Friday 11 September 2015

Rereadathon 2: part 2 Wednesday 9th-Friday 11th September

Hello! I haven't had an awful lot of rereading time in the last couple of days, as I was at work Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday night, for some reason, I just could not get to sleep, and by the time about 2.30AM rolled around, I decided to get out one of my books to help wind my brain down. I finished The Martian on Tuesday evening, and so for that stupid o'clock read, I picked up Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's The School at the Chalet. 

The Chalet School series is one of the longer-running girls' boarding school series, running to about 60 books, begun in the 1920s and ending in the '60s. As you might expect, it changes a lot over the course of the books, and this week I decided to go back to where it all began. 24-year-old Madge Bettany decides to start an English girls' school in the Austrian Tirol, near a lake a little way from Innsbruck. Her first pupil is her twelve-year-old sister Joey, who is a bright spark, with a big heart and a passion for life, but whose physical strength does not match up to her boundless enthusiasm. There are only nine pupils on the first day of term: as well as Joey, there is another English girl from the same school, Grizel; Simone Lecoutier, the shy and clingy niece of the French mistress and deputy head, and six Austrians from the nearby village, ranging from nine to sixteen. It's been a long time since I went right back to the beginning, where there is a really cosy, intimate setting, and you get to know all the characters really well. The school grows and grows, and before long Madge leaves the school to get married, but new teachers come in, and pupils from across Europe and beyond. (Although entirely white, except for one Indian girl in one book, despite a couple of the books having misleading titles. I wanted A Chalet School from Kenya to be about an actual Kenyan girl, not an English child whose parents worked abroad!)

Of course, when Elinor Brent-Dyer started writing her school stories in the mid-1920s, she had no way of knowing that real-world events would force the plot to take a drastic turn if it were to continue in 1939, resulting in the excellent Chalet School in Exile. This is outstanding, not just in the series, but in the literary canon in general, as a contemporary account of Austria during the Anschluss, as seen from Britain. It's a hair-raising tale of adventure and courage, as well as sadness, as Madge and Joey, who, although this point are no longer part of the Chalet School, are still attached to it, have to close down their beloved school which they'd built up from one chalet and a handful of children, and escape and start again. On Guernsey, for a little while, then onto the Welsh border for the duration of the war.

I suppose there are three main segments of the Chalet School series: the Austrian years, mostly when Joey is a schoolgirl, then the war years, during which the school moves around several times, and then, finally, returning to Switzerland for the rest of the series. By this point, Joey is married, and the focus moves onto her eldest daughters, triplets called Len, Con and Margot - as well as an older girl called Mary-Lou, who readers either love or hate. I find her a bit too good to be true. She gets away with more than her contemporaries, has to make a project of "improving" any new girl who doesn't quite fit in, and is far too familiar with the teachers, but this is excused because "it's not cheek, it's just Mary-Lou." She really takes the biscuit in one of the books when she is made head girl of the school and her response is "oh, no, I couldn't possibly" after being the unelected leader of the senior school for years. And then, the very next chapter, she gets a special award for - I don't know - being Mary-Lou. "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly." Stupid or false modesty just comes across as stupid and false.

The other book I've been rereading is Stephen King's excellent 11.22.63 which I'm just about used to writing the date the wrong way round now. The hero, Jake, is currently living in 1950s Derry, Maine, in the aftermath of IT. Now I've read IT, the setting is even more eerie and unsettling, and I'm able to appreciate all the references to the previous novel. I haven't got as far into it as I'd hoped, as I spent this morning having a writing session (forsaking my usual local coffee shop for Starbucks - I am ashamed!) and then wandering around the town, looking in the other bookshops and admiring the autumn fashions, with their turning-leaf colours and chunky knitted jumpers. I've bought some wool to make myself a hoodie, in multi-coloured blue and purple shades, and I've also just started teaching myself to crochet with a new magazine partwork, each one teaching a new stitch or two, and with a pattern for a different kind of granny-square which will join together to make a patchwork blanket. I don't intend to buy the entire series - I've no idea how many will be in this series - but enough to make a variety of blanket squares. But I can't crochet and read at the same time, so I'll start knitting the hoodie this evening.

This weekend is the Bestival festival, at Robin Hill Country Park a few miles from my house. I always kind of dread this festival. the Isle of Wight music festival is closer to home, but at least the music stops at about midnight. It's not been unheard of for Bestival events to keep me awake until 4 in the morning with thumping bass on a Friday night. And I have to get up at half past 7 for work on Saturdays. Ugh ugh. So I'm prepared for a long reading night tonight, although I might also take my duvet downstairs and sleep on the sofa, as I don't think it is as audible from the front room. We'll see.

Bex's Rereadathon Challenge

Last time, Bex asked which is the one book you reread over and over again. This time, she wants a list. Book bloggers love lists, right?

  • Anne of Green Gables. C'mon, you know me better than to expect me to omit this one! I'll reread at least one of the Anne books pretty much every year. Not necessarily the entire series, but I can't go very long without spending some time with my favourite redhead: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island are the usual candidates, but also Rilla of Ingleside (although that is more centred upon her children as young adults.)
  • The Lord of the Rings. Back in my sixth form and student days I just could not put these books down. I'd start reading every November, at first in preparation for the film adaptations, and then because it had become tradition. I don't read it quite so frequently any more, but I have read it three more times since starting my blog seven years ago.
  • Harry Potter. The ultimate in comfort reading; I start getting the urge for a reread about every two years, usually in the autumn or winter.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia. These have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I saw the BBC adaptation back when they used to show serialised children's classics on a Sunday night in the lead-up to Christmas, and when I was about seven, Dad sat me down and began to read: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." I was thrilled to discover this was part of a series with my beloved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I stuck little pictures to the back of my wardrobe and would sit in there and imagine myself away. And I always try to reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before Christmas, and some of the other books in the series in the appropriate time of the year: The Magician's Nephew in spring, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the end of Summer (hmm... must be about time to reread that again...) etcetera, etcetera.
  • Neverwhere. This was the book that made me fall in love with Neil Gaiman's writing. He created a new mythology for London, out of the names of the places, and it just made sense. It was like just scratching away the surface to make sense of a city that is, when you come to think of it, quite strange. I've reread all of his books on my bookcase at least once, I think, except for the Trigger Warning collection which only came out this year. American Gods and Good Omens should also feature on this list, as I've reread them at least three times since buying them. American Gods, in particular, I find new things on every reread (and is also on my reserve rereadathon pile) and Good Omens is just so funny.
  • Discworld. With 41 books, of course I don't do a complete reread every year, but there are certain sub-series within the series that I return to most often. Top of that list are the first few Watch books: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms and Feet of Clay, as well as the masterpiece Night Watch. Then there are the Witches books: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies and Maskerade. Hogfather gets read a lot at Christmas, and if I don't read the book, I'll watch the TV film. And Going Postal and Monstrous Regiment are others that appear regularly. I'm filling in the gaps this year; there are now only 4 left I haven't read.
So, what about you? Do any of these books or series appear regularly on your reading list, or are your favourite rereads completely different? 

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