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Changing My Reading Habits (Part 2)

Walk2This continues yesterday’s ruminations about reading: duty versus pleasure, and where blogging/reviewing fits into all of this. How can I hack/cut my own path through the jungle of publishing PR, excited recommendations and friendly requests? How can I bring quality and fun back into reading, rather than making it a race about quantity and deadlines?

I’ve got a list of New School Year Resolutions, but I’ll start with the most obvious remark. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I do not get paid to read, edit, market, hold a writer’s hand or write reviews – not even for the Crime Fiction Lover website. It’s all a labour of love. I may be a fast reader, but I am a slow reviewer. I want my review to be well-balanced, fair, taking into account that different people might find different aspects of the book appealing. I like to think about larger patterns or themes emerging from my reading. I like to compare writers or different cultures. But all of this takes time – at least a couple of hours per review (pure writing time, without counting the reading and researching).

It’s time I cannot afford to spend anymore on blogging. Much as I love reviewing books, participating in challenges, interacting with you all, reading your thoughts and blogs, responding to comments and commenting on your posts, I just cannot sustain this pace whilst also focusing on my family and my day-job. My writing, above all, has suffered in the process. Which is ironic, because the reason I started blogging in the first place was so I could write something everyday, improve my writing skills, track my progress. Call me a wimp, a wuss, a ‘beer glass of reduced volumic capacity’ (good old Romanian saying), but I have days when I am unable to write anything else after I’ve finished a book review. And, since my mission in life is to write poetry and crime fiction (rather than becoming the most revered or feared book reviewer or the blogger with the most followers and freshly pressed articles), it is clear that things need to change.

Walk1Resolutions:

1) Thou shalt not buy, beg or borrow any more books

… until I’ve finished everything I already own. Or give away the books that do not appeal to me. That means: tie up (or otherwise disable) my trigger-happy finger which keeps clicking the ‘buy’ button on online bookshops (and it’s not just Amazon that makes it very easy to order with one click), or the ‘request/send’ button on sites such as Netgalley.

I am very grateful to publishers who send me free books – even more grateful to those who ask me first which ones appeal to me rather than just randomly selecting some of their latest releases. But I also have to be able to say ‘No’, to be clearer about my reading preferences, and not feel obliged to review everything I’ve been sent (when it’s not been requested by me). I also need to give away those ‘scattergun’ books much, much sooner, and stop hoarding them on the ‘off-chance’ that someday I may change my mind. (It can happen, but far too infrequently and I don’t have the space.)

Walk32) Thou can live without all the books you have ever liked or been interested in

I’ve had to move abroad quite a few times and many of my favourite books got left behind in the process. I still have an attic full of books in the UK – and yes, sometimes I would like to re-read a passage which I am sure I have somewhere up there, but on the whole I can live without them or look them up elsewhere. I have to be more selective about keeping only non-negotiable favourites whom I consult all the time, or rare/unusual/hard to find editions. Even if they were expensive.

And I can also learn to wait before reading the ‘latest buzzes’ – which means I am more likely to find them at the library and need not feel guilty about abandoning them half-way through if they do not meet my expectations.

3) Thou shalt have fun with your reading

… and bring serendipity back into the game. Pick up a random title, author, genre on the bookshelf, something just a little beyond your usual line of sight. I want to read lesser known authors, re-read some of my old favourites from school and university, discover little quiet gems instead of the big brash brass-bands of new releases. Not so much for the sake of standing out from the crowd, but because you get to hear all of that hype anyway, in all kinds of media. Do you really need my take on ‘Gone Girl’ when you can read hundreds of reviews elsewhere? There are so many other good books out there deserving a mention, perhaps ones which have been published a while ago but got very little exposure, or authors who have fallen out of favour.

Walk44) Thou shalt be brave and honest

I won’t like all books that I’ve been sent, that I’ve borrowed or bought. A perfectly decent cover, blurb and opening paragraph may suddenly turn into the nightmare read from hell halfway through the book. I know some reviewers who make it a policy to not review a book unless they loved it and can recommend it to others. I can understand this all too well: so much time and effort (blood, sweat, caffeine and tears) has gone into writing and publishing a book that anyone with a writer’s heart will feel uncomfortable criticising it. But if we were all to follow this rule, there would be no warning signs at all on books and we’d soon get very disappointed as a reader, feeling we’d been conned into buying books we simply cannot care about.

