What is Juliet reading now?

Actually, it’s sad-facemore a case of – is Juliet reading now?

Whenever a parent says, ‘Little [insert name, usually a boy’s] won’t read anything!’, they mean that they never see them engrossed in a story.

A teacher’s stock answer is: ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of a cereal packet, or a newspaper article – as long as they are reading something.’

At the moment I feel like one of those young children.

This is a typical day’s reading for me:

  1. Several lists (like this one).
  2. Ingredients on a ready-meal packet, just in case the manufacturer has listed ‘HORSE’ in a fit of transparency.
  3. Free commuter newspapers – Metro, Evening Standard.
  4. Emails, contracts, policies, reports, minutes – in many jobs, the sheer volume of required reading has made the concept of ‘Monday to Friday, 9 to 5’ redundant.

It’s like being on a particularly unpleasant diet. Recently, the nearest I’ve got to the land of make-believe (although some of the business reports I read are pure fiction) is the weighty Miranda Hart autobiography Is It Just Me? that’s been languishing at my bedside since Christmas. (I was using ‘weighty’ to describe the autobiography, by the way, not Miranda herself.)

Like most diets, it doesn’t feed the soul; whereas a novel …


‘… there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’

Those are the words of Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, surely the most passionate and amusing defence of the novel ever written. And that is why I return time and again to Austen – her ‘genius, wit, and taste’ feed my soul.

How do you feed yours?

23 thoughts on “What is Juliet reading now?

  1. I’m afraid I’m not reading anything either, Juliet, so totally sympathise! While I’m working on my own WIP, I don’t want to get distracted so don’t dare read other books. But perhaps over Easter we can both find some time to escape into other worlds?

    Agree about the Austen quote – fab!

  2. I’ve just finished one book, and am about to tackle a title which has been chosen for our next book group (on Monday!). It’s the sort of book I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Love the Jane Austen quote – spot on!

  3. I’m deep in the WIP so avoiding fiction or at least anything too close to ‘home’. Among the books that feeds my soul is Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’, his journal of his wild swims around Britain, so poetic and beautiful. It’s a very soothing bedtime read.

  4. I have recently read about half of Richard Burton’s diaries which is rather like digging for gold: there are plenty of gems there but you do have to dig for them through stratum upon stratum of dross. But one of the more interesting things about Burton was his voracious appetite for reading. He would go through a book a day, sometimes several books a day. An average novel he would read in two or three hours, and – this is the really striking point – he seemed then to be able to describe them comprehensively. Even books that he describes as ‘turgid’ are read just as briskly. I’d love to be able read at that speed. Another great reader was Gladstone, the Prime Minister, who when he was not recovering fallen women, was reckoned to have read 20,000 books in his – admittedly long – lifetime. As to what feeds my soul, well I’m one for dipping into old friends when I need inspiration and reading and re-reading passages, though sometimes I go weak at the knees when I read a great stylist like Rose Tremain or my favourite (though she has never written a novel) Jane Shilling. She drew attention in several newspaper columns to the intelligence that might be attained via the repeated study of children’s literature. So now I keep a set of Beatrix Potter on the landing and it is remarkable how much pleasure you can derive from a two minute escape to the land of Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddleduck and a pause to wonder whether lettuces really are soporific. Even Boraya, (the WIP) admits to a gardener hoeing onions in its opening pages.

  5. I hope Easter is some sort of escape for us both, Christina, if only a good film on the TV!

    Henri, you’re not letting on what you’re reading – perhaps you’ll tell us after Monday?

    You seem to relax around water generally, Chris – I love the phrase ‘wild swim’!

    I shall dig out the children’s Beatrix Potter books, Fennie – you’ve inspired me. I knew them off by heart at one time …

  6. I’m not reading either at the mo. Working on WIP like so many others. As soon as I have a first draft under my belt there will be no stopping me LOL. Great post, Juliet. And it’s a wonderful quote. Hope you have a fabulous Easter X

  7. The fabulous Miss Austen – my once and future literary heroine. I love everything she’s ever written and yes, she was a trail blazer in earnest. So fresh, so modern, so original!

  8. I’m currently reading books by other authors who will be on a panel with me – or more accurately I will be on a panel with them – at Crimefest in Bristol. Great to be discovering things I might not otherwise have encountered.

  9. I love ‘discovering’ an author – though they’ve generally been around for years! Currently I’m enjoying Geraldine Brooks – I love her range, fiction, non-fiction, Middle East, Civil War, Martha’s Vineyard.

  10. At the moment, I’m working on edits for novel #1 and writing novel #2. The great terror there is that one novel might accidentally bleed into another.

    But even when I’m writing, I have to be reading. Something from another century is best so the style won’t influence me. Yesterday I started re-reading ‘Robinson Crusoe.’

    Now if only I could be marooned on a desert island, that second novel would be written in a month!

  11. Like Val, I have to read, but like Christina I try to avoid anything too much like my own writing. So, at the moment I am reading (well, glomming really) crime novels. I’ve just read two of Kate Ellis’s ‘Wesley Peters’ novels because they’re set in South Devon and I know the (fictionalised) towns very well. Hmmm, note to self, romantic crime….

  12. Hi Sarah, sounds like you’ll be delving into your TBR pile as soon as you can!

    You have impeccable taste, Margaret. Have you read the Juvenilia?

    Sounds intriguing, Evonne. I love a good crime (novel).

  13. That’s a new one on me, Zana – she sounds amazing!

    LOL, Val, I know what you mean. Swap desert island for spa/retreat and I might be tempted!

    I’m sure you’d be great at romantic crime, Jane. Haven’t heard of ‘glomming’ but is it anything like ‘skimming’?

  14. I’m reading Mandy’s A Stitch in Time, and actually concentrating on it, rather than the other four or so that I started a while back. I’ll eventually read Miranda Hart’s book too, as I love her since Call the Midwife – was never keen before, now she can do no wrong. I have a huge pile waiting.

  15. I think I’ve read everything, Juliet – the juvenilia, the letters, the unfinished novels. I’d read her shopping lists if I could.

  16. I’d be interested to hear what you think of Miranda’s autobiography, Liv.

    Margaret, I must get around to the Juvenilia – have read everything else (including shopping lists!).

  17. Don’t you just hate it when someone hands you a novel and says, ‘You’ll just love this! I did.’ Because, alas, I rarely do. I’ve just finished such a recommendation and no….I didn’t like it much. So I’m not going to tell you who it is by and what it’s called because that would be mean. We all know how hard it is to get into print, don’t we? I am a fan of American writer, Elizabeth Berg, and it is to her work that I turn when my soul needs feeding.

  18. Late to the party, sorry! I am currently reading The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. It is very off beat and just up my street.Lots of weird things happen and I love the dry humour. And thanks, Liv for reading mine 😉

  19. I’m late to the party too, Mandy. I’ve just finished reading The Midwife’s Daughter by Patricia Ferguson, and discovered early I’d read it before. But I still read it again. A most unusual book with a beautiful cover. I think it was read once on Radio 4.

  20. Love the sound of your current read, Mandy!

    ‘Midwife’ is very topical, Margaret – although ‘unusual’ probably doesn’t put it in the ‘Call the Midwife’ genre.

  21. Oh Juliet, I do sometimes feel overburdened with the volume of reading required by a variety of day jobs while the desire to feed my soul with a romance novel can become almost overwhelming on occasions.

    Great post. When the balance is right, life’s perfect.

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