findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “reading”

Things That Made Me Happy in March

Holidays!

Yes, I know I complained they were a bit too long and that the children drove me crazy, but we did finally go skiing every day. Always better in retrospect than when you are living through it!

March1 March2

A Cat

A very well-behaved, affectionate and quiet friend.

With her friend Hedgehog.

With her friend Hedgehog.

The first signs of Spring in my garden

March4 March5

Reading

More varied and fun reading this month, although, surprisingly, not as many translations.

3 non-fiction books:

Ben Hatch: Road to Rouen

A hilarious travel journal from hell, France in a car with two small children in tow: a great fun read, perhaps just a little unfair to the French, but also hugely revealing about the English abroad.

Rachel Cusk: Aftermath. On Marriage and Separation.

Brigid Schulte:  Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time

Although this book does feel culturally specific (US working culture and time-poverty mindset is perhaps the most extreme example in the world), there was much here I could relate to: the confetti of minuscule leisure time slots, the mind pollution of endless to-do-lists that do not allow us to get into the flow, the ideal worker vs. the ideal mother, competitive parenting, gender division of labour. The author backs up her thesis with both research findings and personal anecdotes. This book deserves a review of its own, especially given that it is the ‘theme’ (if there is one) of my blog: not  finding time to write.

2 foreign books:

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Another book that deserves its own review. I found it moving, nuanced, slightly disturbing and surprisingly lyrical, given the subject matter.

Daniel Bardet: Le Boche (first 5 volumes of BD – graphic novel)

Fascinating insight into war-time France, from the perspective of an Alsatian man, hounded everywhere because he is neither German nor French enough.

1 poetry collection:

Michael Symmons Roberts: Drysalter

1 literary novel:

Claire King: The Night Rainbow – beautifully lyrical recreation of a French countryside childhood – with deep shadows.

6 crime fiction novels (all in English in the original – how very unusual!)

Cara Black: Murder in Pigalle

Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered

I was looking for a change of pace this month and I got it with this novel: charmingly old-fashioned, with most of the action taking place ‘off-stage’ and being disclosed to Hilary Tamar and his/her team of barristers via letters. It’s a nice set puzzle, and there is plenty of witty dialogue and banter to liven things up, but I can see how this book might be accused of elitism, it does feel like an extended Oxbridge joke.

Liam McIlvanney: Where the Dead Men Go

Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin

Harry Bingham: Talking to the Dead

WolfMo Hayder: Wolf

I started this latest Mo Hayder on Saturday, not really expecting it to make it into this month’s reading. But I had to finish it overnight, it was so compelling (after a rather slow start, admittedly). A family being held hostage in their holiday home, a psychopathic killer who may or may not have been released from prison and Jack Caffery trying to figure out what a tiny message on a lost dog could possibly mean. Hayder’s trademark creepiness and nearly unbearable suspense, very chilling, completely mesmerising. Not for the faint of heart!

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season to be Cosy

A smoggy, sunless day today.

So indulge me… Allow me to curl up in a well-travelled vintage room, with lots of books, armchairs, plaid blankets and plenty of cushions. An open fire and a mulled wine would be optional, but deliciously thoughtful.

A cosy bedroom would not come amiss, even if it were designed with teenagers in mind…

But, for the ultimate retreat, while there is still snow in the mountains, I would like to hide up in this Swiss eco-pod hut in Flims and do nothing but read and write.

Mission to Read

Waiting to be read...

Waiting to be read…

Last week I gathered up all my unread books and assigned  a few of them to each month for the remainder of the year. I tried to balance things out: one in French, one in German, one non-crime, perhaps one non-fiction each months, as well as the more standard fare.

Of course this does not take into account my even larger TBR pile on the Kindle, nor any books which will be sent to me in the future for reviews. 

And while it sounds like I’m formidably well-organised, I suspect mood and chance will win the day… and the meticulous plan will go out the window.

Cosy reading nooks and home libraries

It’s a dull, cloudy day and I know I should be going up above the clouds to see the sun and some skiing action. But it is so much more tempting to curl up with a book, especially if you happen to be in one of the places below…

somethingblond.blogspot.com

somethingblond.blogspot.com

Or, if you are after something a little more ambitious, here is Christian Louboutin’s holiday home and its tempting library.

And finally, the outlandish, futuristic and exciting Walker Library in Connecticut. Star Wars with books!

