It’s been three months since I last attempted to vlog, and this time I’ve learnt to use some video editing software. Alas, it’s still a vertical learning curve for me, so it took me far longer than mere writing of a blog post would have done. Plus the result is somewhat overenthusiastic cutting and transitioning, while my rough and ready make-up less appearance is explained by a migraine. Luckily, I am not vain at all in my old age! And too time-poor to make another, better version of the video! All of you regular readers and lovely bloggers get a bit of a mention here, as it’s thanks to you that I am spending ALL my money on books.
One of my personal highlights from the new Sherlock Holmes episode set in Victorian times (sort of!) was Sherlock telling Watson that the solution to a seemingly impossible murder is ‘never twins’. Yet fiction has always been fascinated by identical twins, and there is no shortage of books exploring the idea of the ‘double’ from all angles. I coincidentally read two recent books on the subject over the past two weeks, both of them labelled ‘psychological thrillers’, although I feel this label does the second book a disservice.
Following the death by accident of one of their twin girls, a couple decided to start afresh with their remaining daughter, Kirstie, in a cottage set on a remote Scottish island surrounded by fog and mudflats. The lack of facilities and isolation are made even worse when Kirstie claims she is her twin sister Lydia. Is it part of the grieving process or is there something more sinister at work?
The setting and premise were interesting and ominous, and there were some unsettling moments reminiscent of a ghost story. The book also asked some good questions: how well do we ever know our own children? How well can we ever protect them? But overall there was a lack of plausibility to the situation, and the domestic drama and dynamics of the couple got on my nerves. The landscape is the real main character of the book for me.
This book will be published this month and is being marketed by Bloomsbury as ‘a compulsive and darkly brilliant psychological thriller about family’. For those expecting dramatic revelations or twists as befits this label, it will feel too slow-paced. Yet it is a thoughtful, well-written book, which goes far deeper into an examination of identity, how we construct our sense of self, how we allow other people’s expectations to shape us and how we fail people with mental health problems.
Helen and Ellie are identical twins, but with very different characters. Helen is the dominant one, often bullying her quieter, slower sister. One day, the girls attempt to trick everyone by swapping clothes and hairstyles to pretend to be the ‘other one’. The prank is successful; however, Ellie enjoys her new position far too much and refuses to swap back. The book looks at the repercussions of this on the life of the two girls, with the former Ellie (now Helen) becoming successful, while the other twin sinks into loneliness and schizophrenia.
This is a very sad but accurate description of dysfunctional families, mental illness and the dangers of parents’ favouritism. Although the twins’ sudden exchange of ‘personalities’ seems a little implausible, it is an interesting comment on how expectations (both good and bad) can influence a growing child, as well as an indictment of the way in which adults refuse to listen properly to children. The book alternates timelines, and sometimes mirrors the confusion in the mind of the main character, but the writing is precise and unflinchingly descriptive, yet avoids a slide into melodrama.
I came across this on the Cleopatra Loves Books blog (which is a real treat of a book blog, so do go and pay it a visit if you are not familiar with it already). Cleo was very brave to admit her bookish foibles, and a few of her readers have followed suit. So, in the interests of transparency, it seems only fair to attempt my own form of accounting. I’m sure it will help rein in my book-buying or requesting (yeah, right!). I define TBR as the books I do actually own but haven’t read, rather than my wishlist.
I have’t to date, so this is my opportunity to be a star pupil now. Before, I would scroll down on my e-reader and sigh. Stare at the double or triple pile of books up on the shelves and learn to avoid them when they fall.
IS YOUR TBR MOSTLY PRINT OR E-BOOK?
Let the painful counting begin. 172 currently on my tablet, but another 10 or so in pdf or trickier formats on my laptop (I get sent a lot by author friends). Plus another 15 or so on my husband’s account on Kindle, which I conveniently forget about, books I downloaded back in the days when I had no e-reader of my own and didn’t really like those ‘dang things’. So a total of 200 or so in electronic format.
My collection of physical books is comparatively slender: only 78. Of course, I don’t include any library books in that pile.
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHICH BOOK FROM YOUR TBR TO READ NEXT?
As a reviewer for Crime Fiction Lover, I often have deadlines linked to the launch of a book or a broader feature such as ‘Classics in September’ or ‘New Talent November’, so those will take priority. I occasionally take part in reading challenges such as ‘German Literature Month’ or ‘Global Reading Challenge’, so that influences my choices.
Most of the time, however, I just go with my gut instinct, although I do find that one book will lead to another in a mischievous, conspiratorial way. For instance, I will find myself embarking upon a series of reads about bad mothers or male midlife crises, whether French or elsewhere. After such a bout of misery, I will then need to find something funnier, lighter to rinse out the bitter taste from my mouth.
This would be amongst the ‘forgotten pile of books’ on the Kindle. I believe it’s a tie between Jutta Profijt’s debut novel ‘Morgue Drawer Four’ (shortlisted for the Glauser Prize in Germany back in 2010 and translated by Erik J. Macki) and Stanislaw Lem’s ‘Solaris’ (I loved the Tarkovsky film, less so the more recent adaptation with George Clooney, but the author apparently didn’t think much of either of them).
