Latest Book Haul – and One Book Abandoned

Libraries and bookshops are my downfall. Despite the numerous ARCs I receive for review, I cannot resist adding to my TBR pile every time I enter one or the other building containing books. While it’s understandable that I try to save my already quite depleted wallet by going less frequently to bookshops (I’ve managed to reduce it to no more than 1-2 times a week!), I’ve recently changed my policy about library loans. I was trying to be realistic and not borrow more than I could consume in three weeks, but my local librarian told me that if a book hasn’t been on loan for a year, it gets sent down to the basement of gloom known as ‘Reserve Stacks’. After a few years of gathering mould there, they are killed off. [I’m not sure if they get given to charity shops or pulped, everyone seems coy about that.] Besides, PLR are a source of author revenue. So I now borrow books merrily, try to renew them when I can, or return them unread and borrow them later again.

What have I acquired this week?

I bought Kate Briggs’ This Little Art, a long essay about the art of translation, with many revelatory examples. All of the readers of translated literature in my timeline have been raving about this book, and as an occasional dabbler in translation myself, I had to have a personal copy, so I could underline passages of interest.

I finally acquired Sebald’s The Emigrants (transl. Michael Hulse), which (it won’t surprise those long-term readers of my blog to hear) is one of my favourite books. Exile and loss, displacement and nostalgia – yes, please! I should have got it in German of course (yes, I’m still snobbish about preferring to read books in the original where I possibly can), and I probably will at some point when I am next in Germany. The last book I got is not a translation from German but written by a German who emigrated to England. It was an impulse buy: Fred Uhlman’s Reunion. I’d vaguely heard of Uhlman, but have never read anything by him and I am always, always fascinated by stories about the personal experience of the rise of totalitarianism in Germany in the 1930s.

At my local library, I was pleased to find Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, which I have already devoured. The sentences and the landscape and atmosphere are so perfect, I found myself seething with envy on every page. I also picked up Marina Lewycka’s The Lubetkin Legacy, for a comedic change of pace. I’ve read one or two of her novels in the past and enjoyed the voice of the outsider gently mocking life in England. Last but not least, I got A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven, because American dysfunctional families are so much weirder and deadlier and more fun to read about than European ones.

However, I’ve had to abandon one of the books I recently borrowed from the Senate House Library. I am patient and usually give books a good 50-100 page chance before reluctantly putting it aside, and normally the setting of an international conference would appeal to me. But alas, Brian Aldiss starts off his novel Life in the West far too slowly, with details which not only seem irrelevant, but also of horizontally reclining platitude. For example:

By each place was a name card, a microphone, a folder and pencil, a shining drinking glass with a sanitary paper lid, and a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water still beaded from the refrigerator. Thomas Squire found his name looking up at him, and sat down, laying his briefcase before him… He opened his folder. In it was a ballpoint pen, clipped to a timetable of the sessions of the conference with a list of speakers. Tucked into the pocket of the folder were some foilwrapped perfumed tissues for refreshing the face and hands, and a map of the city of Ermalpa and surroundings, presented by courtesy of the local  tourist board.

As a former conference convenor, this feels to me more like a checklist for event organisers. Would you read any further? This was a serendipitous pick from the library, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.


24 thoughts on “Latest Book Haul – and One Book Abandoned”

  1. Oh, libraries and bookshops are my downfall too! I feel I have to borrow books from the mobile library that comes round once a fortnight because the service will be cut if not enough people use it! The main branch library is only about 10 miles away so I use that too. Every now and then there is a library book sale in the branch library of books that haven’t been borrowed for a while, so at least that’s what happens to some of them.

    I’d have abandoned Life in the West too after that opening.

  2. I agree with your idea of American dysfunctional families being so much weirder and deadlier than European ones. More fun to read about is questionable. In fact, Americans take “dysfunctional” to dizzying heights. One need only delve into a few honest, well researched documentaries and books about the Bushes, the Clintons and, alas, their present president, if one would like a minimum of exemplary examples. Scary doesn’t cover it!!!
    As for Brian Aldiss…….he would have done well to remember the age old adage….less is more….more or less……and leave the reader’s imagination room to fulfill it’s primary function.

    1. I suppose more fun in the sense that it always makes you feel better about your own dysfunctional family if you hear that others’ are even worse.

