The Biggest Book Haul Ever?

My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.

Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).

The Visible...
The Visible…

Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.

I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.

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Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.

Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.

wp_20160920_13_33_02_richLet’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR  for providing me with a copy of that!

wp_20160922_20_37_52_proAs Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)

I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.

 

 

 

Friday Fun: Abandoned, Pulled Down and Restored

Let me introduce you today to homes of famous writers or artists, which no longer function as homes. In most cases, they’ve been pulled down to make way for progress, but not before bankrupting their owners.

Bowens Court, Ireland, home of Elizabeth Bowen.
Bowens Court, Ireland, home of Elizabeth Bowen, visited by Virginia Woolf. Bowen couldn’t afford the bills and sold it; it was demolished in 1961.
Haddon Hall in Beckenham, where David Bowie lived in a commune-like environment in the early 1970s, one of his most productive and creative periods. It was demolished to make way for a road and a block of flats.
Haddon Hall in Beckenham, where David Bowie lived in a commune-like environment in the early 1970s, one of his most productive and creative periods. It was demolished to make way for a road and a block of flats.
Franco-Romanian writer Anne de Noailles spent a part of each year in Evian, where she ran a salon popular with all the great French writers of the period. Although a street and a secondary school in Evian now bear her name, the villa itself no longer exists.
Franco-Romanian writer Anne de Noailles spent a part of each year in Evian, where she ran a salon popular with all the great French writers of the period. Although a street and a secondary school in Evian now bear her name, the villa itself no longer exists.
George Simenon's house near Lausanne, known (NOT affectionately) as 'the Bunker' by the locals, has just been torn down to make way for a new luxury residential development. Simenon had designed the house himself and was extremely security-conscious.
George Simenon’s house near Lausanne, known (NOT affectionately) as ‘the Bunker’ by the locals, has just been torn down to make way for a new luxury residential development. Simenon had designed the house himself and was extremely security-conscious.
The house in which Ray Bradbury lived for 50 years in LA was bought by a star architect in 2015 and torn down to make way for a new building.
The house in which Ray Bradbury lived for 50 years in LA was bought by a star architect in 2015 and torn down to make way for a new building.
This masterpiece of 1970 architecture by Mark Bernstein in Charlotte, NC, aka 'the house that fell to earth' was also torn down to make way for a more modern and bland building.
This masterpiece of 1970 architecture by Mark Bernstein in Charlotte, NC, aka ‘the house that fell to earth’ was also torn down to make way for a more modern and bland building.

Fortunately, some houses escaped this fate, even though the owner had to sell them to pay off debts. Alexandre Dumas, for instance, overreached himself when he built a magnificent chateau (known as the Chateau de Monte-Cristo) just outside Paris, including a little island with the most ambitious ‘writing shed’ in history.

Surrounded by its own little moat, the Chateau d'If writing studio was another typical Dumas extravaganza. in 1969 the house was scheduled for demolition and a large housing development was going to take its place. However, the local villages and an 'Alexandre Dumas Friends Association' managed to band together and save it.
Surrounded by its own little moat, the Chateau d’If writing studio was another typical Dumas extravaganza. in 1969 the house was scheduled for demolition and a large housing development was going to take its place. However, the local villages and an ‘Alexandre Dumas Friends Association’ managed to band together and save it.

 

The Lure of London’s Literary Links

I tried to find more ‘l’ words to add to the alliteration, but this will have to do for now.

Petina Gappah in The Independent.
Petina Gappah in The Independent.

One of the advantages of moving back to the UK and living just a short train hop from London is that I can now attend some of the bookish events which I could previously only dream about and retweet enviously. Let me tell you about a couple I’ve attended and some which I won’t be able to attend, but which sound intriguing.

The Word Factory Salon: Sex and Death and Anais Nin (Waterstones Piccadilly, 10th Sept.)

Michele Roberts in Aesthetica Magazine.
Michele Roberts in Aesthetica Magazine.

