Read Around the World: England
Our next stop in our world tour or reading is England, home to Book Worm and Jen’s childhood home from ages 2-12! Join us as we explore a tiny fraction of what England has to offer in terms of literature and find out which book we selected. This will be one destination where we hope you help us compile a list of favorite authors and novels!
Fun Facts about England
- The English drink more tea per capita than anybody else in the world (2.5 times more than the Japanese and 22 times more than the Americans or the French).
- The world’s largest second-hand book market can be found at Hay-on-Wye, a small village at the border of England and Wales. The village is also famous for proclaiming itself independent from the UK in 1977. We will feature this town and several of its bookstores when we get around to visiting Wales (chances are we will stick around and “visit” the rest of the U.K in the upcoming months).
- No location in England is more than 74.5 miles from the sea
- London is home to 4 World Heritage sites: The Palace of Westminster, The Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich, & Kew Botanical Gardens.
- James Bond’s code “007” was inspired by Ian Fleming’s bus route from Canterbury to London.
- In 1945 a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand of Big Ben and set it back 5 minutes.
Book Worm’s guided tour of Literary England
It is really hard to think of fun facts about your own country so I decided that instead of doing that I would share some of my literary highlights places I have personally visited.
First up is Rochester home to Dickens and the yearly Dickens festival, for one weekend in December the high street and castle are transported back to Dickensian times for a traditional Christmas complete with snow (guaranteed). The highlight of the day is the Christmas dinner parade where locals dressed as Dickens characters parade a complete Christmas dinner down the high street. In addition to this there is mulled wine and mince pies aplenty. The rest of the year Rochester maintains its Dickensian history in the names of it shops.
Next up, the 100 acre wood and Pooh bridge – yes it really is a place and yes I have been there and played Pooh sticks, and visited the house at Pooh corner. Now how jealous are you all?
Finally, Shepperton studios, the home of Ian Fleming’s James Bond (and the setting of the disgusting book, Crash) is located in the picturesque village of Shepperton along the River Ash. It’s hard to believe that blockbusters that come out of such an unassuming location.
Book Selected: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Published in: 1933
Literary Awards: 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse prize
Find it here: Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Reason Selected: Trying to pick one book to represent English literature is like trying to pick the best blade of grass in a meadow. It’s impossible and we aren’t even going to pretend to do so. Instead we are selecting this month’s novel because it coincided with a reading challenge we both were doing over at Shelfari’s 1001 Book group. The author, Stella Gibbons, was born and educated in London, England. Cold Comfort Farm was her most popular novel.
Synopsis (from Amazon):The deliriously entertaining Cold Comfort Farm is “very probably the funniest book ever written” (The Sunday Times, London), a hilarious parody of D. H. Lawrence’s and Thomas Hardy’s earthy, melodramatic novels. When the recently orphaned socialite Flora Poste descends on her relatives at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm in deepest Sussex, she finds a singularly miserable group in dire need of her particular talent: organization.
When Flora Poste is orphaned, she writes to all her living relatives to ask for a place to live. Her relatives from Cold Comfort Farm respond to her letter telling her that she is due some kind of right. Looking to explore the hidden meaning in the letter, Flora decides to accept their offer. Once on the farm she discovers a mysterious mad aunt who “saw something nasty in the woodshed,” a young female cousin who is too intellectual to attract a mate, an uncle who preaches about the dangers of hellfire, and a variety of other quirky relatives. Flora quickly gets to work cleaning and straightening out all the chaos on the farm.
I enjoyed this short and funny read. I had read it many years ago as a child and remembered loving it. Rereading it for my 1001 travels was a nice change from some of the heavier books on the 1001 list. I’ve read a lot of Jane Austin and Thomas Hardy and a little of D.H. Lawrence. Cold Comfort Farm is a parody of the early British gothic, doom and gloom novels. Gibbons immerses us in the themes of sin and decay but uses protagonist, Flora, to steamroll over those themes, cleaning things up (literally and figuratively). Despite its title, Cold Comfort Farm is very much a comforting read.
She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while eating an apple.
The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
Flora sighed. It was curious that persons who lived what the novelists called a rich emotional life always seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake.
I think it’s degrading of you, Flora,’ cried Mrs Smiling at breakfast. ‘Do you truly mean that you don’t ever want to work at anything?’ Her friend replied after some thought: ‘Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as “Persuasion”, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say “Collecting material.” No one can object to that.
Book Worm’s Review
Rather boringly I agree with everything Jen has said. I really enjoyed this book for its light hearted humour and fairytale romance. These things were a welcome break from some of the heavier reading I have been doing lately. This is a gentle, happy book and a genuine tonic when you need to escape the real world.
Have you read the book? What did you think of it? If you are one of the few people who has yet to read this novel, and you like English literature and humor, don’t put it off any longer. You can find a copy here: Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Other recommendations for English Literature: We are going to need your help with this one because there are so many options that it is hard to pick only one. We hope you join in and help us with your own recommendations. For more recommendations, check out: Flavorwire’s 18 Contemporary british novels you need to read now; Qwiklit’s 25 contemporary British Novels to read; and Flavorwire’s 50 Greatest British novels of the 19th Century.
Some of Jen’s favorites: Some of my favorite English authors are the masters of classic literature: Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and Shakespeare. Among my favorite contemporary English authors are: David Mitchell (love him and he is coming out with a new book at the end of October!!), Jeanette Winterson, Ian McEwan, J.K. Rowling (yes, I love Harry Potter too); Neil Gaiman; and Douglas Adams. I could probably go on for another 20-30 names.
