July’s Silent Pleasures

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The act of reading is, of course, usually itself a silent pleasure. But most of the time my enjoyment is increased by the discussion afterwards, which is one reason these posts, this blog.

Some books, however, leave me with almost nothing to say. Often these are not very good books. They may be engaging, enjoyable, pleasurable… but not well-crafted, not works of artistic merit. There is pleasure in the moment of reading, but not so much looking back; they do not take up residence inside my mind. Sometimes they have compelling plots, stories that push me along so I stay up late to find out what happens next. At other times they are indulgences, books set in idealised pasts that I enjoy visiting while knowing full well that the reality would be incredibly unpleasant. I could approach these books as I did in university, reading closely, teasing out unspoken assumptions, being the cultural scholar — and I do enjoy that very much, it is why I did my degree so. But sometimes I wish enjoyment without analysis — a silent pleasure.

Six of my silent pleasures in July were:

Life Among the English (Rose Macaulay, 1942) — I read her first two novels earlier this year and enjoyed them. Based on the title, I expected this to be a sharp-tongued commentary on life in England in the 30s and 40s with lots of photographs. It is instead a quick skimming of England’s social history, fairly wry, mostly whole good-natured. I enjoyed it while reading it, and now do not really remember it.

The Shadow on the Wall (H. C. Bailey, 1934) — I am in love with Bailey’s detective fiction despite his flaws as an author, so much so that I am eventually going to do a proper post about his two very odd detectives. This particular volume is the first novel featuring Reginald Fortune, a physician-turned-detective who began appearing in short stories in 1920. It is a fairly well-made story, with Bailey’s usual tics, but I enjoy the company of Mr. Fortune so much that I can easily put up with repetitive dialogue tags and other such authorial shortcomings.

Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton, 2003) — Walton’s fourth novel, a re-imagining of Trollope’s Frameley Parsonage… if everyone were dragons. It sounds a gimmick, but it works nicely; yes, these landed gentry really do devour the poor, and the women really are visibly tainted for life if a man gets too close. I enjoyed it, but it does not go beyond its concept; the literalising of metaphors is clever, the story tidy and well-made, but it did not shed any light for me on the human (or dragon) condition.

What Makes This Book So Great (Jo Walton, 2014) — A collection of essays Walton originally wrote for Tor.com about books she was rereading. These are energetic descriptions of what she finds memorable and exciting about particular books, very enthusiastic but without much depth. I found them charming, but they are so clearly ephemera, made to spark discussion, that I ended up frustrated that I could not join in on the years-old conversation.

The Sullen Sky Mystery (H. C. Bailey, 1935) — This novel features Bailey’s other detective, a lawyer for the underworld, Joshua Clunk. I enjoy Fortune’s company more than Clunk’s, but they are both interesting and have that 1930s flavour that I am so fond of. It was quite good, the best novel by him I have read so far — which is something of a pity, since Wikipedia claims it is his strongest, so there is less to look forward to.

The Holiday Round (A. A. Milne, 1912) — Milne is, of course, best known for having created Winnie the Pooh, although some mystery fans remember his single detective novel, The Red House Mystery. But he was also a playwright, a poet, and a writer for the humour magazine Punch, and this volume from 1912 contains a collection of his light pieces. Some are still very funny today, others are obscure or confusing, but all in all I liked having this to dip into now and again.

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