Falling Off the Wagon (Books, Not Alcohol)

From Pinterest.
From Pinterest.

Something has gone badly wrong. The fear of mortality has struck (so many books, so little time…). The book publishing figures around the world haunts my sleep. The urge to compare and contrast, to reassure myself that mine is not the only flawed writing. The heavy burden of the impossibility of telling a new story. My way of responding to all that: going back to my old acquisitive habits. I’m not the only one: read this post about how the online world has changed our reading habits.

So, yes, this month, this week especially, I have fallen off the TBR Double Dog dare in spectacular fashion. And I reacted in typical addictive personality fashion: if I make one mistake, I might as well go the whole hog (i.e. eat the whole chocolate bar).

I didn’t just buy one or two new books. I added no less than 10 new books to my shelves this week, none of which were ‘professional’ review copies. I name the culprits below. It is interesting how word of mouth recommendation (via blogs or Twitter) from people whose opinion I trust (even though I don’t always concur with them) seems to be the way I acquire most of my books nowadays.

First up, two of the five German books on the IFFP longlist, which I got really interested in thanks to bloggers such as Stu Jallen, Tony Malone, Dolce Bellezza and Emma at Words and Peace. I couldn’t order them all and I ordered them in the original German rather than in translation (German being one of the few languages other than English that I find relatively easy to read):

tigermilch1) Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilch (Tiger Milk)

That’s the name of the milk spiced with juice and alcohol that the two 14-year-old girls make and drink, as they set off in a quest to get rid of their virginity. Family conflicts, big-city blues and teenage angst abound in this picture of modern, ethnically mixed Berlin. Berlin is one of my favourite European cities, two of my dearest and oldest friends live there, and cross-cultural topics are my passion: so a no-brainer for me to try this book. Plus I want to compare it with the film/book that defined teenage Berlin life when I was a child ‘Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo’.

schalansky2) Judith Schalansky: Der Hals der Giraffe (The Neck of the Giraffe)

A shrinking town in East Germany, a school with hardly any pupils left, an old-fashioned biology teacher, who can’t believe that times have moved on… ‘Adaptation is everything’ is her scientific belief but how easily can she accept that principle in her own belief system and behaviour?

Next is the book we will be reading in April for the Online Crime Book Club, an initiative started and organised by Rebecca Bradley.

biggame3) Dan Smith: Big Game

A book described as Percy Jackson in the wilds of Finland’s Arctic circle, saving the American President from wild animals and assassins. Dan Smith was asked to write the book based on a story idea by Jalmary Helander and Petri Jokiranta, which is also being released as a major film starring Samuel L. Jackson. Rebecca has organised a Q&A session with the author for us for April, so exciting! It’s the kind of book that both my older son and I will enjoy reading (and will no doubt have many, many questions).

The next book was prompted by reviews of another book by the same author in The Paris Review and 3 a.m. Magazine, namely Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality.

scarredhearts4) Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

This young Romanian Jewish writer died at the age of just 28 of tuberculosis and I have to admit I haven’t read anything by him. I’m planning to get hold of the reviewed book in the original Romanian, but I couldn’t resist a second-hand ex-charity shop edition of his first novel. A young man named Emanuel lies ill in a French sanatorium on the sea-coast… and discovers all of human life and nature in his narrow, confined environment. The Magic Mountain meets Emil Cioran is what it sounds like to me…

Then there are all the books I downloaded in the blinking of the eye from Netgalley, Edelweiss, Amazon or other online sources:

actsassassins5) Richard Beard: Acts of the Assassins

When crime writers Eva Dolan and Stav Sherez start waxing lyrical about a book they’ve just read, my ears perk up. I’ve read books recommended by them before, and they’ve never disappointed. Adapted from the blurb: A charismatic cult leader is dead. One by one his followers are being assassinated. Sawn in half, beheaded, skinned alive. Enter Gallio, counter-insurgent and detective of sorts. An alternative view of biblical events set in the present. Sounds mad, intriguing and potentially very entertaining.

whatsheleft6) T. R. Richmond: What She Left

Liz Wilkins and Carlie Lee both reviewed this one enthusiastically. I like the premise of reconstituting someone’s life from the documents they leave behind. From the blurb:

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best. But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality. For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…

7) Denise Mina: Blood, Salt, Water

Because the latest book by Denise Mina is definitely worth getting your hands on. One of those authors whose voice really stands out and that I’m always keen to read. Doesn’t require more explanation than that, does it?

blackwood8) SJI Holliday: Black Wood

Just came out last week with great reviews. Susi is a cheery, supportive and very active presence on Twitter. So I just had to check out her debut novel, didn’t I? From the blurb:

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun.

9) Karin Alvtegen: Betrayal

Margot Kinberg is to blame for this one, which she casually mentioned in a blog post about pubs and bars in crime fiction. Just earlier that day, John Grant had also mentioned how good this author was. Plus, the subject matter (marital infidelity, dodgy characters and revenge) is close to my own current WIP.

bloodywomen10) Helen Fitzgerald: Bloody Women

When I reviewed three books with ‘unlikeable’ female narrators recently, including Dead Lovely by Helen Fitzgerald, so many commented or tweeted that they had loved Bloody Women by the same author that I had to go out and get it. The blurb, I’ve been told, does not do the book justice, but it does give you an idea of Fitzgerald’s unusual mind and blend of styles:

Returning to Scotland to organise her wedding, Catriona is overcome with the jitters. She decides to tie up loose ends before settling permanently in Tuscany, and seeks out her ex-boyfriends. Only problem is, they’re all dead.