 

 

 

 

January in Japan: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

January in JapanInspired by Bellezza’s Japanese literature challenge and Tony’s January month of J-Lit wonders, I have pledged to read more Japanese literature throughout 2014.  I kicked off with Natsuo Kirino, who impressed me so much with her novel of low-wage drudgery and desperation ‘Out’.

However, although the lives of the four women working at a bento factory seemed grim and cheerless, that novel was saved by a certain degree of empathy that we could feel for the protagonists. ‘Grotesque’ is more challenging in that respect, because the characters are uniformly unlikable.

This has been advertised as a crime novel, but crime fiction lovers will barely recognise it as such. It follows none of the conventions of the genre, although it certainly shows a bleak outlook on life as a Japanese woman, so perhaps it could be called a noir of sorts. The novel is structured in eight parts and features four narrators, all equally unreliable. The comparison with Kurosawa’s Rashomon is perhaps inevitable, and, just like in the film, there are no clear answers as to whose account of events is to be trusted or whether the truth will ever be fully known.

The story revolves around the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo less than a year apart. There is not much focus, however, on finding out who killed them. The murderer, a Chinese labourer called Zhang, has already been arrested and is about to go on trial. He has confessed to killing Yuriko but denies killing Kazue. There is a bit of a mystery about what happened to Kazue, but the main focus of the story is why these two women, who had attended an elite secondary school in Tokyo and seemed destined for promising futures, would end up as the lowliest of prostitutes on the streets of Shibuya.

grotesque (1)The unnamed main narrator also attended the same school as the murdered women. In fact, she is a classmate of classmate of Kazue and the older sister of the glamorous Yuriko. Yuriko and her sister are ‘halfs’, i.e. the product of a mixed marriage. Their father is a Swiss importer of cheap sweets, their mother a Japanese who felt compelled to pander to her husband’s desire for a Polish sauerkraut specialty called bigos, although she hated making it. Yuriko was blessed with almost eerily good looks, but her sister is average at best. Sibling rivalry is a factor in this disturbing psychological study of envy and bitterness, but it is about much more than that. The snobbishness and bullying at the girls’ school and the excessive competitiveness of the Japanese educational system are described with an immediacy which made my stomach turn. The scene with the hand-embroidered Ralph Lauren logo on the socks will stick in my mind for a long time.

While the book offers no explanation for the women’s descent into prostitution, there are numerous chilling descriptions of discrimination against women both in the workplace, as well as the callousness of relationships between men and women (not only the predilection of Japanese men, as the author shows us by introducing a number of domineering and ruthless foreign male characters). The women in the novel have resorted to manipulating their bodies, men and each other in an effort to regain control over their lives, in an effort to become or at least feel important and real. 

Natsuo-KirinoThe results are perhaps too painful and grotesque for this reader to sympathise with: I could feel only horrified pity, rather like watching a Greek tragedy or a traffic accident unfold. Yet the author has a deliberately unemphatic style of cold, factual description. Even the graphic scenes of violence or sex do not display colourful fireworks, but instead hint at the profound bitterness of human emotion.  This makes the story perhaps even more devastating, and I can see why her ‘flat’ style has been described as feminist noir. It is difficult to make judgements about her style, however, based on translations, especially when much of her novel has been edited and cut for the purposes of Western consumption (and to allow it to be marketed as crime fiction). For a detailed discussion of the problems of translation, I found this thesis by a student at the University of Oslo truly enlightening.

So, all in all, a bleak novel, with very little hope or humour to redeem it, but a fascinating insight into the darkness beneath the picture-book prettiness of Japan. I would recommend reading it when you have a very strong stomach and/or nerves.

This Is Called: Planning Ahead

TokyoLightsOr maybe it should be called Trying to Bring Some Order to the Madness. With all of these inspiring end of year book lists, I just keep adding and adding to my TBR pile. More frighteningly, I keep adding to my purchases for both the physical and the virtual bookshelves, which will make next year’s challenge of reading them all soooo much harder.

Still, I am trying to combine the 3 main challenges I have set myself: I am buying or have already bought lots of German and Japanese books. So here are some of the delights currently waiting patiently for me or flying on wings of Christmas joy towards me:

Japanese Fiction

Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X

Ryu Murakami: Audition

Natsuo Kirino: Grotesque

Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years

Minae Mizumura: A True Novel

TokyoLights4I miss those days when I would be able to read Japanese novels in the original. [Although always with a Kanji dictionary to hand. I remember our colleagues studying English, French, Italian or Spanish at university would laugh at us for having to use a dictionary to read even the shortest novel.] I now have to rely on translations and there are very few available, even of the classics. I miss my collection of Kawabata, Mishima, Dazai Osamu etc.  They are all safely boxed up in an attic in the Thames Valley. Maybe rereading them could be my challenge for 2016 or whenever we move back to the UK?

