My Commonplace Book: March 2021

A selection of words and pictures to represent March’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

Are there not little chapters in everybody’s life, Beth had read in Vanity Fair only that morning, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of history?

Too soon to tell…but perhaps this was, in fact, going to be one of them.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (2021)

~

Frances Cromwell, daughter of Oliver Cromwell

‘We don’t rebel against our parents,’ I begin slowly, as if I am carving each word from stone. ‘We take up our beliefs like a battle standard and advance them further even than they could have imagined. We take their victories for liberty and apply them to our own lives. The freedom to find fulfilment. The freedom to shape our futures. The freedom to choose whom we love.’

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins (2020)

~

‘To be sure, my Arcadia is amply supplied with kings and shepherds, lovers and villains, shipwrecks and mistaken identity, but it doesn’t depend on monsters and sorcerers for adventure. My tales take place in the natural world, one in which readers may find mirrors of themselves. Why turn a plot on sorcery when love and envy are sufficient to drive men mad?’

Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller (2020)

~

She knew exactly what her father would have said on the matter too, quoting Heraclitus: “No man steps in the same river twice.” To which Rose would have replied, obligingly, “For it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux (2020)

~

Newstead Abbey in 1880

The contrast between the bustle of Westminster and the serenity of Newstead – with its waterfalls, wildlife and seasonal cloaks of snowdrops, bilberries and yellow gorse – provided a useful introduction to both the natural world and urban living.

The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand (2020)

~

“Most successes are unhappy. That’s why they are successes – they have to reassure themselves about themselves by achieving something that the world will notice.”

“What extraordinary ideas you have, Anthony.”

“You’ll find they are quite true if you only examine them. The happy people are failures because they are on such good terms with themselves that they don’t give a damn. Like me. They are also usually agreeable to get on with – again like me.”

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (1945)

~

A loyal heart is not enough to keep a man from the gallows, until that heart is ruled by a sagacious mind. A bird has eyes either side of the head, so that it may look two ways at once, but man’s eyes are on the front of his face. He cannot look behind him and in front at the same time, and if he tries, sooner or later, he’ll trip and fall.

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland (2021)

~

It was his belief that only people whose emotions are communal rather than individual can honestly experience passion without jealousy. Though love may die quickly among civilised people, self-love and rivalry are harder to kill. Indeed they only flourish the more under suppression.

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy (1941)

~

Italian Chapel, Orkney

There can be no single point when a person breaks, surely. Rather, a person’s patience is like the cloth bandage that holds a wound together: over time, it is rubbed thinner and thinner, until the material is all but worn away. The final threads are simply a mesh over the rawness.

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea (2021)

~

When the worst happens, dread, at least, is over.

The Pact by Sharon Bolton (2021)

~

Favourite book read in March:

The Rose Code

Authors read for the first time in March:

Kate Quinn, Miranda Malins, Naomi Miller, Margaux DeRoux, Emily Brand

Places visited in my March reading:

England, USA, Italy, Scotland

My Commonplace Book: February 2021

A selection of words and pictures to represent February’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

“Ah, but life is like that! It does not permit you to arrange and order it as you will. It will not permit you to escape emotion, to live by the intellect and by reason! You cannot say, ‘I will feel so much and no more.’ Life, Mr Welman, whatever else it is, is not reasonable.”

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie (1940)

~

Clearly the answer was that birds have a life of their own which, although over large areas irrational and perplexing, isn’t quite so irrational and perplexing as the life that human beings have been contriving for themselves of late. Work hard on birds, and you may here and there make some sense of them. This scarcely holds true of homo sapiens.

Hare Sitting Up by Michael Innes (1959)

~

Reading room at the American Library in Paris

‘But seriously, why books? Because no other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge of books between cultures.’

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (2021)

~

Were not Time and Fate sisters? My feeling is that they both work against us, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, with the briefest interruptions when the tide flows backwards for a happy moment, mainly due to our own endeavours.

