Thoughts on Re-Reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Last year I decided I wanted to re-read this behemoth of a book. I refer to this book as a behemoth because I have the combined paperback of all three books. It’s a sucker to hold up, if like me, you’re reading it in bed which may have contributed to part of my slow reading. My arms would give out and due to the number of pillows holding me and my arms aloft, I would get comfy and drift off — the drifting off had nothing to do with the story though. That, I can assure you, is still good to go.

Did I enjoy this re-read? I did and here’s why:

Mr Norrell is still arrogant and naive. His hoarding of books is something I can totally understand although I obviously like to share more than he does. I found him to be much more annoying this time around though. I’m not sure if I noticed it the first time I read the book or not but he’s much more insecure than I remember his character to be.

Childermas, butler to Mr Norrell, is a character I liked much more this time around. His sarcastic, biting remarks are such a contrast to Mr Norrell and he does it sometimes knowing that Norrell won’t understand either because he hasn’t told him or he doesn’t get society in general. He also played a larger part in the plot than I originally remembered.

Mr Drawlight and Mr Lascelles are a riot of absurdity. These two are the main reason for describing this book as Austen-esque. They are society at its best.

Jonathan Strange is much more interesting on the magical front but has a few of the same eccentric habits about him which even he admits may have come from Norrell. He also doesn’t show up until much later in the story than I thought he did. The things you happen upon while re-reading.

The setting is lovely, lovely, lovely.

The man with the thistle down hair! Yes, yes, yes. He’s mean and self-centered but I adore his magical style.

Jonathan Strange’s fall into the magical underworld — it’s interesting to see what his obsession with outdoing Mr Norrell does to him and to those he loves.

What I didn’t enjoy so much:

The length. I knew this was a long book. I’d read it before and thought I was prepared for it but it was still long. Knowing what happened, even if I was a tad foggy on some of the specifics, stopped me from reading ahead but I also didn’t feel like there was a pressing need for me to rush through either. I read very slowly, and probably enjoyed the story all the more for it, but when I got down to the end, I wanted it to just end. Those last 150 pages were the longest 150 pages I’ve spent with a book in a very long time.

It was a successful re-read though. I’m glad I decided to read it again and that I did it early in the year. I think if I had waited, I might not have gotten to it, mostly because of the size. I like long books, but this one felt extra long though.

When someone asks about a great fantasy read, I’ll still recommend this book but I’ll warn people to scope out time for it and don’t tread into it lightly.

The Sunday Salon – What’s your favorite book? Let’s all play along edition.

Over Labor Day weekend, we were at a friend’s house (It was a lovely afternoon if you’re curious.  You might not be but I’m putting it out there.) and we got on the topic of books.  I didn’t bring it up.  The book blogger stayed silent. 🙂 What an excellent title for a book!  Anyway, this person asked what books I’d recommend.  And here’s what happened in my head…

“Oh, what to pick?  What to pick?  No, seriously, what to pick?!  Don’t panic.  You read like, what, 100 books last year, just pick one.  Oh, crap.  I don’t remember any now.  How can that be!  Crap. Crap.  Just pick one!!!”

Yea, so, can you tell I don’t like that question.

You might be wondering how that can be since I have this little space of my own where I (OK, on the days I get out of bed early enough to post something.) talk about books.  What I like.  What I didn’t like.  And yet, when someone asks me a perfectly normal question about books, I can’t answer it.  My head goes all…

“What did I like last year?  Do I even remember the last few books I read?  Ah, nope.  I don’t.  Don’t remember what I wore yesterday either…  Ok…must make a list.  Put ginkgo on the list too.  Isn’t that stuff good for memory?”

I know what you’re actually thinking right now.  She’s slightly crazy.  No, really, I’m not.

You see, I’ve decided, the reason I’m not good at the above question is because I can’t pick one single book to say — “That was the best thing I read.”  Because that wouldn’t be true.  It’s not simply that I read so many wonderful books (OK, some books are better than others.) but I read so many *kinds* of books that to pick one seems wrong.  Let’s face it, we’re always seeing reviews for a book that another blogger loved and we go out and get it and find ourselves disappointed by it.  Sometimes so much so we don’t even finish and sometimes can’t wait to get the book out of the house because it was so disappointing you don’t want to look at it for fear it might ruin your reading karma.

What I need to do is ask the question, “What kind of books do you like to read?”  That way I can say wonderful things like, “Mysteries.  I read this fabulous book called Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran recently.  Takes place in New Orleans…” and sound so wonderful and sophisticated that even though this is going on in my head:

“Oh, I so hate this question…”

I won’t sound like an idiot.  Yes, it’s good to have a plan.  I should also make that list…is ginkgo good for memory?

P.S. – I’m feeling the need to file this under something like things I should keep to myself so people don’t think badly of me but hey, I’ll get over it.  Embarrassment only lasts a little while.  Right?

Moving on.  Tomorrow starts Book Blogger Appreciation Week.  I didn’t sign up for the interview swap which I wanted to do this year and didn’t register either.  Bad blogger I am.  Anyway, go here to find out more.  Wait, you probably already know all this but do it anyway.