This is especially hard when you are reviewing books by people you consider friends (whether you’ve met them in person or only online). I have a huge sense of loyalty to anyone who’s ever been nice to me. When it’s a debut that I did not get on with, I’ve been known to email the author and say: ‘Would you rather I didn’t review it at all, because I can only give it 1-2 stars?’ Because I do believe that debut authors deserve some encouragement, a second chance. I’ve also been known to revert to what the French call the ‘wooden language’ of diplomacy. It’s useful to know perhaps that ‘fast-paced page-turner’ means ‘not much substance’, while ‘an assortment of quirky characters’ usually means ‘far too long cast list of flat stereotypes’.

From now on, I will be honest. Still fair and balanced, still bearing in mind that we are all different and like a huge variety of things, but no more beating around the bush if a book did not appeal to me. Although I may let any author friend know in private rather than posting a scathing review without informing them. And there will be no sarcasm for the sake of showing off my superior critical abilities – when I haven’t even finished writing my first novel!

Walk55) Thou shalt be guided by mood, the colour of the sky and the call of the wild

… but it will not be all aimless wandering. When you reach a certain age, it’s all too easy to turn into a curmudgeon and say ‘I know what I want and like, so that’s what I’ll read’. I want to continue to broaden my reading tastes, in a gentle rather than a forced way. I want to explore new countries, new authors.

So here are some concrete changes you will notice on my blog:

  • I won’t review everything I read, just the books which stand out for me, or which fit into a theme, and probably not more frequently than 1-2 review per week. And that includes the 1-2 books a month which I will be reviewing for other sites.
  • I won’t boast anymore about my latest bookhauls. Although I love hearing what other people are getting and reading, in far too many cases it turns out to be a sort of free book promotion for publishers and authors. I’d rather tweet about that, rather than dedicate a blog post to it.
  • I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon anymore with the latest releases. You may find I review things a couple of years later, after the hoopla has died down. Or talk about authors you’ve only vaguely heard of. Or introduce you to authors I’d like to see translated into English. But rules are made to be broken, so I can’t promise that I won’t fall for a bit of hype from time to time!
  • Post less frequently but more substantially (although I may still succumb to the temptation of pictures of libraries, bookshelves, writers’ studies and interior design). Write more poetry, prose and other posts about writing in general. And sorry, but I cannot stick to a set weekly routine of posts… It will be haphazard as ever, following the call of the wild…

 

Thank you all for your kind tweets and comments on Part 1 of this post yesterday, and for your patience for my long, self-indulgent rant today. It seems that this conundrum resonates with many of you, so please share your own strategies and coping mechanisms.

 

 

Changing My Reading Habits (Part 1)

BookPile2This post follows a few days of intense thinking after reading this very enlightening post by Simon Savidge, a book reviewer I hugely respect. I also realised that this coming weekend I will probably reach my reading target of 150 books for the year – with three months still to go! No, that did not fill me with pride, but with horror, as I expected it to be a stretch goal. It’s all very well to read fast – but does that mean I am perhaps reading too fast, or opting for ‘easy’ reads, not challenging myself, not really spending time with the kind of books I want to be reading? So here are some of my thoughts about how I got into the predicament I am now with my reading, reviewing and writing.

I was never the world’s most disciplined and systematic reader. I would meander through bookshops, libraries, friends’ bookshelves, life in general, picking up whatever I fancied, experimenting, rebelling against the imposed and eager to partake of the forbidden. Many books were censored by the government of the time, so unsurprisingly that made them all the more desirable to the citizens of my country, so we made do with photocopied versions or ancient paperbacks that had been smuggled in and fallen apart in the process. My parents had a good selection of books across all genres and in several languages, all accessible to me from an early age (there was no attempt to guide or force my reading, other than a vague ‘What’s that you’re reading now? Oh, I seem to remember that’s excellent…’). I was always allowed to buy more books, no matter how hard up we were financially (and books were cheap back then), but I always borrowed far more than I bought. From my parents I learnt, above all, a huge respect for books, especially those of good quality, which did not peddle the ‘party line’ in order to get published.

