‘The Virago Book of Wanderlust and Dreams’, edited by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran ****

‘This collection of women’s writing about travel spans over 400 years, five continents, and a variety of characters from cross-dressers to armchair travellers. The authors include: Angela Carter, Jung Chang, Karen Blixen, Marsha Hunt, Bernice Rubens, Harriet Wilson, Beryl Markham, and Dorothy Parker.’

9781860494178The very idea of a Virago anthology is fantastic, and I have loved those which I have read to date.  They open new worlds; they put one on the trail of authors they perhaps haven’t heard of before, and individuals who pique the interest.  Unlike The Virago Book of Food, for instance, I wasn’t enamoured with every entry here, but I do love the thematic idea of wanderlust, travelling, and dreaming of places real and imagined.  Equally lovely is the unifying thread which St. Aubin de Teran writes of in her introduction: ‘courage in all its forms’.

There are many excerpts from novels here, and a couple from works of non-fiction or autobiography.  My personal interest was heightened in the following authors, whom I will certainly endeavour to seek out in the months to come: Bernice Rubens, Buchi Emecheta, Emily Perkins, Louise Meriwether, Paris Franz, and Liane de Pougy.  The collection, on the whole, is varied and engaging, and it was wonderful to see the inclusion of books as wonderful as A Woman in Berlin and Elizabeth von Arnim’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden.  The use of separate sections worked nicely, although the titles were often a little obscure, and didn’t seem to relate to anything included in one instance.

Wanderlust & Dreams isn’t the best Virago anthology which I have come across to date, but it is certainly entertaining and thoughtful, and is undoubtedly a good way to reconnect wit old favourites and discover something new.

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‘Dickens at Christmas’ ****

It is said,’ states the blurb of this book, ‘that Charles Dickens invented Christmas, and within these pages you’ll certainly find all the elements of a traditional Christmas brought to vivid life: snowy rooftops, gleaming shop windows, steaming bowls of punch, plum puddings like speckled cannon balls, sage and onion stuffing, magic, charity and goodwill’. Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? Thankfully, ‘marvellous’ is an adjective which can be applied in good measure to this lovely book. 9780099573135

Dickens at Christmas contains many extracts from his seasonal writings, some of which are short novellas (‘A Christmas Carol’, which takes pride of place as the second story in the collection, and ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’, for example), and others which number just a few pages. All of Dickens’ Christmas books are included, along with a standalone story from The Pickwick Papers and those from various short story collections.

Dickens’ wit and love of Christmas shine through on each and every page. All of the many elements of this time of year have been presented by the master himself, and encompass both the rich and the poor, the merry and the miserly, the ghostly and the real. The religious aspects are mentioned in some detail, along with the importance of the family dynamic over the Christmas period. Each scene is wonderfully written and beautifully evoked. Only Dickens could write so meticulously and creatively about a rainy day: ‘the cold, damp, clammy wet, that wrapped him up like a moist great-coat… when the rain came slowly, thickly, obstinately down; when the street’s throat, like his own, was choked with mist; when smoking umbrellas passed and repassed, spinning round and round like so many teetotums…’

I cannot write a review of Dickens at Christmas without mentioning how beautiful this edition is. The cover sparkles, and Emily Sutton’s illustrations, both on the cover and before each story, have been wonderfully drawn. It is truly an object of beauty, and is sure to delight many people this Christmas – a perfect gift to show you care, or simply one with which to adorn your own bookshelves.

Dickens at Christmas is wonderful for already established fans of Dickens’ work, but it also provides a lovely introduction to his stories and style of writing. The volume can be easily dipped in and out of, and the stories themselves are so rich in detail that they can be read again and again. Their sheer timelessness makes them suitable Christmas fare for many years to come.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Wordsworth Collection of Classic Short Stories’ – Selected by Rosemary Gray ****

I love Wordsworth Editions, and when I saw a brand new copy of this doorstop-sized book (it comes in at over 1400 pages) in Brighton for just £3, I could not resist it.  It contains some marvellous authors – Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, etc. – and I hoped it would lead me on to some more fabulous books to read, as these collections so often do.  I really like the way in which an author biography has been included before their tales in this book, as it gives a great insight into the context – for example, the reasons as to how they became famous authors, and what inspired them to write.

I decided to start reading at the very beginning of November, and it took me almost an entire month to get through.  At first, I aimed to read one or two stories each night, or when time allowed, but on some days I found I did not pick it up at all, and on others I read five or six tales in one go.  I found Classic Short Stories to be a great collection on the whole, but it did feel a little imbalanced in that some authors were given several stories, and some only one.

My favourite stories were as follows: ‘The Box Office Girl’ and ‘The Umbrella’ by Arnold Bennett; ‘The Black Cottage’ by Wilkie Collins; ‘The Little Regiment’ by Stephen Crane; ‘Alicia’s Diary’ by Thomas Hardy; ‘The Real Thing’ by Henry James; ‘The Prussian Officer’ and ‘The Blind Man’ by D.H. Lawrence; and ‘The Legacy’, ‘Kew Gardens’, ‘The Mark on the Wall’, ‘The Shooting Party’ and ‘Together and Apart’ by Virginia Woolf.

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‘Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries’, edited by Martin Edwards ****

The eye-catching British Library Crime Classics publications now have a short story collection in their midst.  Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries has been edited by Martin Edwards, and presents a ‘collection of vintage mysteries’, all of which centre upon the theme of holidays.