German Challenge

Stefan Zweig: Meisternovellen

Bernhard Schlink: Liebesfluchten

Irena Brezna: Die undankbare Fremde

Edda Ziegler: Verboten Verfemt Vertrieben

Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink

Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time

TokyoLights3I also have a few crime novels in the mix. I’ll be rereading Jakob Arjouni and hope to read his last novel ‘Brother Kemal’, published posthumously this year.  I also want to explore the writer Sebastian Fitzek, who writes breathtaking psychological thrillers, and is beginning to make a name for himself beyond the German-speaking world.

I would love to ask for more suggestions, but am afraid that I might succumb to temptation… The Calvinist spirit of self-denial does not enter my soul when it comes to books (or desserts).

Instead, I will ask if you have read any of the Japanese or German writers on my list and what you think of them. And, if you haven’t, maybe you want to join me in the challenge and we can discuss them together?

TokyoLights2Just to put you in the mood for Japan and its literature, I have included some pictures of the Christmas/New Year lights in Tokyo.

 

What If Books Disappoint You?

This weekend has been a rare one of reading disappointment, when I expected it to be as comfortable as a cocoon.

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith (Photo credit: bhlogiston)

I embarked upon Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Found in the Street’ (one of her last novels, published in 1986) with the expectation that I would be intrigued, baffled, amused and chilled to the bone. In the past, I have always found her to be reliably good: slightly sinister, with dark humour and acerbic observations of people.  The sly observant eye and mordant wit were still there, but the story felt tired to me. There was not enough suspense, too many everyday chores described by several characters, too many lengthy descriptions and missed opportunities… By the time a crime was committed, I was past caring. It’s the first time that this author did not meet my expectations, which just goes to show that no one can be uniformly brilliant.

So then I turned to a light-hearted local read ‘Fric en Vrac à Carouge’ by Corinne Jaquet, a Swiss journalist turned crime and children’s novelist, who has a series featuring Commissaire Simon set in different neighbourhoods of Geneva. Even the pleasures of street- and café-spotting could not make me care for the rather slow-moving plot. I abandoned after Chapter 12 (yes, that is a new development this past year: I have been able to leave books unfinished with only a slight pang of guilty conscience).

NakedSingularitySo, if local colour and favourite authors do not provide reliable comfort, where can you turn to, how can you avoid disappointments? In my case, there was a surprising answer. ‘A Naked Singularity’ – a door-stopper of a book by Sergio De La Pava – is a book I had tried to read before a couple of months ago, but got lost. I now opened it again and was immediately captivated. It’s like a radio and merely requires a little re-tuning of the mind. Once you are on the right wavelength, it works beautifully. Early days yet, but let’s hope it continues to please.

Over to you, now. Have you had occasional disappointments with topics or authors which you thought you loved unconditionally? And what are your strategies for dealing with such disappointments?

How Challenging Were My Challenges?

2013 was the first year I joined in any online challenges and I am very pleased I did so. You sometimes need that extra little push or public commitment to go beyond the borders of your little world (or at least, I do).

 

2013GRC_mediumSo, how did I do?

 

I completed Kerrie’s Global Reading Challenge, which this year was still hosted on her Mysteries in Paradise website. Kerrie herself is a fantastic resource of information about crime fiction not just from Down Under, but worldwide, and I have learnt so much from the enthusiastic fellow participants in the challenge.

 

I completed the Medium Level of the Challenge, which meant two books from each of the six geographical continents, plus a seventh continent which could be a realm of fantasy or Antarctica or something you haven’t tried before.  Here are the books I chose (quite different from the list I had originally planned, subject to availability and mood).