P1020734So my reading habits back in my childhood and teens could be described as ‘omnivorous’ and relying very heavily on ‘happenstance’. I would fall in love with a new author and become mildly obsessed with him/her, reading everything by and about them that I could lay my hands on. Same with historical figures, certain topics or schools of thought. I spent a winter with the Dadaists, a summer with Sylvia Plath (probably just as well, as Sylvia Plath in winter may have driven me to the depths of despair). The main thing is: I read for pleasure, without any care about impressing others or worrying about whether I was learning anything from other writers.

Then I studied Japanese and English at university, so my reading became much more ‘specialist’. Not only did I have a set syllabus (oh, Chomsky’s transformational grammar and Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost! Bane of my life!), but I also discovered competitive reading. All of my classmates were budding writers, literary critics, great readers and often book snobs. So I had to keep up with the herd. I had to be comfortable discussing Saussure, Lacan, Foucault and Barthes, as no essay could be written without at least a passing reference to them and other structuralists. I had to hide away my Agatha Christie and other ‘lighter’ fiction in favour of the classics and ‘trendy’ books of the time. (In our isolated socialist society, we were probably a bit behind the times, but I seem to remember collective obsessions with John Fowles, Bernard Malamud and Mircea Cărtărescu).

Then came the Fall of the Wall and suddenly the whole world was our oyster. So much richness, so much choice! I went a little mad and joined all the foreign libraries and borrowed ten books at a time, went abroad and returned with suitcases full of books (the customs officer could not believe that I had returned from Japan with books instead of electronic gadgets). I recently found a diary of those years and this is a typical example of what I might read in a week:

Beryl Bainbridge: Watson’s Apology; Kafka’s Letters to Milena; Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano; Patrick White: The Burnt Ones; Rosamond Lehmann: Dusty Answer; Natsume Soseki: I Am a Cat; R. Wiggershaus: Die Frankfurter Schule (nope, I don’t remember much about that last one).

And I kept up this eclectic approach when I went abroad, from country to country, reading in the original language where I could,  becoming more and more enamoured with crime fiction and noir, relying heavily on inter-library loans when I found a new writer I could be passionate about. Joy, fun and lack of snobbishness were once again on the agenda. But reading was once more a solitary activity – few of my friends enjoyed the same books I did, and I tried a couple of book clubs without much success. I was too wary of rejoining a herd, listening to received opinions, reading the same books that everyone else was reading. How did Murakami put it so nicely in his book ‘Norwegian Wood’?

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

I decided I was an eccentric, a rebel, a crime fiction addict with a hard literary core.

Fast forward to 2012 when I started writing seriously once more. Blogging was initially a way to hold myself accountable for writing regularly, rediscovering poetry, experimenting and chronicling my favourite reading. Through this blog and Twitter I connected with some wonderful writers, publishers, reviewers and – after answering a quiz about crime fiction – I became part of the Crime Fiction Lover team. This led to other requests for reviews and I began reading more and more to keep up with demand. It was wonderful to share my bookish delights with others once more… and even more wonderful to receive review copies from publishers for free.

P1020733Yes, I admit I was greedy. Not very discriminating. I just couldn’t say No to a book – even if it wasn’t in my preferred genre, even if I wasn’t the perfect reviewer for that book (not being the target audience). Call it years of deprivation, of having to make do with nearly illegible pirate copies, or having to survive on books that were considered ‘compatible with socialist mores’… Call it the hunger for English language books when you are living in a rural corner of France, where there are next to no bookshops, although thankfully a fair few libraries (the English language section, however, is quite limited)… Call it making friends with fellow authors and wanting to support them by buying and reading their books… Call it reading too many book blogs that make a compelling case for just one more book…  Or just call it plain old avarice.

Anyway, so I have ended up with far, far too many books. Both on my groaning bookshelves and on my Tablet (which my husband bought me in the mistaken belief that it would eliminate our book flow problem). But the worst thing is… that I now have to read with a purpose – usually for reviewing, or for engaging in a dialogue with other bookish people around the world. And, while there is nothing nicer than sharing our love for books, or shouting from the rooftops when we’ve found a book that we believe everyone else MUST read AT ONCE, it has also put pressure on me to read certain books at specific times, just before or after their release dates. I’ve also had to plough through books which have not been quite to my taste, or perhaps I was not in the mood for them just then – but there was no time to set them aside and try again later.