An unusual evening, as it covered multiple topics: the launch of a short story anthology Sex and Death, edited by Peter Hobbs and Sarah Hall, with readings from the book; reading from a previously unpublished story by Anais Nin (which caused a little bit of embarrassment); and a lively, informal literary debate about Jane Eyre, squirmishness in writing about sex, and cultural approaches to death. I had the pleasure of seeing two writers formerly associated with the Geneva Writers’ Group at this event: Petina Gappah has lived and worked in Geneva for a number of years, while Michèle Roberts was an unforgettable guest instructor. Petina is one of the funniest panelists I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, while Michèle is thoughtful and perfectly candid at all times.

I have made a note of Word Factory, a national organisation dedicated to studying and celebrating the short story form, and hope to attend more of their events.

Lunch with Zygmunt Miłoszewski (19th Sept.)

Zygmunt explaining to English speakers how to pronounce his surname.
Zygmunt explaining to English speakers how to pronounce his surname.

One of the most promising Polish authors of recent years, Miłoszewski is best known for his gritty crime fiction trilogy featuring prosecutor Teodor Szacki, but he has explored other genres (horror, young adult fantasy) and is currently writing a literary novel about an old couple who get the chance to relive their lives in an alternative post-war Poland. I love the way Zygmunt discusses insidious problems in contemporary Polish society via his crime novels, and getting a chance to talk to him about the ways in which our respective countries have changed since ‘opening up to the West’ was enlightening. This was also an opportunity to meet Zygmunt’s translator, the ebullient Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who taught herself Polish (after studying Russian at university), and several reviewers whose knowledge I hugely admire, such as Barry Forshaw (of Brit Noir and Nordic Noir fame), Karen Robinson from the Sunday Times and Boyd Tonkin, great supporter of translated fiction and founder of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

In case you are wondering what on earth I was doing in such elevated company – I was representing the Crime Fiction Lover website (our editor Garrick Webster lives a bit further away from London and passed on his invitation to me). Thank you, Midas PR, for my first literary lunch!

Launch of Louise Beech’s second book (Waterstones Piccadilly, 22nd Sept.)

I wasn’t actually aware that the launch of Louise Beech’s novel The Mountain in My Shoe was happening that very evening, but I was going to London anyway to attend the event just below. Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books told me about it on Twitter, so I couldn’t resist. Where would I be without my Twitter recommendations?

Crime in the Court (Goldsboro Books, 22nd Sept.)

Did you know that the very first trip I made when I came to London to study was to Cecil Court to see the (now-defunct) Dance Bookshop and leaf through the books at all the other glorious bookshops on that hidden corner of central London? It’s a very special place to me, and so I can’t think of a better venue for a crime writing mingle with many of my favourite authors attending: Sarah Hilary, Alex Marwood, Kate Medina, Stav Sherez, Sarah Ward, Belinda Bauer and many more.

Pictures from last year's event, from Goldsboro Books website.
Pictures from last year’s event, from Goldsboro Books website.

Below are events which I sadly won’t be able to attend, as I also have to earn a living rather than just spend money on train tickets:

First Monday for Crime (City University, 3rd Oct.)

SJ Watson, Antonia Hodgson, Stuart Neville and William Ryan will talk about their books and crime in general, in a panel moderated by Karen Robinson.

London Literature Festival (South Bank, 5-16 October)

In a world which is starting to be frighteningly close to the realm of science fiction, how can the imagination give us access to other worlds which cast light back on our own? And what role can writers play in showing us better worlds to come? That’s the theme of this year’s festival in and around the South Bank, where writers, futurologists and transhumanists (whatever that might be) will come together to celebrate the power of the imagination to take us beyond our expectations as a species. I am trying to convince my older son that he would love the Young Adult Weekender event.