Some of Book Worm’s Favorites: Like Jen I love all the classic novels, I would also add Daniel Defoe to the classics list as Moll Flanders is one of my favourite books and the BBC did a really good adaptation. With regard to modern authors once again I agree with Jen and would add Peter Robinson’s crime series. So many books so little time…
As an aside and a little plug, Book Worm and I both belong to a group over at Shelfari (my favorite book online shelving and discussion service) called Play Book Tag. Each month members will vote on a tag and then read books that match the tag. It’s a great way to read outside your comfort zone. The reason I plug it this month is that the October book tag is England! So check it out if you need ideas. You can find the link here.
We want to hear from you, especially since we can’t possibly capture all the top authors from England. Which are your favorite English authors and why? Which books do you recommend?
As a proud Welsh woman I am horrified that you mention Hay on Wye as a fact about England! You even say that it is in Wales! Wales is a separate country, we all come under the heading of the United Kingdom or Great Britain but Wales is NOT part of England!! Rant over 🙂
I know that, that is why we said we would cover it when we visit Wales. No need to be offended. We weren’t treating it as part of England
Then why mention it in a list of facts about England? Odd.
I mentioned it as a teaser because we are stopping in Wales next and wanted to give people a heads up that we will feature it then. It wasn’t intended to be offensive but rather a look ahead to where we are going next. I thought it was very clear from the bullet point that we do not consider it part of England but I apologies if you found it odd or offensive.
oh, and since you are from Wales, maybe you can help us with our visit next month – in terms of reading recommendations and your personal favorites. We’ve had guest bloggers from various countries contribute with these posts to share their favorite literature from their home country. If you are interested/willing send me an email and we can discuss. Obviously we would link back to your blog so people can follow you if interested
Ok cool, I wasn’t offended and I’m sorry if I sounded abrupt it’s just annoying when people assume Wales is just part of England. Is your email on here?
no, you weren’t abrupt. I do get irritated when people lump the countries together, but believe me it wasn’t our intention. I did try to make it clear that it would be something we featured next month, but I can see why it would be odd since the fact fell under the title for “England facts.” I was mainly just excited to get to talk about the town because it such a neat place. email should be somewhere on the blog but it’s email@example.com. I can explain what we’ve had our contributors do in the past for these sections.
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In addition to the great authors you’ve mentioned, I would like to add Chaucer, Orwell and Rushdie, even though he started in India, he now lives in England. Oh, and George Eliot. And Waugh.
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I guess it’s not surprising that I love all those authors too.
For classics … Hardy and Austen are my favorites
For contemporary …. Ian McEwan
For mysteries …. Agatha Christie
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All great authors!
I adore Cold Comfort Farm. It’s a truly hilarious book.
I think the classic authors are well covered, so below are some of my favourite contemporary English authors.
Michael Frayn is a wonderful writer. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/michael-frayn My favourites by him are A Landing On The Sun (exceptional and moving writing), Now You Know, and Headlong.
Glen Duncan is also good, if you avoid Tallulah Rising! http://literature.britishcouncil.org/glen-duncan I loved The Bloodstone Papers, which explores his Anglo-Indian heritage, and is different in style to his other books, which have a streak of darkness. Weathercock is my favourite, but it’s not for the faint hearted. Death of An Ordinary Man is a good read. For anyone needing a Halloween read, The Last Werewolf is good.
Julian Barnes, of course. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/julian-barnes Flaubert’s Parrot and Staring At the Sun are among his best.
I think of Marina Lewycka as English. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/marina-lewycka She lives in Sheffield, I think. I’ve read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which is a joy of a book, and Two Caravans, which is a heart wrenching book. I need to read more by her.
Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve declared my love for Margaret Drabble. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/margaret-drabble She is among the most important female writers Britain has produced in my eyes. The Millstone, The Garrick Year, Jerusalem The Golden, The Radiant Way. She will knock you out.
Anita Brookner is an old favourite. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/anita-brookner Hotel du Lac and Lewis Percy are my favourites.
Louis de Bernières is glorious. I love his South American novels. He captures the magical realism of that continent pretty well. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is good, but Birds Without Wings towers over it.
David Peace is a recent discovery for me. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/david-peace I read the first two books in his incomplete Tokyo Trilogy first and was stunned by his creativity and sharpness. I read GB84 recently which was a disturbing read. It made me angry all over again about the systematic decimation of the coal industry in Britain and the demonization of the working class.
One modern classic author is Agatha Christie. Crime is my favourite genre, and Golden Age my favourite era. Christie is the Queen of Crime for me.
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wow, thanks. See, it’s hard to narrow it down. I hate to say it, but I didn’t really love Flaubert’s Parrot. I did love Sense of an Ending and like his style in general but I was bored with Flaubert’s Parrot. Perhaps because I was reading too much at the time to truly be able to dedicate enough time. I’ve never read anything by Margaret Drabble – I will check her out . Agree with you on the others you mention.
It is! There are so many good writers out there. This is what I like about blogs like yours – they open up the reading horizon. It’s okay not to love Flaubert’s Parrot. I love it because I’m a historian and the idea of there being 50 possible parrots made me laugh. Please do check Margaret Drabble out – I hope you like her writing.
I just returned from a 3 week vacation in Cornwall, one of my very most favorite places on the planet !!!!!
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Some of my favorites include Julian Barnes (although I didn’t care for The Sense of an Ending), Bernard Cornwell (one of the best historical fiction writers), and Graham Greene.
Luckily I started The Woman in White for the Sept tag of 19th century, but it qualifies for England as well :-D. I am looking forward to reading Cold Comfort Farm sometime soon — I did enjoy the movie that was made a while back.
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