Rebecca and I are still crossing our legs after our brilliant conversation with Nina Stibbe for November’s Are You Sitting Comfortably. Honestly, Nina has such a talent for comic timing and witty observations – one of the best comic voices in the book world. Her diary of her year-long sabbatical from her life, Went to London, Took the Dog should be on everyone’s reading pile. It’s a love letter to female friendship, embracing adventure and navigating next chapters. Warning: May induce severe snorting and laughter in inappropriate settings when reading.
So in the spirit of oversharing and celebrating all things diary, I’ve dug out a few favourites and some absolute must-haves for this month’s extra reading.
Absolutely one of my all-time bookish loves has to be E M Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady – I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pop this one on the top of the list. Brilliantly observed, superb wit and a healthy dose of sarcasm, this feels as delightfully fresh and funny now as it must have done in 1933 when it was published. Call it a 1930s Bridget Jones’ Diary if you like. E M Delafield (not her real name – she was an excellent columnist too) writes about the peculiarities of daily life as an upper-middle-class lady living in a Devonshire village.
‘(Query: Is it possible to cultivate the art of conversation when living in the country all the year round?)’
From mischievous children and trying servants to a husband intent on remaining hidden behind a copy of The Times, there’s a constant challenge to try one’s best, to keep up appearances on an inadequate income and definitely not to let the side down in front of Lady Boxe, who would try the patience of a saint. Deliciously witty and skillfully penned. If this is your first foray into the works of Delafield, I’m jealous indeed. You’ll be hooked in no time at all and rushing to your local bookshop for her back catalogue.
A shout out to E M Delafield’s daughter, R M Dashwood, who penned Provincial Daughter which is also brilliant and written in a similar winning format. It transports the reader into the 1950s and sees the heroine taking her first steps into the bright lights of London to find her own literary fame and fortune.
A classic oldie which really deserves much more attention to be paid to it, is The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. I was reminded of its protagonist Charles Pooter and the line, ‘Do my ill-fitting trousers make me look like a sailor?’ when reading Nina’s meditation on ‘apartment pants’. The Diary of a Nobody is a brilliant Victorian society satire which I think was serialised in Punch in the 1890s. Pooter’s life as a city clerk is fraught with up, downs and very many petty grievances. His hilarious lack of self-awareness only brings more joy to the reader as he stumbles through almost every facet of his life, not least the parenting of feckless son, Lupin who returns home with a love of drink, ladies and speculating on the markets. It’s so beautifully observed that even Evelyn Waugh called it ‘the funniest book in the world.’ Comedy gold despite its age.
Now that Mariah has been defrosted and the twinkly lights have started appearing everywhere, I know you won’t mind me mentioning the C word. After this month’s AYSC Live with Nina, I think you’d agree that you’d be hard pushed not to dash out and buy ALL of her books but if I had to choose another one to recommend (and I really mean HAD TO), my top choice would be An Almost Perfect Christmas. At this time of year, there’s nothing like someone else’s bodged festivities to really cheer up proceedings. I can promise you tragic trees, obsessing over the perfect turkey and memorable moments for all the wrong reasons – it is Christmas in the most Stibbe way.
Something we really loved about Nina’s Went to London, Took the Dog was all the wonderful conversations between women and about women in it. Nina is brilliant at taking something serious and showing us the funny side by sharing her experiences as well as sending others up. There’s a lot of comfort to be had in finding the humour. So if you’re in the mood for more of that, then why not try the latest book from funny lady Dawn French? The Twat Files is all about the realisation that perfect just isn’t possible. It’s a fab confessional where Dawn unleashes all the mistakes she’s made and the moments that haven’t gone quite right, in the hopes that we’ll feel better about all the times things haven’t quite gone to plan for us either. Another belter.
Rebecca Fletcher @margotgoodlife