A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago (2021)

~

An entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens c. 1779

‘The magistrate says it cannot be one of her clients because the crime was too savage to be committed by a gentleman. Is that also your view?’

‘I think monsters who wear the masks of men are as likely to be found in the clubs of St James’s as they are in the slum rookeries of St Giles. Whether this is the former or the latter, I cannot yet say.”

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (2021)

~

My father once said: “If you understand yourself, it is as much as you can be expected to do.” How true that is! Every day I live I realise what a fund of wisdom he had. It poured from him as water pours from a spring, clear and hard, and just right.”

Good by Stealth by Henrietta Clandon (1936)

~

Favourite book read in February:

Good by Stealth

New authors read in February:

Janet Skeslien Charles, Lucy Jago, Henrietta Clandon

Countries visited in February’s reading:

France, USA, England

My Commonplace Book: January 2021

A selection of words and pictures to represent January’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

Before he could rise to his feet, Baldwin spoke first. ‘Is there not a danger, my lord count, that Saladin will use this truce to strike at his Muslim enemies – the amirs of Aleppo and Mosul and the Assassins?’

Raymond looked surprised. ‘That is indeed a risk, my liege. But that is always true when truces are made. It is a sad truth that in times of peace, men continue to prepare for war.’

The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman (2020)

~

Henry will never abdicate. Nor will Marguerite. Nor will Richard be prepared to compromise. All Richard can hope for is to take up the position of Lord Protector again if Henry should slide into mental turmoil. But how is it possible to uncover such a rats’ nest of claim and counter-claim, then re-cover it, allowing it to linger and fester, the rats to grow in strength? A rats’ nest must be destroyed by a fierce ratter, for the good of all but the rats.

The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien (2020)

~

Astrolabe of Jean Fusoris, made in Paris, 1400

As long as science is a human activity, it will have human flaws. In this respect, perhaps the many mistakes of the Middle Ages can teach us some helpful humility, and motivate us to identify opportunities for improvement in our own day.

The Light Ages by Seb Falk (2020)

~

He knew that a man may live in close proximity to things he does not yet see correctly. What he must try to do is to be vigilant and attentive to all that surrounds him, in order to find the path he should follow.

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain (2020)

~

“No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

“People who use that phrase are always the last to live up to it.”

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (1942)

~

One day, if you join polite society, you will certainly experience injustice, against which you must be forearmed. The best defence would no doubt be to match insult with insult, calumny with calumny, to fight injustice with injustice, but this way of dealing with iniquity is not within the scope of people like us. So when you are afflicted by it, withdraw and turn in upon yourself. Feed off the substance of your own soul and you will know happiness.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1810)

~

Semper Augustus tulip – anonymous 17th century watercolour

My mother always told me to value the beauty of nature. I remember us spending endless summer days on our hands and knees, studying plants in her garden, she explaining each flower in loving detail. I learned to appreciate the simple perfection of each bloom.

Rags of Time by Michael Ward (2019)

~

“If they condemn you as a sorcerer and burn you for it, then you are, for all practical purposes, a sorcerer, whether you began as one or not. Fear doesn’t need to make sense in order to have consequences.”

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (2019)

~

His heart flew upward like the hawk. He felt around him the seamlessness, the one-ness of the world, alive everywhere; only people with their different words for things, their different gods, broke it all to pieces.

The Soul Thief by Cecelia Holland (2002)

~

Frances Griffiths with the alleged Cottingley fairies, 1917

Mrs Hogan noticed the book I was carrying. ‘Black Beauty. One of my favourites. I’m glad to see you’re a keen reader. You can never have too many books or too much laughter in a house. Isn’t that right?’

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor (2017)

~

I looked at my cousin and once again couldn’t believe that we shared the same genes.

‘If one person is missing, Marie, the world is lost.’

Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (2020)

~

Favourite books read in January:

The Land Beyond the Sea, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and Rags of Time

Places visited in January:

The Holy Land, England, Borneo, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium

New authors read in January:

Seb Falk, Jan Potocki, Michael Ward, G. Willow Wilson, Christopher de Vinck

~

Have you read any of these books? What did you enjoy reading in January?