A BOOK YOU RECENTLY ADDED TO YOUR TBR?
Just this morning, I made the mistake of going to Netgalley (to post a review) and lingered there… so I ended up downloading Lauren Holmes’ Barbara the Slut and Other People (who can resist a title like that, hope it will give me loads of insights into the younger generation) and Jean Teulé’s The Poisoning Angel, translated by Melanie Florence for Gallic Books. This latter is based on a true story about a 19th century female serial killer.
A BOOK ON YOUR TBR THAT YOU NEVER PLAN ON READING?
I live in hope of reading all of them… but I did discard one or two recently where I thought: ‘Was I drunk when I clicked the “buy” button?’ It’s just too easy to order things on Amazon – one more reason to avoid it.
AN UNPUBLISHED BOOK ON YOUR TBR THAT YOU’RE EXCITED FOR?
I’ve been an admirer of Ann Morgan’s thoughtful reading and reviewing back in the days when she completed her ‘Year of Reading the World‘ challenge. I got to chat with her via Twitter and email, and even got to meet her when she gave a TEDx talk in Geneva. So I was very excited when she told me that she has a book coming out on the 14th of January, 2016. ‘Beside Myself’ is a twisted psychological tale of identical twins who swap places for a day – but then one of them refuses to swap back. Sounds like just my cup of tea!
A BOOK ON YOUR TBR THAT EVERYONE HAS READ BUT YOU?
OK, I’ll stop feeling ashamed and admit that I’ve not read ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. I’ve read about it, I’ve seen the film, I’m sure it’s the kind of subject I would be interested in… but somehow I never got around to it. I bought a second-hand copy of it this summer at a friend’s house clearance sale, so I finally have a chance.
A BOOK ON YOUR TBR THAT EVERYONE RECOMMENDS TO YOU?
I’m a big Pascal Garnier fan but haven’t read ‘Moon in a Dead Eye’ yet, which is the favourite Garnier for many of my fellow book bloggers. So, if it’s as good as ‘How’s the Pain?’ (which has been my personal favourite to date), I will be delighted!
A BOOK ON YOUR TBR THAT YOU’RE DYING TO READ?
No particular book but there are certain authors whom I really look forward to reading or rereading: Eva Dolan, Clarice Lispector, Virginia Woolf, Neil Gaiman, Simenon, Stefan Zweig.
You may not think so, given that in some cases I have more than a couple of books by them on my TBR pile but haven’t dived into them yet. Life just got in the way… and it’s sometimes easier to keep those ‘sure bets’ in the background for when you need some reading/writing inspiration.
HOW MANY BOOKS ARE IN YOUR GOODREADS TBR SHELF?
785 but that’s a wishlist, so it doesn’t count. I keep adding to it as soon as I read a review of a promising book or someone mentions a new to me author or a topic I’m interested in. (Basically, anything to do with Vienna, Brazil, immigration and expats gets an automatic look-in.)
However, the most amazing fact is that before 2009 or so I did not have any TBR pile or wishlists. I would mainly borrow books from the library and only buy a few books which I read almost immediately. In 2010, however, I started writing again myself, and my reading has increased exponentially (not that I ever was a lazy reader). Plus, my husband’s misguided attempt to cure me of buying physical books by getting me an e-reader has resulted in double the number of books!
Friday 13th is nothing to be superstitious about: on the contrary, it was the day when I had the pleasure of meeting in person one of the people I most admire and follow regularly via blog and Twitter: Ann Morgan of ‘A Year of Reading the World’. If you are not familiar with Ann’s accomplishment, here she is describing it in her own words:
In 2012, the world came to London for the Olympics and I went out to meet it. I read my way around all the globe’s 196 independent countries – plus one extra territory chosen by blog visitors – sampling one book from every nation.
Furthermore, she did this only via English translations, as an experiment in just how much literature in translation is available to English speakers. Her reviews are all available on her blog above, but she has also just published a book called Reading the World in the UK and The World Between Two Covers in the US. The book discusses the background of this wonderful project: choosing the countries, authors and books featured, a wider debate about translation and moving outside your comfort zone in reading.
Ann had been invited to Geneva to give a TEDx talk about her book and her reading challenge as part of a series of talks on Mind Shifts, so I could not resist the chance to meet up with her. We talked about the challenges of literary translations, about cultural differences in writing styles and subject matters and about our own career paths and works in progress. I probably rambled on too much about myself – but it was such a delight to meet with a fellow book lover.
And a reminder that our only hope of building bridges to other people and other cultures is by reading what some of their best minds and most talented writers have written. We may not agree, we may not like all that we see and read, but we start to understand their context. And thus, ultimately, broaden our own narrow little world.
As Mark Twain is supposed to have said (fact checkers have established that this quote cannot be attributed to him, but it’s still a great quote):
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.