New Grub Street by George Gissing

“As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning.”

I wanted to like New Grub Street more than I actually did.  Gissing obviously wanted to show the struggle which writers faced where they were required to produce a product that would “sell” rather than write something they considered art.

Jasper Milvain is presented as a middle-class man who is rather lazy but has a talent for finding his place in the literary business because of his aptitude for targeting publishers with a product that the public wants.  He has no real standards and no true feeling and his only aim is to know the right people, make an advantageous marriage and grow richer.

Edwin Reardon is a writer who has had mild success with a novel and is attempting to write another, however his marriage to Amy Yule, a woman slightly higher in social status, puts pressure on him to perform and he suffers from writer’s block.  We experience his slow spiral into poverty, culminating in his death.

Other characters populate the novel, such as Marian Yule, who falls in love with Jasper, only to learn through his disloyalty, that he is a money-grasping swine.  Jasper’s two sisters play important roles and the lesser characters of Alfred Yule, Marian’s father, and the writers Whelpdale and Biffen (who sticks to writing for art) add depth to the story.

On one hand, the story was excellent but I had issues with Gissing’s handling of the characters.  Often I found they acted in ways particularly to get a point of Gissing’s across and not because they would naturally act in that manner.  This took away from the plot and diminished the issues the story was meant to bring to light.  In fact it bothered me so much, I really lost focus during a few points in the novel.  Overall it was a good read but I felt that the characters struggled to maintain integrity and plausibility.  I would give it 3.5 stars.



Day 30 – Your Favourite Book of All Time

Can I cry “unfair”?!  How can one, after decades of reading, choose just one book as their favourite?  Impossible.  So, therefore I will choose a few:

All of C.S. Lewis’ books, basically because they inspire such deep thoughts and he writes as if you and he were having a conversation.  He is also very respectful, yet can be sharply direct and humorously witty.  I read at least one of his books every year.

I don’t really think I have to even explain my choice with this one.  Austen makes all the characters so engaging and each play their parts with an unmatched brilliance.  I have read it a number of times.

I love how Bronte made Jane meek, yet with an unquenchable spirit, and Rochester is certainly not your perfect male hero however his character is complementary to hers.  The balance between them is precarious, yet perfect.  Excellent!

As for children’s books, I will choose The Phantom Tollbooth.  A brilliant book for its play on puns and idioms, it is a fun read for all ages.


Day 29 – A Book You Liked But Everyone Else Hated

I was so looking forward to reading this book with my online reading group.  I had read it once already and, in spite of its “streams of consciousness” style, I was able to just let myself go and flow along with the character’s thoughts, almost as if you were lying in a stream and letting the water rush over you.  Well, as it turned out, most readers were put off by Woolf’s manner of writing and found the book to be confusing and not particularly cohesive.  

While I was surprised by the reactions, I could understand them.  Some novels speak to certain people and not to others and this was obviously one of them.  I gave it five stars, but I suspect I was the only one.


Day 28 – Favourite Title For a Book

Jerome K. Jerome is a favourite of mine, especially for his more well-known work, Three Men in a Boat.  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow is written in the same style but is a series of humorous essays on different topics.  Some quotes from this book:

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

Swearing relieves the feelings–that is what swearing does. I explained this to my aunt on one occasion, but it didn’t answer with her. She said I had no business to have such feelings.

That is just the way with Memory; nothing that she brings to us is complete. She is a willful child; all her toys are broken. I remember tumbling into a huge dust-hole when a very small boy, but I have not the faintest recollection of ever getting out again; and if memory were all we had to trust to, I should be compelled to believe I was there still.

There are various methods by which you may achieve ignominy and shame. By murdering a large and respected family in cold blood and afterward depositing their bodies in the water companies’ reservoir, you will gain much unpopularity in the neighborhood of your crime, and even robbing a church will get you cordially disliked, especially by the vicar. But if you desire to drain to the dregs the fullest cup of scorn and hatred that a fellow human creature can pour out for you, let a young mother hear you call dear baby ‘it.’


Day 26 – A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

This book really opened my eyes with regard to world politics …… how governments of industrialized nations proclaim they have people’s best interests at heart, but in actuality are driven by power, greed and monetary gain.  While millions of people are being slaughtered in Rwanda, Belgian forces pull out of a school where they are protecting Tutsi people and the people are then massacred; U.S. forces remain stationary at the airport because they do not have orders to leave; and French forces let hundreds of Hutu murders pass through the borders into the Congo …….  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but one wonders how there was so little action taken to stop this atrocity.  An incredibly sad read.


Day 25 – A Character That You Relate to Most

Not only is Anne of Green Gables one of my favourite books, but Anne is one of my favourite characters.  I just loved Anne’s approach to life, her imagination and her loyalty to those dear to her.  After her experience as an orphan, her life at Green Gables was really idyllic for a child, a perfect place to grow character, develop a sense of community and a joyful spirit.  If I could be any character, I would choose to be Anne!


Day 24 – A Book You Wish More People Would Have Read


A fascinating look into not only present day education, but the history of compulsory schooling.  Gatto digs deep to point out not only the flaws in the system but how if affects our social order and even our individual souls.

I don’t always agree with him but he is passionate about his beliefs and brings so many issues to light that would otherwise be left unexamined.  While slightly haphazard in its organization, the book is riveting.  I try to read it at least once per year.


Day 23 – A Book That You’ve Wanted to Read But Haven’t

Written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, it is a medieval allegory presented as a frame story.  One hundred tales are told by ten young people, seven young women and three young men, after they flee to a deserted villa to escape the plague ravaging Florence.  The stories are various tales of different forms of love interspersed with tales of wit and moral lessons.  

This book is a tome but I think it would be fascinating to get a look in at 14th century Italy.  


Day 22 – A Book That Makes You Cry

This book was soooooo sad!  As a child reading this book, I cried and cried when Old Yeller died.  I’ve always wanted to re-read it to see if I would find it as heart-wrenching as an adult, but just the thought of experiencing the emotions I did as a child, has made me hesitant.  Does that mean I was traumatized the first time? 😉