My Commonplace Book: December 2020

For the final time this year…

A selection of words and pictures to represent December’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

‘We live on a river and it has a life of its own,’ Hermann said. ‘Like all waterways, it’ll eventually bring new people to us and also take people away. We don’t exist in a locked box and nor should we try to.’

The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman (2020)

~

Humans could never accept the world as it was and live in it. They were always breaking it and living amongst the shattered pieces.

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb (2013)

~

Norwegian stave church

Rumours are the seeds of legends, light enough to spread on the wind, and quick to grow. By the time a truth has put down its root, rumours will have blossomed and become their own truths, because even the wildest fantasy has been told by someone, and this – the fact of something being told by someone – gives it a veracity, even if what is told is more than a little unlikely.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting (2018)

~

She knew there were good, kind Germans like Wolf, who’d never wanted the war, who emphatically never wanted Hitler. Many Italians hadn’t wanted Mussolini either and so many families on both sides only wanted to get on with living their lives. But war was making monsters of them all.

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies (2020)

~

“A lie doesn’t reproduce external facts faithfully – it is a product of the liar’s own mind, and therefore a clue to the quality and content of his mind. The liar, like any other storyteller, must draw upon his remembered experiences to build his fantasy, and his choice of detail is guided by his tastes and emotions. So if you want to learn something about a man’s emotions and memories listen to his lies.”

The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy (1940)

~

Favourite books read in December:

The Bell in the Lake and The Running Wolf

Countries visited in my December reading:

Norway, England, Italy, USA, Germany

Authors read for the first time in December:

Lars Mytting

~

Have you read any of these? What did you read in December?

Happy New Year!

My Commonplace Book: November 2020

A selection of words and pictures to represent November’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

It wasn’t until several days late that Maloin wondered why he hadn’t called for help. The fact was, he just hadn’t thought of it. When you imagine something dramatic, you think you’ll do this or that. But when you’re there, it’s different.

The Man from London by Georges Simenon (1934)

~

“If you’d only begin at the beginning!” pleaded Sobel.

“But that’s so hard, isn’t it? Because nothing ever really has a beginning. There’s always something before that and something before that and so on. That’s why modern authors always begin in the middle, though I do think it’s awfully confusing, and I never get the characters straightened out afterward.”

Dance of Death by Helen McCloy (1938)

~

Bram Stoker, c. 1906

Flo: These abstractions of the artist hold little interest for me, I’m afraid. I choose to live in the real world.

He: Ah, the real world, that vile dungeon of cruelty and hunger. You are welcome to it.

Flo: It must be a very heavy burden to think that of the world.

He: I never trust a thinker – to feel is the only calling. But without what we do as artists your real world would be less bearable, no?

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (2019)

~

‘Yes, of course. One always regrets everything one hasn’t done. But it’s not that. I can’t bear totting up what one gets or doesn’t get out of life as though it were a commercial proposition.’

‘Surely one must try and get the most out of life and not miss any chances,’ Barney replied, in the voice of one who states the first article of a religion.

Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin (1924)

~

The others were heading back to the mob, which now seemed to me like a swarm of flies on rotten fruit. Was this what men do when they go into battle, I wondered? Must they become insects in order to survive? I felt no comradeship with them, no common cause. I was a different kind of man entirely.

The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve (2020)

~

Portrait of George Eliot c. 1849

It is an old story, that men sell themselves to the tempter, and sign a bond with their blood, because it is only to take effect at a distant day; then rush on to snatch the cup their souls thirst after with an impulse not the less savage because there is a dark shadow beside them for evermore. There is no short cut, no patent tram-road, to wisdom: after all the centuries of invention, the soul’s path lies through the thorny wilderness which must be still trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it was trodden by them of old time.