 

Africa

 

Deon Meyer: Thirteen Hours - South Africa

 

Michael Stanley: Death of the Mantis - Botswana

 

Asia

 

Ōsaka Gō: The Red Star of Cadiz – Japan and Spain

 

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight - Thailand

 

Australasia/Oceania

 

Arthur W. Upfield: Murder Down Under - Australia

 

John Enright: Pago Pago Tango - American Samoa

 

Europe

 

Jean-Claude Izzo: The Marseille Trilogy - Southern France

 

Stefan Slupetzky: Lemmings Zorn - Vienna, Austria

 

North America

 

Louise Penny: Dead Cold  - Quebec, Canada

 

M. J. McGrath: White Heat - Northern Territories, Canada

 

Julie Smith: Mean Woman Blues – New Orleans  (because I felt guilty about ignoring the US)

 

South America

 

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: The Silence of the Rain – Brazil

 

Leonardo Padura: Havana Gold - Cuba

 

Seventh Continent

 

Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian - paranormal, vampire, historical

 

Alan Bradley: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows – Flavia de Luce series, historical, YA

 

All in all, a fantastic challenge: it may sound cliché, but it really opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and reading about local atmosphere and customs in books, so these took me to places I may not have visited otherwise. There was only one book I really didn’t like (The Historian) and one which I found average (Mean Woman Blues). All of the others were good to excellent. I discovered writers that I am most certainly going to read more of (Louise Penny, John Burdett, Garcia-Roza, Michael Stanley).

 

My favourite discovery was the unparalleled king of the Mediterranean Noir: Jean-Claude Izzo, who completely transported me to the world of Marseille and got me listening to its music.

 

2013transchallenge-3(1)Until recently, I did not believe I had completed the Reading in Translation Challenge – or rather, I felt I had not reviewed enough books for it. Of course, I could have entered the same books for both challenges: Deon Meyer, Ōsaka Gō, Garcia-Roza and Padura would all have qualified. And I did read and review some other excellent works, such as The Mussel Feast, A Man in Love, A Crack in the Wall or Pietr the Latvian. So, in the end, I think I will consider that challenge complete too. Thank you, Curiosity Killed the Bookworm for enticing me to do it!

 

What challenges am I participating in for 2014? I would like to continue with both of the above challenges, but this time limit it to 1 book for each continent for the Global Reading Challenge and 6 books of translated literary fiction (rather than crime fiction, however much I love it). The reason I am being modest in this respect is because I am introducing two major challenges of my own:

 

1) The Clear My Physical and Virtual Bookshelves Challenge (CMPVBC – catchy title!) – as of today, I have 56 books on my Kindle, 21 on my shelves, and 8 on my laptop, all waiting for me. So that brings my target up to 85 before I have even taken a step.

 

2) The ‘My Favourite Countries’ Focus – I used to love reading books in German and Japanese, while Brazil is my favourite country. I want to reignite that passion and catch up with the best of contemporary writing from these countries. I have no upper target, but I would like to read at least 3 books from each of these countries).  I already have a few on my shelves: Arjouni, Zweig, Bernhard Schlink, but am constantly coming up with great new suggestions from outstanding bloggers such as Tony Malone, Simon Savidge, Dolce Bellezza, Words and Peace and Jackie at Farm Lane Books, to name but a few who inspire me.

 

English: Old book bindings at the Merton Colle...

English: Old book bindings at the Merton College library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Wish me luck – I will let you know how I get on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a Book List as Such…

It’s not yet that time of year to make my ‘definitive book list’. I like to leave it until the last 2-3 days of the year, just in case that world-shattering read comes along at the last minute. However, Goodreads is congratulating me that I have reached my (upwardly revised) reading goal of 140 books for the year, so I had to celebrate.

dailycreativewriter.com

dailycreativewriter.com

Statistics: Want cold hard figures? Look no further. 140 read and a few more to squeeze in before December 31st (not enough to claim 150, though).   10 books a month on average (childless and workless August was the personal record with 27, but there were quite a few months with just 5-6). A respectable reading speed of 2.5 days per book, with some devoured in a single day (or night).

Challenges Completed: The Global Reading Challenge (for crime fiction), with two books for each continent, including a wildcard 7th continent – excellent for broadening my palate. Sadly, I was unable to complete the Translation Challenge – which sounds crazy when you look at the 27 translated titles on my list. However, most of them were crime fiction for review, and of the remaining there was only a small handful I reviewed or mentioned in any detail. So that doesn’t count. I did manage to read roughly one French book per month (in French) – my personal Holy Grail, as I try to improve my vocabulary. Sadly, literary works do not seem to equip you with the right words for dealing with tax offices or other bureaucracy. Perhaps I should stick to the swear words in the BD?

Lessons Learnt: What would I forget, borrow and learn from this year’s reading and take forward to next year’s reading?