In his introduction, Edwards writes9780712357487 that Resorting to Murder ‘shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme’.  The tales have a wide range across the Golden Age of British crime fiction, encompassing both ‘stellar names from the past’ and uncovering ‘hidden gems’.  Edwards believes that some of the stories which he has selected for publication within the volume are ‘obscure’ and ‘rare’, and have ‘seldom been reprinted’.  Well-known authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett and G.K. Chesterton thus sit alongside the lesser-known likes of Basil Thomson, Leo Bruce and Gerald Findler.

Only British writers have been focused upon here, but the settings which they use as their backdrops are rather diverse.  We visit Conan Doyle’s Cornwall, E.W. Hornung’s Switzerland, and stop off at golf courses, secluded resorts and walking tours conducted in France along the way.

Edwards’ aim was to present ‘vintage stories written over the span of roughly half a century, and which have the backdrop of a holiday’, whether at home or abroad.  ‘This straightforward unifying theme,’ he tells us, ‘is counterpointed by the stories’ sheer diversity’.  The differing perspectives and shifts with regard to time periods and settings works marvellously, and ensures that the collection can be read all in one go by the greedy traveller, or dipped in and out of by the more relaxed reader.  Diversity exists between the detectives themselves, too; there are shrewd man-of-the-moment types who go out of their way to appear in charge of the situation, and those who are quite unsuspected by others until the pivotal moment at which all is revealed.

It is a nice touch that each story within Resorting to Murder has been introduced with biographical details of each author, as well as the ‘background to their writing’.  The only unfortunate detail which is missing is that nowhere does it specify which year each story was written or published in.  Chronologically ordered they may be, but one cannot help but feel that this small yet important element would have been useful in a collection which purports to show the progression of crime stories.

Resorting to Murder is engaging and filled with aspects of interest.  As is often the case with anthologies, particularly thematic ones, some tales are far stronger than others, but there is definitely something for everyone within its pages.  Resorting to Murder is a wonderful choice for summer escapism, as well as the perfect book for the discerning armchair traveller.

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Kirsty’s Books: Best of 2013 (Day Five: Short Stories and Anthologies)

This is rather an odd category, but I had a lot of overspill from my favourites list and felt that short stories and anthologies and collections deserved a space of their own.  Both genres seem to be a little overlooked by many readers, which is sad, I feel.

‘Children on Their Birthdays’ by Truman Capote

Short Stories:

‘Not the End of the World’ by Kate Atkinson (re-read)
‘The Garden Party and Other Stories’ by Katherine Mansfield (re-read)
‘Children on Their Birthdays’ by Truman Capote
‘The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1’ by Joseph Gordon Levitt (re-read),

Anthologies and Collections:
‘The Joy of Eating: The Virago Book of Food’, edited by Joy Foulston
‘The Penguin Book of Classical Myths’ by Jenny March


‘The Reader’ by Ali Smith ****


‘The Reader’ by Ali Smith

The Reader is a marvellous idea for a book, and it is great to be able to see what has inspired Smith to pursue her own literary career. There is a whole scope of different literature and non-fiction here, some of which is new to me, and some of which is dear to my heart. I loved the fact that Smith and I have so many favourites in common (Jansson, Plath, Mansfield, Anne Frank – all swoonworthy authors), and I feel that I have some real gems in store for me with Smith’s recommendations as my starting point.

Smith states in her introduction that she has decided not to write a personal comment alongside each inclusion. I felt whilst reading that this was a real shame, as for me, it undermines the entire goal of creating a personal reading anthology. Still, the pieces which she had chosen, for reasons unknown, were marvellous.

My favourites (both old and new):
‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen; ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ by Billie Holiday; ‘Witch’ by George Mackay Brown; ‘We Shall Not Escape Hell’ by Marina Tsvetaeva; ‘Meadowsweet’ by Kathleen Jamie; ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston; ‘Wise Children’ by Angela Carter; ‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson; ‘Everything is Nice’ by Jane Bowles; ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf; ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ by John Keats; ‘On the Ward with TV, iPod and Telephone’ by Kasia Boddy; ‘To Anybody At All’ by Margaret Tait; ‘Wants’ by Grace Paley; ‘On Angels’ by Czeslaw Milosz; ‘Ars Poetica?’ by Czeslaw Milosz; ‘The Cinema and The Classics’ by H.D.; ‘Mae West’ by Colette; ‘Colette’ by Lee Miller; ‘Bloodshed and Three Novellas’ by Cynthia Ozick; ‘A Writer’s Diary’ by Virginia Woolf; ‘The Journal of Katherine Mansfield’; ‘Unseen Translation’ by Kate Atkinson; ‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas; ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by W.B. Yeats; ‘Passengers with Heavy Loads’ by Joseph Roth; ‘The Falling City’ by Lavinia Greenlaw; ‘Kansas to New York’ by Louise Brooks; ‘Remedy’ by A.M. Homes; ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy; ‘Hymn to Iris’ by Alice Oswald; ‘Art in Nature’ by Tove Jansson; ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ by Sylvia Plath; ‘The 24-Hour Dog’ by Jeanette Winterson; ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd; ‘Independence’ by Helen Oyeyemi; ‘The House I Live In’ by Maggie O’Farrell (absolutely stunning); the extract from Anne Frank’s diary; ‘From Berlin’ by Armando; ‘Cymbeline’ by William Shakespeare; and ‘Ninth Elegy’ by Rainer Maria Rilke.