Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

The Book This Week – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I read a lot of books. I may have mentioned that once or twice. But I don’t write about many of the books I read, and I want to work on that. I think that part of reading is sharing the books you read with others – I love sharing my favorite books, and I am always looking for new book suggestions (even as my list of books to read stretches over a half dozen pages…)

So I’m starting a new series of posts here on this blog. I’m not going to be as strict about timing as I am with my Czech posts – notice there is no day of the week in this series’ title. But the goal is to write one post every week about something I’m reading or something I’ve read. And not just about an article or an online debate, but about a real book.[*]

With the new job starting in less than a month, I have a suspicion I’ll be reading more than a book a week. Therefore, I call dibs on the comfy chair in the big room! And maybe this summer I’ll convince my dad to let me buy a hammock for the backyard… or I could just sit in a tree. I’ve been known to do that.


Now that that is out of the way, here is my first post in the series, on Susanna Clarke’s 2004 book, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

All through February and March, I was reading about a book a day. Okay, maybe a book every two days. Regardless, I was reading tens, sometimes hundreds of pages every day, and it didn’t seem strange at all. And then I moved from Tess Gerritsen (when I finished all of her books) to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It is a book about 600 pages long, and so I figured it would take me about a month. I finished it yesterday.

Often, books take me a while if they are particularly dense, or if they are particularly boring. Clarke’s book is neither dense nor boring, but there is something about it that made me slow down. I noticed I was reading more slowly than normal; perhaps the structure of the prose or the details in the description is responsible.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are the two preeminent magicians of England in the 1800’s. In fact, for most of the book, they are the only magicians in England. The book follows the transition or Mr Norrell from secretive recluse to teacher, and the transition of Jonathan Strange from student to magician. The book is full of footnotes that, though not necessary, add depth and realism to the story (perhaps it is these footnotes that slow me down?).

I honestly can’t say what it is about the book that pulled me in. Similarly, I don’t really know what kept me interested in it. And yet, I find myself wanting to recommend it. If I were to tell someone about the plot, I would say merely that it follows the rises and falls of the two aforementioned magicians, and it documents their difficulties in bringing magic back to England. It sounds so simple, and yet the prose, the details, and the world the book represents is incredibly complex.

As we head into the summer season, when people are looking for a book to read that is easy to pick up and put down, good to read on the beach, on a plane, and everywhere else, I can’t help but think that this is a go-to for the season. Especially for people like my mom, who love a good book but don’t have time to just sit down and read one cover to cover (even in the summer), this is my recommendation.

It is also worth noting that the illustrations by Portia Rosenberg distributed throughout are particularly beautiful. The sketches look a bit like etchings and somehow fit the book perfectly.

*When I say real, I don’t necessarily mean physical. I could limit myself to things that require actually turning a page, thus restricting myself to bound books, not e-books, but also opening up the opportunity to writing about newspaper and magazine articles. Instead, I will limit myself to things at least 50 pages long. I don’t run across many articles that long except in The Atlantic, but maybe I’ll talk about an academic article someday… Go Back

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