It's all about the meeting of minds.

It’s all about the meeting of minds.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very grateful indeed to all the publishers and PR folk who keep me in the loop with their latest releases. Of course I get a buzz from discovering a new author to love – perhaps ahead of the rest of world. But it has got slightly out of hand. Instead of finding sustenance and sheer joy in books, I sometimes read them with the dagger of duty in my heart. I feel like I am back at university, with a required reading list whether I am in the mood for it or not and seeking to impress my peers. So how can I recover my sense of wonder and delight, how can I continue to explore while still allowing time to think and reread? Am I still a rebel, an eccentric, or am I just a faceless member of the herd?

But this post is already long and rambling enough as it is, so I won’t try your patience any further today. I will continue tomorrow with my thoughts on how to ‘turn over a new page’. [Oh, yes, I've got bookish puns aplenty!] Thanks again to Simon for helping me crystallise my own thinking on this.

Friday Fun: Get Thee to a Lighthouse

It’s a grey, gloomy Friday over here, with menacing clouds and raindrops all the way. Time to imagine an escape, methinks… And where better to escape than to a lighthouse. Or is that as unattainable as in Virginia Woolf’s novel?

Godrevy Lighthouse, the one said to have inspired Virginia Woolf. From Wikipedia.

Godrevy Lighthouse, the one said to have inspired Virginia Woolf. From Wikipedia.

More modest proportions and one you can buy. www.lighthousesforsale.com

More modest proportions and one you can buy. http://www.lighthousesforsale.com

Russian Nuclear Polar Lighthouse (decommissioned). www.englishrussia.com

Russian Nuclear Polar Lighthouse (decommissioned). http://www.englishrussia.com

White Shoal, www.ipl.org

White Shoal, http://www.ipl.org

Just think of all the writing you could get done with no interruptions, no Internet, perhaps just the occasional storm to keep you awake…

Showcase Sunday: Added to my Teetering TBR Pile

This post is linked up to the Showcase Sunday meme hosted by Vicky at Book, Biscuits and Tea. A great chance for us to discuss our latest pride and joys in acquired books, whether begged, borrowed, bought or stolen (?!).

SSsmall

Yes, I know that every week I promise there will be no further books added to the leaning towers of Pisa piles of books I have placed in various strategic points around the house (and hidden well on my tablet). But who can resist a good bargain (in the case of Netgalley, even free books)? However, one of my resolutions for 2015 is to stop being so dependent on Amazon and falling for all of its promotions. It’s hard to resist its lure when it’s often the only reliable source of English-language books in our part of France. And even buying French books is tricky, if you want to avoid going over the border to Switzerland. In the town created by Voltaire, our local bookshop has closed down, although thankfully we still have a shop specialising in bandes dessinées (graphic novels and comic books), which has expanded to include board games and has introduced a café-style gaming afternoon every week to ensure it remains open.

Review copies from Netgalley (I’m trying to extend beyond my usual crime fiction fare on this medium):

1) Gregory Sherl: The Future for Curious People

If you could see your love life in ten or twenty years’ time, would you still pick the same person to marry? Intriguing premise for a novel which promises to be funny as well as thought-provoking.

2) Katri Lipson: The Ice Cream Man

In the years just following WW2, a Finnish film director makes a film a little too close to reality, about a young couple on the run during the Nazi occupation. The Secret Police starts to believe he may know some uncomfortable truths. I’ve always been intrigued by Finnish literature and worldview (blame that to early exposure to the Moomins).

3) Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves

A family breaking down under the weight of mental health problems, set in the 1960s-1970s in Queens.

Purchased on a whim:

4) Stuart Kaminsky: Dancing in the Dark

Who can resist a mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood movies in the 1930s-1940s, featuring Fred Astaire? Kaminsky’s long-running Toby Peters series is a delightfully frothy, escapist creation.

5) Roger Smith: Sacrifices

I have Margot Kinberg to thank for this one. She mentioned Cape Town, one of my favourite cities in the world, as a setting for crime fiction and I remembered this very dark, very disquieting novel and its author, so I had to make it mine.

From the library:

6) Susan Hill: The Pure in Heart

The second in the Simon Serrailler series, which I have read in such disorder that I cannot remember which ones I’ve read and which I’ve missed out. Once again, it was fellow reviewers’ mention of Susan Hill which reminded me that I haven’t read her in ages and whetted my appetite for her complex psychological constructs.