I know for a fact that next weekend it’s going to be impossible to be good at the Crime Festival in Lyon. So in for a penny, in for a pound… How are you doing with your buying bans? Or have you given up on such self-imposed limitations?







29 thoughts on “Falling Off the Wagon (Books, Not Alcohol)”

  1. Well, if you’re going to fall off the wagon you may as well do it with style! It’s hard to resist, isn’t it? Nice choices – very interested to hear your thoughts on the Richard Beard.

    I’m nearing the end of my #TBR20 (Eva Stalker’s idea of reading twenty books from your TBR before buying any others). It has enabled me to focus on books that have been sitting on my shelves for some time, many of which were personal recommendations or purchases prompted by other readers’ reviews. I’ve enjoyed it, but I must admit that I’m getting desperate to buy a book. Nearly there as I’m currently reading books 17 and 18. I’m only counting books I’ve blogged (or plan to) which means that I’ll probably end up reading 24 or 25 from the pile!

    1. I think I’ll attempt something like TBR20 after Lyon. At my current pace of acquisition, I should have more than enough to keep me going for a while…

  2. I thought after years in the book trade I’d be relatively immune to bloggers’ suggestions. How stupid of me! The more you get to know and like a blogger’s taste the more dangerous they become to your resolve and credit card. The only thing to do is sit back and enjoy it, and I hope you will, Marina.

    1. And I thought I was immune to book buzzes, I seldom have the urge to read the ‘latest thing’ everyone else is raving about. But then someone mentions something which is just a little bit off the beaten track and…

  3. Phew! Glad I’m not alone… People who’d recently gifted vouchers were slightly surprised, perturbed even, I’d not used them so to protect future gifts I’ve had a corporate-end-of-financial-year splurge ie use your budget or lose it! Had no choice really… Either that or risk dubious future non-literary gifts…

    In my defence the purchases have been with specific projects in mind so I’d say they fall into the work category rather than purely reading for pleasure

    Fancying a fresh start next weekend – with it being the start of summertime – and as penance thinking of doing a #tbr20 each for fiction, non-fiction & ebooks, incorporating the unread from original list.. but those are mighty shackles!!!

    1. I’m also tempted to do a #tbr20, although I don’t think I could do that for each of the categories you mention. Perhaps 20 overall is more realistic for me…

      1. Probably more realistic for me too… Oh, such good intentions but forgot to say Bloody Women was one of my off the wagon purchases, and I’m finding it very difficult to resist Tiger Milk & What She Left! And Acts of the Assassin – as Eva Dolan’s was another recent purchase… Maybe I should try the latest diet in a literary fashion 5:2 – read 5 allowed to buy 2

  4. Well, I feel that you are perfectly justified in each case, Marina Sofia. There are times when you just cannot deny books their rightful homes in your collection. That’s just the way it is. And I’ll be keen to see what you think of all of these. And if I helped in the process, it’s a noble calling. Besides, turn about and all that… 😉 –
    Thanks for the kind words!

    1. Oh, of course, I have perfectly sound justification for each one of these, but… that’s not hard to find when it comes to books (or shoes) in my case.

  5. I’ve got the Richard Beard to review (the Guardian has a great review!), also Blood, Salt, Water – because it’s Denise Mina. I bought Black Wood. I’m swithering over What She Left, and Karin Alvtegen and that Helen FitzGerald are piqueing my interest too. Bloody books! (That’s Mr C’s war cry!) I hope you enjoy every single one!

  6. Interesting picks. I have the habit of not only collecting books but also collecting recommendations. My book buying ban is a bit loose, but now that it’s spring it’s easy to cull old books and donate them. If I’m lucky, I maintain equilibrium!

    BTW, The Giraffe’s Neck’s Inge is another for your list of unlikable or complicated women. Good stuff (I’m nearly finished). My next IFFP pick is the one set in Equitorial Guinea– for Global Reading Challenge purposes.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation – quite a few of the books above seem to have ‘prickly’ protagonists, we’ll see if that’s true when I get around to reading them. Eventually.

  7. OMG, Marina Sofia! Fear of mortality indeed… As I am trying hold on and not fall to.

    1. I suppose at some point I’ll have to make my peace with the fact that I’ll never get to read or reread all the books I want to, but I keep on trying.

  8. I’m a danger to my budget in a bookstore, there’s no doubt. Once in, it’s almost impossible to get me out of one! These all look like interesting reads.

    1. And it’s almost impossible to leave empty-handed, as well. Same with libraries (but there at least I’m not blowing my budget, merely adding to my TBR pile).

  9. The only one of these I’ve read is The Giraffe’s Neck – it contains some really interesting ideas, but I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it as a whole. I hope you enjoy this, and the rest of your new books 🙂

  10. I have Bloody Woman after having enjoyed The Cry and The Exit and as someone with no willpower at all and obviously very easily influenced it is good to see that others succumb to acquiring new books they don’t need too.

    1. The Germans call this sentiment ‘Schadenfreude’ – joy at the discomfort of others. Thank you for the sentiment! (I might have felt that myself at times about book binges). 😉

  11. I thought Betrayal looked good and then I realized that I’d already bought it. I remind myself about the wagon but I have yet to get on it let alone fall off.

    1. That’s what I was like the last couple of years (and I may have bought some things double…). But I thought I really had to try and bring a bit of order into my chaos. Well… try is the operative word here.

  12. i read kinder vom bahnhof zoo when i was a kid and def. wanna check out tigermilch.. i love berlin as well… grit, beauty and history so close together..

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