I always knew Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books was a formidable woman and a passionate publisher, but she really outdid herself this evening. Where else can you see 15 excellent and diverse writers, from 7 different countries (8 if you count Scotland), all in the space of two hours on a Wednesday night in central London?
The concept was simple but effective: each writer introduced themselves and their book briefly, then each read a passage. There was a bit of time for Q&A at the end, but time just flew by and I could have listened to them for hours. They are a fun bunch of writers, who have gelled together really well and build upon each other’s words at public events. While it was predominantly a psychological thriller/crime fiction sort of evening, there are also some authors who have written outside that genre: Su Bristow with her poetic retelling of the Selkie myth, Louise Beech with her heartbreaking portrayals of children and Sarah Stovell with the story of an obsessive love which reminded me of Notes on a Scandal.
This was followed by an enormous and delicious cake, aquavit to celebrate the National Day of Norway alongside more usual beverages, and lots of informal mingling and book signing.
It was great to also meet some of the others on the Orenda team: editor West Camel, distribution group Turnaround, cover designer Mark Swan. There were familiar faces of bloggers as well. Karen has managed to create a real feeling of community and genuine enthusiasm around her authors and publishing house, which feels more like family than corporate care.
On the way there I was musing about Orenda’s ‘brand’. Karen makes no apologies about offering entertainment, but it is page-turning, original, good entertainment, rather than one relying on ‘more of the same cliché-churning drivel that is currently making money’, which some of the publishing giants are turning out. I may not love all of the books equally (I am not a huge action thriller fan, for example), but I have not disliked or left any Orenda book unread. I can count on them to entertain and enlighten, make me laugh and cry, while some of them have become huge favourites.
Of course I already owned all of the books, thanks to Orenda’s wonderful habit of involving bloggers and reviewers pre-release, but that didn’t stop me buying a few more to be signed or to give to friends. I also started Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski on the train on the way to the event and was so riveted that I did not stop until I finished it last night (or early this morning, rather).
The Roadshow will be stopping at Crimefest in Bristol next, so go and see them there if you get a chance. Congratulations to all, and I can’t wait to see what you are all up to next.
I saw this book tag on Eleanor Franzen’s blog and thought it sounded fun. I have no intention whatsoever of forcing you to watch me vlogging about it, but there are some great Booktube videos out there, such as Victoria’s from Eve’s Alexandria. We all need some spring-like sunshine and plenty of books to take our mind off things, don’t we?
What books are you most excited to read over the next few months?
I want to be more systematic about reading books for my #EU27Project. I really enjoy them when I get around to them, but urgent book reviews or other priorities keep getting in the way. Three books I am particularly looking forward to are:
Wolfgang Herrndorf: Sand (for Germany) – a thriller set in North Africa, with an international cast, written by a German writer who died far too young
Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Road to Babadag (for Poland) – a road trip through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova and the Ukraine after the fall of Communism
Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted (for Hungary) – pre-1914 Transylvanian counts in the declining years of the Austro-Hungarian empire
What book most makes you think of Spring, for whatever reason?
It must be The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett. Anyone who knows me will tell you what a hopeless and lazy gardener I am, but I do love flowers, particularly in spring, and the abstract idea of gardening (I even have books with pictures about the perfect English country garden). When I read that book as a child, I was sure that at some point, if I ever were to live in England, I would have that marvellous garden with minimal effort on my part.
The days are getting longer – what is the longest book you’ve read?
One volume Quarto Gallimard edition of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in French – 2401 pages before it says FIN. Well, to be honest, I read it in separate volumes a long time ago, but I couldn’t resist buying it so I have it all in one place to reread. At some point. When I have time. Hah!
What books would you recommend to brighten someone’s day?
My gallows humour would probably not appeal to most people, but I do have some favourite books which are funny and sunny. I really enjoyed The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. The thought of the Queen discussing Jean Genet with the French President just cracks me up every single time. I also admire Oscar Wilde’s plays: every line is a gem.
Spring brings new life in nature – think up a book that doesn’t exist but you wish it did. (eg by a favourite author, on a certain theme or issue etc)
I wish there could have been more books written by Jane Austen or a novel by Dorothy Parker. As for a theme, I wouldn’t mind seeing a novel about a menopausal woman having inappropriate thoughts about younger man all day long and grappling with her fading writing muse – as a counterpoint to all those middle-aged male protagonists out there facing their midlife crisis. Now that I think about it, Dorothy Parker could have written the perfect novel on this theme.