Words at King’s Place

I once attended an excellent event on translation here, during one of my multiple business trips to London. It’s a new cultural venue and has a varied and extremely tempting programme of classical music, jazz and spoken word events. I’ve been wistfully eyeing the Poetry London Autumn Launch, the homage to John Berger, and ‘Up at a Villa’ – about that fateful summer of 1816 when Frankenstein and other monsters were unleashed on the world. And all from the shores of placid Lake Geneva! [This is the next best thing to actually staying in the villa itself.]

Villa Diodati, Geneva
Villa Diodati, Geneva

Review: On Bowie by Simon Critchley

Let me begin with a rather embarrassing confession: no person has given me greater pleasure throughout my life than David Bowie. Of course, maybe this says a lot about the quality of my life. Don’t get me wrong. There have been nice moments, some even involving other people. But in terms of constant, sustained joy over the decades, nothing comes close to the pleasure Bowie has given me.

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How could I resist this opening paragraph? Here was someone who understood me perfectly, who felt the same way I did. This slim volume of essays (although that seems too pretentious a word, perhaps ‘meditations’, as they call them on the blurb, or ‘riffs’ would be more suitable) is perfect for Bowie fans to dip in and out of.

Each chapter is quick and easy to read, but provokes you to think deeper, with references to Roland Barthes (bane of my student days), Nietzche, Georg Buchner, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett. This is a philosophy professor with a passion for music, after all. Yet he keeps it all very down-to-earth and accessible, simply talking about his own personal emotions and thoughts while listening to and watching Bowie. In describing these, however, he touches upon the universal:

What’s striking is that I don’t think I am alone in this view. There is a world of people for whom Bowie was the being who permitted a powerful emotional connection and freed them to become some other kind of self… Bowie was not some rock star or a series of flat media cliches about bisexuality and bars in Berlin. He was someone who made life a little less ordinary for an awfully long time.

This was a library loan, but I think I will buy a copy for myself.

The Over You Blues

This poem was inspired by a night of blues at the fabulous Fetes des Fourvieres at the Roman Amphitheatre in Lyon. So it’s dedicated to Emma, reader, blogger and friend, who encouraged me to spend that glorious summer evening there with her.

Over You Blues

I’m gonna leave this town                   and take my mailbox too.

I’m gonna leave this goddam town                and take my mailbox too.

So when I leave this fake old town                 what are you gonna do?

 

With my mailbox all mine                   no more of your excuses will do.

When my mailbox is all mine                         your wrong address excuses won’t do.

I’ll keep my mailbox all to myself                   no more excuses from you!

 

I’m so over you now                even though you done me wrong.

I’m over and out with you now                       ‘cos you done me so wrong

I’m so over you now…                Don’t know why I’m writing this song!

The legendary Bessie Smith.
The legendary Bessie Smith.

 

Friday Fun: Reading Oasis

I may be ordering an orange and lemon tree for the conservatory, but for the time being, this is what my little reading oasis looks like (before it gets too cold to sit in there). Although there hasn’t been that much time for reading lately…

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Here are some more ambitious reading corners to which one might aspire…

The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from homedit.com
The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from homedit.com

 

readingfamilysponge
Reading in a window seat is always fun, and there’s so much storage for books and magazines in there. From Familysponge.com
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from minimalisti.com
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from minimalisti.com
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from resenhasalacarte.com.br
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from resenhasalacarte.com.br

And, for the ultimate dream… with a view…

From Homebunch.com
From Homebunch.com

 

 

 

Mistranslation of French Tax Forms

There is still plenty of unfinished business on the French side of my administrative papers, so I amused myself with some ‘literal’ translations of their menacing letters. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and wakes up at night panicking about fines and other punishments? Not me, not me!

 

Apple of the Côte, apples of all orchards unite!

Pursue this chance

limit the number of dates you go out on

keep your bearing regal

and return your ransom

in the envelope joined to the hip of this letter.

You major retard.

Even I can’t keep the imperatives and bad language out.

A man doing his taxes using a calculator and pencil on a white background