 

And now for my dilemma: in the above-mentioned BD bookshop, I saw today a bee-yoo-tiful gleaming new graphic representation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel ‘Fatale’, illustrated by famous BD artist Max Cabanes. It costs, however, 22 euros, which is steep even by BD standards. Should I get it or not?

From Bedetheque.com

From Bdgest.com

Fatale2

Bedetheque.com

Or am I better off getting the collected ‘romans noirs’ of Manchette for 31 euros?

Gallimard

 

 

 

 

Friday Fun: Reading Nooks

Another week of school and it has felt like three weeks in one! And that’s just for me, the mother, let alone for the poor boys. While we still struggle to get into something resembling a normal routine, here are some pictures to help us dream of getting organised.

alittleshelfofheaven.com

alittleshelfofheaven.com

domainehome.com

domainehome.com

designsfreshome.com

designsfreshome.com

A ladder, a ladder, because any self-respecting library has got to have one, right?

Domainehome.com

Domainehome.com

For those long, blissful soaks… Just make sure you don’t drop your book in the bathtub!

decoist.com

decoist.com

If you need to get away from your guests, here’s reading nook with a view in your dream house in Estonia…

Showcase Sunday: Another Severe Case of Book Acquisition…

I am supposedly on a book buying moratorium, but this week I cracked and completely forgot about it. After the Chateau de Lavigny readings that I attended last Sunday, I could not resist buying  paperback books by at least two of the authors present there.

glowJessica Maria Tuccelli: Glow – five unforgettable voices weaving over a century of Southern life in America; slave plantations have been built adjacent to the glades of a razed Cherokee nation. An epic novel, filled with many personal, intimate stories.

 

 

ChokeChainJason Donald: Choke Chain – Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ In 1980s apartheid South Africa, bad parenting seems to be rife, as two young boys find out about deceit, violence and petty crime from their volatile father.

 

Then I made the mistake of reading some reviews I trust and following some writers’ Twitter stream… and got excited about the following two books, which I downloaded in electronic format.

 Anne Fine: Taking the Devil’s Advice – already read and reviewed here

BecauseSheLovesMeMark Edwards: Because She Loves Me – a psychological thriller, filled with passion, obsession, jealousy and murderous intent. I’ve previously enjoyed the build-up of suspense in Edward’s novel ‘The Magpies’, so am curious to see what he does next.

 

I also borrowed a book in French from the library: Susie Morgenstein: Confession d’une grosse patate – a half-serious, half-humorous look at the plight and self-flagellation of an overweight woman. I later discovered it was not by a French writer at all, so there were no loving descriptions of foie gras and wine…

Finally, yesterday I attended the literature festival ‘Le Livre sur les Quais’ (Books by the Quay) in Morges in Switzerland. I had the pleasure of meeting several writers I know, admire, have read or am currently reading: Louise Doughty, Noami Wood (of ‘Mrs. Hemingway’ fame), Val McDermid, Nathan Filer. I was with a German/Swiss friend who introduced me to some German-speaking writers, while I introduced him to some French and English-speaking ones. So of course I had to buy a few books and get them signed… Sadly, none of them are yet available in English.

FouadLarouiFouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine (The Strange Affair of Dassoukine’s Trousers).

A short story collection which won the Goncourt novella prize last year, this is a wonderful mix of surrealism, absurdity and cross-cultural comparison written with great humour and compassion. I previously read and briefly reviewed this Moroccan-French writer’s wonderful book about a year in the French education system. And doesn’t this one have an irresistable cover?

 

IncardonaJoseph Incardona: 220 Volts

I love the noirish style of this Swiss-Italian writer (who writes in French) and hope he will soon get translated into English. This is the story of writer’s block mixed with marital block – a couple go on holiday in an isolated mountain chalet to try and rekindle both their relationship and their artistic inspiration. Of course, things don’t go according to plan…

 

SwissTrafficMary Anna Barbey: Swiss Traffic

The latest book by this American-turned-Swiss author, it is crime fiction with an extra literary dimension. It also bravely examines human trafficking in this wealthiest, most peaceful of Alpine countries. It is also the book that I saw several French writers reading while they were waiting for their book signings to start: always a good sign!