1) When you set yourself such a high target, re-reading goes out the window. I would like more time to revisit old favourites.

2) You become cynical and less patient about clichés – and you have no qualms about abandoning a book if it still doesn’t move you after 50 pages.

3) Whether you sign up for a challenge formally or not, it is such a good idea to broaden your horizons and try out new things in literature. Some won’t work, but some will and then you have the pleasure of entering a whole new realm you had previously sealed off.

4) Although I always have 4-5 books on the go at any point in time, this simultaneity is a bit of a myth. I cannot enter, exit and parachute into other worlds quite so easily. I may not be in the mood for the same book during the day or in the evening, though, so having a couple on your bedside table makes sense. I usually alternate between a paperback and an e-book.

5) I must NOT buy any more books until I read all those I bought this past year. In 2014 I need to be ruthless about reading the books I have, instead of always reaching out for new ones at the library. I have 50 on my Kindle, 20 on my shelf and 8 on my laptop waiting to be read. And I suspect there will be many more ARC to review for Crime Fiction Lover too. Plus I have a few challenges of my own up my sleeve (am thinking of reigniting my passion for Japanese and German literature).

BookPileAnd now I have a goal of 140 to beat in the New Year…

Bumper Crop of August Reading

SayersLargeCrime Fiction, including some re-reads for Crime Fiction Lover’s feature special on Dorothy Sayers in Classics in September:

  1. Lynn Shepherd: A Treacherous Likeness
  2. Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise
  3. Dorothy L. Sayers: Have His Carcase
  4. Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night
  5. Philippe Georget: Summertime All The Cats Are Bored
  6. P.D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale
  7. Jean-François Parot: The Chatelet Apprentice – first in the Nicolas Le Floch series, read it here in English for the first time
  8. Helen Smith: Invitation to Die – more than a cosy crime novel, this is a witty satire about book blogging, wannabe writers and the rivalries and egos of the publishing industry
  9. Seth Lynch: Salazar
  10. John Burdett: Bangkok Eight – very distinctive voice, scenes that fascinate and repel in equal measure, quite hard to bear in some ways
  11. Camilla Ceder: Babylon
  12. Alan Bradley: I am Half-Sick of Shadows
  13. Jakob Arjouni: Happy Birthday, Tűrke! – in German, the first in the renowned Kayankala series
  14. Elly Griffiths: The Crossing Places
  15. Julie Smith: Mean Woman Blues – America, New Orleans
  16. John Enright: Pago Pago Tango – Australasia/Oceania
  17. Gail Bowen: A Killing Spring – Canadian academic crime fiction
  18. Alison Bruce: The Calling – third in DC Goodhew series, set in Cambridge, this was the first one the author wrote
  19. Stav Sherez: Eleven Days – second in the Carrigan & Miller series. The first one, ‘A Dark Redemption’ was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012. Tthis time the links are to South America, liberation theology, human trafficking and Albanian crime lords. Perhaps not quite as compelling as the previous book, but an excellent read nonetheless, and an inventive, poetic use of language.
  20. David Wagner: Cold Tuscan Stone – art smuggling in Italy, rather obvious tourist fare
  21. Kerry Greenwood: Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher) – delectable and frothy

2 in French which deserve to be better known

  1. André Héléna: Les Voyageurs du vendredi
  2. Sébastien Japrisot : Un long dimanche de fiançailles

Escapist Capers

  1. C.L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – old childhood favourite that I had lost track of because of the impossible title
  2. Adharanand Finn: Running with the Kenyans
  3. Hatice Akyűn: Einmal Hans mit scharfer Soße – witty depiction of life as a 2nd generation Turk growing up in Germany
  4. Writers Abroad: Foreign Encounters – collection of poetry, creative non-fiction and short stories about the expat experience and cross-cultural encounters

Total read: 27; Abandoned 2 (not mentioned here).  

11DaysMy own internal rules dictate that I cannot count my reread novels towards my favourites this month, so my top crime pick of the month: Stav Sherez–Eleven Days.

Reread 5 books.

11 e-book format

2 in French, 2 in German, the rest in English (but 3 in translation)

2 non-fiction, 1 collection of poetry/prose, the rest novels.

Finished 108 of my proposed 120 books reading challenge for this year, which probably means I have set my bar too low.  Then again, from September onwards, I’ll probably struggle to read more than one book a week.

So what have you read this month? Anything you particularly remember or recommend?

 

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