  3. I seem to be on a mission at the moment to stop respected bloggers from dissing themselves, however jokily……now it’s your turn to get my ‘don’t disrespect yourself’ knuckle rap :

    “I should have got it in German of course (yes, I’m still snobbish about preferring to read books in the original where I possibly can), ”

    NOT snobbish, not in the remotest, MarinaSofia. I speak as someone shamefaced about my intability to read anything in the original except written in the English language. However……I KNOW that the language we speak, write and think in imposes particular tones upon us, on our way of seeing, feeling, conceptualising and inhabiting. To take that classic example, those with many names for ‘snow’ will surely be observing and relating to the cold white stuff in a different way from those who just have ‘snow’ as their language. The paucity of English with it’s single word for ‘love’ to describe the complexities of feeling tone in the relationships we might have with lovers, children, siblings, besties, cats, mountains, handbags, chocolate..for example

    Reading in translation is always some kind of moving away from the experience the writer is conveying. At its best the translation may be as if ever so slightly a blurred image, but it could travel all the way to being crassly deformed, if the translator is not completely facile in both tongues, and, probably even more importantly, able to inhabit the particular feeling tone of an author

    I can only admire those who take the best option and read closest to the author speaking direct, without the filter of another.

    Go and stand in the naughty corner for describing yourself as snobbish! My words for you are accomplished, discerning, truthful in making those choices if possible. No chocolate for you today!

  4. I only heard about PLR last week, now I know my library book borrowing will go through the roof!

    The Aldiss – no, I would not have read any further. I struggled to make it to the end of the quote 😀

  5. I can never resist a library or a bookshop, either, Marina Sofia. Our local library has a fundraising sale sometimes of some of their books, and I can never, ever walk past the books on offer. It does look as though you got some good ‘uns, though, andI’m happy to see you found an ‘old friend.’ That’s such a good feeling, isn’t it?

  6. So sorry to hear you didn’t get along with the Aldiss. I’ve had difficulties with some of his work myself but, to be honest, the paragraph you cited had me grinning — I think it’s poking fun.

  7. Are you going to review Elmet? Now I”ll add it to my TBR list. I try to use the library as much as possible. And, yes, the library system has culled thousnds of books. So many are not available in circulation. One has to go to the main library and read a copy there or if one is lucky, read it in an ebook format.
    I sigh in dismay when I go to the library catalog and so many good books I read years ago and want to recommend to friends or some I want to read are not available.

    1. I sigh in dismay when I go to the library catalog and so many good books I read years ago and want to recommend to friends or some I want to read are not available.

      I blame the habit libraries tend to have of buying twenty copies apiece of the latest bestsellers, thereby taking up shelf space that could be used for existing, older books (not to mention funds that could be spent on one apiece of a greater range/diversity of new books). Precisely because bestsellers are bestsellers, there are likely to be plenty of copies in circulation in the community already without the library having to go gangbusters with its purchase of them.

      As evidence, I’d point to library sales where you typically see multiple copies of old bestsellers by the likes of Danielle Steel and John Grisham sitting there unsold, because everyone who might want to read them has already done so. Meanwhile, there’s a brisk trade underway in all those books you never heard of . . .

      1. You’re probably right. They certainly seem to cater more nowadays for the popular books (lots of crime and romance and celebrity biographies), rather than the more obscure ones that I used to be able to find even just 10 years ago.

  8. My wallet is lucky: I work in an area devoid of bookshops. Otherwise, My TBR would increase even more.

    I’m curious about your feedback on the essay on translation.

    1. I was fine last year, but now that I travel into London nearly every day and have to pass by one of the biggest and nicest bookshops on the way to work… And have both the British Library and the University Library close to hand…

  9. It’s even worse in New York than the library system buyers getting lots of popular authors’ books. They buy movie dvd’s by the load and then fewer books. When I see that 300 copies of a dvd of a popular movie have been purchased and the library doesn’t even have ONE or TWO copies of a book, usually internationally published, I am apoplectic.
    I have emailed the administrators pleading for a few copies of a particular book. I am told budgets are limited. And I’m also irked that libraries are encouraging watching movies (I watch them, too), rather than encouraging reading.
    But why the hundreds of dvd’s of a current movie?

  10. I’ve always felt guilty about taking out books that I don’t think I will really get around to reading because it could mean I am denying them to other readers. But now you’ve got me thinking that I could deliberately choose the less popular ones in the hope that give them a stay of execution

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