 

This post is linked up to the Showcase Sunday meme hosted by Vicky at Book, Biscuits and Tea. A great chance for us to oooh and aaah over our latest acquisitions. And remortgage our house to buy some more!

Showcase Sunday banner

Review of ‘See You Tomorrow’ by Tore Renberg, transl. Sean Kinsella

SeeYouTomorrowCan a book be exhilarating and depressing at the same time? Well, this book about a bunch of misfits and losers in the oil-rich but isolated Norwegian town of Stavanger certainly manages just that. Readers and reviewers typically mention the hefty nature of this book (600 densely-written pages), but time flies by when you’re having fun and I read this all in just a couple of days. It’s the story of people making all the wrong choices, finding ways to justify those bad choices and generally making a complete mess of their lives. And yet, like an accident waiting to happen, you are compelled to read on, you cannot divert your eyes.

The chapters themselves are quite short, and each is written from a different point of view, alternating between ten main characters. The wealth of North Sea oil has not really filtered through to these characters in search of a life or redemption (but not of an author, they have certainly found that: Renberg gives them a great voice). There is Pål, good-natured but weak, a single Dad with an online gambling problem, who needs to raise money urgently to pay off his debts. His two daughters, Tiril and Malene, each cope with their mother’s abandonment in their own way: the first is an emo, the second is a gymnast whose dreams of a career may be shattered along with her ankle. Overweight horror-film addict Jan Inge leads a group of gangsters, which numbers his grumpy younger sister Chessi and her hyper, talkative boyfriend Rudi as well as uber-toughie Korean Tong amongst its members. Finally, there is the handsome juvenile delinquent in foster care, Daniel William, with two girls falling under his spell: good Christian girl Sandra and his deaf foster-sister Veronika. Over the course of three days, their lives will cross in a whirlwind of deliberate choices, accidents and coincidences, violence, black comedy and tragedy.

Author picture from dagbladet.no

Author picture from dagbladet.no

The author does a fantastic job of getting into the heads of each of his characters: each speaks, thinks, reacts in very different yet equally believable ways. The hormonal confusion of teenagers, the middle-aged yearnings for a better life, the casual juxtaposition of weakness and criminal tendencies are so plausible that it’s almost frightening. My favourite character (although I would hate to meet him in real life) is Rudi: you cannot help but smile at his tendency to over-share, his discomfort with silence, his highly verbal love for Chessi, his (much denied) love for Coldplay although ostensibly he and his mates only listen to heavy metal.

Social criticism, psychological insights, dark humour, a good dose of popular cultural references, crime drama, YA vibe and real sadness: this book contains all of these and more. Most remarkably, in the hands of this author these disparate elements don’t disintegrate into a hodge-podge of influences and trendy bits designed to please all audiences. Instead, it’s a virtuoso performance of an orchestra with very strong soloist performances. This must have been a difficult book to translate  but Sean Kinsella does a marvellous job of conveying the technical brilliance of the different narrative voices. Apparently, it took the author six years to research this book and capture all the different points of view – and it shows. One of the most original and unclassifiable books I’ve read this year, in a beautiful hardback cover with red page borders.

Thank you to Arcadia Books for this review copy sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Chateau de Lavigny: Readings from International Writers

20140831_172441I had the great pleasure to attend my first reading at Chateau de Lavigny last year and I wrote some more about this writers’ retreat with a very special atmosphere then.  This year I was only able to attend the very last reading of the season last night, but it was no less magical. It was an extremely diverse group of writers, both in terms of nationalities and languages spoken, but also in terms of style and subject matter.

20140831_172422First up, there was French poet Franck André Jamme, who has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and ‘philosophical fragments’ (for want of a better word), has translated from Hindi and Bengali literature, and has collaborated with a number of artists. He read from Au secret, a sort of travel journal, against a background of birds chirruping.

Tuccelli

Photo by Neva Micheva.

Second author was Italian-American Jessica-Maria Tuccelli (photo left), anthropologist turned film-maker and actress, now writer. I had read excellent reviews about her ambitious debut novel Glow and it was from this novel that she read, with an impeccable Southern accent.  The novel traces the lives of the descendants of a white slave-owner and moves back and forth in time and in voice, weaving an almost mystical tale of hardship, race relations and family tissue.