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot (1859)

~

Happily, we are not dependent on argument to prove that Fiction is a department of literature in which women can, after their kind, fully equal men. A cluster of great names, both living and dead, rush to our memories in evidence that women can produce novels not only fine, but among the very finest — novels, too, that have a precious speciality, lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experience. No educational restrictions can shut women out from the materials of fiction, and there is no species of art which is so free from rigid requirements. Like crystalline masses, it may take any form, and yet be beautiful; we have only to pour in the right elements — genuine observation, humour, and passion.

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot (1856)

~

Favourite books read in November:

Still She Wished for Company, The Butcher of Berner Street and Dance of Death

Countries visited in my November reading:

France, USA, England, Ireland

Authors read for the first time in November:

Georges Simenon, Helen McCloy

~

Have you read any of these? What did you read in November?

My Commonplace Book: October 2020

A selection of words and pictures to represent October’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

“It must have been her peak period,” Stephen smiles. “People sometimes go through their whole lives without ever reaching the moment when they are exactly the person they want to be.”

As he talks away, building upward and outward like a sleepy child with bricks, I think about the hidden talent or uniqueness of character that lies sealed within most of us; how it is like the work of a sculptor who sees within a block of marble a trapped masterpiece and must chip and grind until it is released.

Every Eye by Isobel English (1956)

~

Replica East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company

The downtrodden yearned for stories to explain their misfortunes, though what they really wanted was somebody to blame for their misery. It was impossible to set fire to the blight that had ruined your crops, but a blight was easily summoned by a witch, at which point any poor woman or man would do.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)

~

‘Ridiculous. They ought not to allow so much to be printed! Why, if you read a hundred pages a day, which is more than anyone ought to read – that would be thirty-five thousand a year – say a hundred thousand in three years, a million in thirty years. If you started to read on the day you were born you would have read this library – just once, mind you – when you were between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty years old. Fiddlesticks.’

The Ghost It Was by Richard Hull (1936)

~

‘Yes, sir, although I shouldn’t really, you know. It’s bad for servants talking about their masters outside.’

This seemed to voice the well-known below-stairs ethics of bygone days. You mustn’t, if you were in service, talk to your ‘betters’ about your employers, although, to your equals in similar jobs, you could say as much as you liked.

Dead March for Penelope Blow by George Bellairs (1951)

~

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

There had to be a flaw, since there is no such thing as perfection, in life or art or anything else. Perfection tempts fate. I remember reading that ancient Japanese potters always worked a tiny flaw into each pot they created, for fear of angering the gods…

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson (2008)

~

Favourite books read in October:

Every Eye and Dead March for Penelope Blow

New authors read in October:

Isobel English

Countries visited in my October reading:

Indonesia, England, Morocco

~

Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in October?

My Commonplace Book: September 2020

A selection of words and pictures to represent September’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

~

It was the better part of wartime, how easily one made friends. It had been the same from the first day of her basic training. Women you would never normally have spent five minutes with became as close as family. Adversity bred intimacy. She was already starting to feel she had known them for years.

V2 by Robert Harris (2020)

~

Illustration from The Black Arrow

He saw, through tears, the poor old man, bemused with liquor and sorrow, go shambling away, with bowed head, across the snow, and the unnoticed dog whimpering at his heels, and for the first time began to understand the desperate game that we play in life; and how a thing once done is not to be changed or remedied, by any penitence.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1888)

~

Some Fiction is much stranger than Truth…

Beau Sabreur by PC Wren (1926)

~

Portrait of Raphael

I’ve often asked myself how some men seem unable to let go of the chains that tied them once, clinging on to the rusty links as if they were a part of them, allowing them to weigh their minds and bodies down for all eternity; whereas others manage to shake them off and fly away high into the heavens. I’ve pondered the problem much but I still cannot fathom it. I’ve often asked myself too how some men can be generous-spirited even to those who would act against them while others bear a grudge that they can never let go. That too will always remain a puzzle to me.

The Woman in the Painting by Kerry Postle (2020)

~

Favourite book read in September:

V2

New authors read in September:

Kerry Postle

Countries visited in my September reading:

England, Italy, Morocco, Belgium, the Netherlands

~

Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in September?