties:

I have an account of that day, written in a red, leather-bound notebook in which I only described very important occasions. I say “I can’t write all I feel” – but I must have been doing my best, having turned out forty pages.

Well, there, that’s cleared the pile a little.


17 thoughts on “Reviews in brief

  • December 17, 2015 at 3:59 am

    Aw, no, you’re not the wrong reader for A Wrinkle in Time; you’re just the wrong age. I am pretty positive that it’s one of those books you do truly have to read for the first time as a little ‘un or else you’ve missed the window. Alas! But also, not your fault!

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Ah, shame! This is what a childhood devoted to Enid Blyton does…

      • January 1, 2016 at 8:07 pm

        I missed the window too, Simon. I read it a couple of years ago and it left me cold. Alas, half a century too late in my case! I don’t remember even hearing of it as a child though.

  • December 17, 2015 at 5:51 am

    Madeleine L’Engle is very hit or miss for me but I think Jenny’s comment above is spot on. There is definitely a right age to come to A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. I’ve never liked it but for some reason thought Many Waters was fantastic. Hint: it is not. It’s just plain bizarre. Her memoirs on the other hand – particularly Two-Part Invention, are wonderful and perfect for you.

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:35 pm

      Two-Part Invention is the one I’m excited to read, after buying it on your recommendation Claire :)

  • December 17, 2015 at 8:12 am

    I am going to try to track down L’Engle as now I am intrigued.

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      I’d lover to know what others think when reading it as an adult, Mystica.

  • December 17, 2015 at 8:51 am

    I read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ as a young girl and always counted it among my favourite books. But when I re-read it 10 years ago or so, I couldn’t imagine what I ever saw in it! Definitely not my cup of tea now.

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      How funny! I hope the second time around wasn’t too much of a disappointment.

  • December 17, 2015 at 10:23 am

    I’m another who read A Wrinkle In Time longer ago than I care to acknowledge and I did love it then – but I do wonder what I would make of it now!

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      It sounds like it might not be one to re-read, Karen!

  • December 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Dear Simon, I got into blogging sort of by the back door, but my path might provide a helpful suggestion for you and your memory (or not!). My memory is also poor. Years ago, a friend bought me a book journal. At first, I looked at it and went, hmm, am I going to use this? Then I decided to give it a try by writing down my impressions of each book I read. After a while, I got frustrated by the mere three or four lines that the journal allocated to each book. I kept up this book journal, and when I finished it, I bought a blank book and wrote more complete reviews there. When I decide to start my blog, I had several months worth of reviews already written and have been able to keep about two or three months ahead of myself. You might try just jotting down a few notes to yourself after you finish a novel, and then you can remind yourself about what you thought of it when it comes time to post on it. After a while, you might even decide to write your reviews in advance like I do. Or you might not, but at least you would have something to jog your memory. Sometimes, by the time I post a book review, I say to myself, “Oh, now I remember this book!”

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      This is precisely what I hoped blogging would be for me, but a notebook would perhaps be a better idea – though then I’d probably forget to write in that instead!

  • December 17, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    My sister LOVED the Wrinkle in Time books as a young girl, I never saw the attraction. I did love all of L’Engle’s memoirs though and think you would love them as well.

    I hope you are posting short reviews because you and Rachel are busy recording the next episode of Tea or Books? I went through all 8 episodes over the last week and I need something to listen to while I knit on the ferry!

    • December 17, 2015 at 10:40 pm

      How lovely of you, Heather! We have actually recorded episode 9, and I’m just waiting to have time to edit it – it’ll be before Christmas, definitely.

  • December 18, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Wow…Wrinkle in Time! I remember being loaned this when I was 14 by my best friend who said I would love it. It was hard to tell her I couldn’t even finish it. As an adult I am a big Madeleine L’Engle fan, her nonfiction especially and through the years I have tried to read this, but it just does not capture me at all.

    I was interested in reading Mindy Kaling’s newest book, but now I think I’ll go for the audio!

    • December 21, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      I’ll definitely read the non-fic sometime :) And I do hope that you enjoy the Kaling audio book.

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