20140831_172530The third reader was Bulgarian translator Neva Micheva, who is her country’s foremost translator from Spanish and Italian. She had some very interesting things to say about translations, namely that, contrary to popular belief that the writer creates the original while the translator makes a copy, each good translation is an equally original interpretation and creation. On the other hand, bad writers and bad translators can create equally bad fake literature. Alongside the greats such as Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, Javier Marias, she also translates books she personally enjoys and cannot forget, books she wants to share with others.  She read to us what she described as ‘her one and only attempt to translate poetry’, from The Poems of Sidney West by Argentine writer Juan Gelman, who very kindly answered her many, many questions about the text before his death in January of this year.

Photo by Neva Micheva

Photo by Neva Micheva

The fourth writer is Austrian/Slovak writer Zdenka Becker (photo right), who writes fiction, plays and screenplays, mostly in German. She read from a short play entitled Odysseas Never Returned, which has been translated into English and performed off-Broadway. A story of war, passion, vanity and disappointment.

20140831_172457Finally, there was Jason Donald, whom I already knew from the Geneva Writers’ Group. Born in Scotland, raised in South Africa, he worked for a while in the UK where he published his first novel in 2009, and currently lives in Switzerland. He read a very vivid, funny yet cruel extract from his novel Choke Chain.

So I came away as usual with a wealth of lovely words in my head, a couple of signed books, conversations to treasure and the inspiration to carry on. Long may these summer events of Chateau de Lavigny last!

20140831_172737

August: Holiday Reads But Also More…

I’m not going to repeat the holiday reads for the first half of the month, as I’ve written a separate post about them, but here are some statistics for the whole month of August.

20 books read, of which 11 labelled as crime fiction. 13 women authors. 5 books in translation, plus one in German and one in French, so 7 foreign books in total. In terms of setting: 3 each in the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the United States, 2 each in Greece and France, plus one book set in Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the Solomon islands. A bit less variety than usual, perhaps, but this is probably because of the ‘easy escapist holiday reading’ mission that I had set myself. And easy usually means the familiar to most of us, right? Yet there have been plenty of more serious, questioning and thought-provoking reads as well.

The Corpse with the Platinum Hair
Keep Your Friends Close
The Waiting Years
The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion
Crossing the Line
See You Tomorrow
Your Beautiful Lies
The Long Way Home
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos
Scellé plombé
The Year of Magical Thinking
The Bull of Mithros
Devil-Devil
The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb
Mating for Life: A Novel
Fear in the Sunlight
L'Amour Actually
The Black Life
Kafka on the Shore
Tattoo Murder Case

 

 

Finally, here are the most recent books I have read, which have not been mentioned in previous posts. All of them are going to be reviewed more extensively either on this blog or on Crime Fiction Lover over the next couple of weeks.

Tore Renberg: See You Tomorrow – desperate losers in Stavanger

Frederique Molay: Crossing the Line – a medical school cadaver leaves a final surprising message

Friedrich Durrenmatt: Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman – is a policeman ever justified in setting a known criminal up for a crime he did not commit?

Paula Daly: Keep Your Friends Close – family torn apart by their own weaknesses and a ruthless manipulator

Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair – locked-room mystery in a Las Vegas VIP suite

Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years – sad story of the fate of wives and mistresses in Japan at the turn of the 20th century – this was going to be my review for Women in Translation month, but sadly I am not going to get around to writing it in August.

My top crime fiction read of the month is Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home and my top read across all genres is a tie between Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking.

 

Friday Fun: Barn Conversions

So many of you liked the barn conversion picture I posted last Friday that I thought I would go out and take pictures of more barns in the area for you. They are a bit different from barns in the UK or US: there’s a lot more stone involved, for one.

This is usually the starting point - just four walls crumbling.

This is usually the starting point – just four walls crumbling.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

One little confession: When I first moved to this area, I dreamt of owning a chateau with a vineyard on the hills of La Cote, overlooking Lake Geneva. With this view.

From The Guardian.

From The Guardian.

By now I would be quite happy with a converted barn in my area, slightly further away from the lake and without a vineyard (but maybe an orchard?).

The truth of course is that I will never own any property in this area, as the prices are exorbitant. But hey, we can always dream a little…

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