Spring is also a time of growth – how has your reading changed over the years?
I was such a good reader during my teens: constantly trying out new genres, obscure authors, quite challenging books of science and philosophy and history, which I hardly ever attempt now.
According to my diary at the time, just before my 16th birthday I was reading and pondering about Spinoza, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Rimbaud, The Cherry Orchard, Mademoiselle Julie, Meredith’s The Egoist and K. A. Porter’s Flowering Judas.
Yes, I was a bit pretentious and know-it-all, but also voracious and not as set in my ways as I am now. I am much more of a moody reader now, have to find the book to suit me at any given point in time. However, for the past 4-5 years I’ve kept better track of my reading, with Goodreads lists and with reviews.
We’re a couple of months into the new year – how’s your reading going?
I had a rather slow start to the reading year in the first two months, but things improved in March and April. I am now at 47 books read mark, 12 ahead of my schedule (target is 120 books for the year and I was somewhat behind the target in February). There’s been the usual mix of good, mediocre and memorable books, but no truly horrendous books yet. Or perhaps I’ve just got better at avoiding them.
Any plans you’re looking forward to over the next few months?
Sadly, I won’t be going to Crimefest or Harrogate or Hay-on-Wye or Bloody Scotland this year, as my personal circumstances are still quite muddy. I do love literary festivals though, find them inspirational and motivational, so I might try to attend more local ones, such as Henley or Noirwich in Norwich, where I can go there and back in a day.
The other ‘top-secret’ plan is to get more involved in bringing East European crime fiction to the attention of English-speaking audiences. I’ll be writing a feature on this topic for Crime Fiction Lover, and hope to translate Romanian crime fiction for a collaborative project very soon. Watch this space!
The 30th Salon du Livre in Geneva took place from the 27th of April to the 1st of May. Although one of the biggest Swiss press groups Ringier and the Swiss broadcasting corporation have pulled out of the Salon du Livre in Geneva this year, claiming that it’s too expensive to rent a stand and that the impact upon audience or reader figures is negligible, roughly 100 000 visitors beg to disagree with that.
The Salon has lost the ‘international’ in its title, but still brings a fair number of authors from all around the world. This year the country focus was Tunisia, but there were plenty of other non-Swiss, non-French language events. For instance, there was a special Paulo Coelho exhibition and talk given by the famously reclusive Brazilian author. There is an African ‘salon’ and an Arabic ‘pavilion’, a large English language bookseller, plus all sorts of cultural associations within Switzerland (Armenian, Serb, Spanish, Chinese) – and of course the Geneva Writers’ Group was there too, for all those reading and writing in English.
It is not a trade fair, but much more a ‘get to love books’ event, targeted at families and schools and the general reading public.
I didn’t see as many big names this year (or at least not ones I was interested in), but I did get to hear the wonderfully articulate and enthusiastic Dany Laferrière, first black author in the French Academy. He also signed a book for me (and drew a flower, bless him!)
There were a number of famous BD illustrators present, including a special exhibition dedicated to the Swiss claim to fame: the unruly teenager Titeuf.
It was not all about books. There were a lot of musical and comedy events, particularly in the Le Cercle tented area, which had the atmosphere of a jazz club. Well, a well-lit, immaculate jazz club of the Swiss persuasion…
The emphasis is most firmly on interactivity. The Factory this year was designed like a house, with each room in a different colour and theme, where you could share your selfies, your worst nightmare, your superpower, your great secret etc.
Of course, there were plenty of places to eat and rest, and the beloved Swiss cow had to be present somewhere as well.
I didn’t manage to attend any conferences in full, but I did catch the odd 5 minutes here and there. And I got a hug from Alain Mabanckou, who was looking very dapper in a bright blue suit and a hat.
There were fewer craft sections than last year, but there were some beautiful decorations and art objects everywhere. How could I resist these Niki de Saint Phalle women dancers?
In my next post I’ll also tell you about how I fell in love with the art and rare books stand next to ours…
Masterpiece of Japanese literature, world literature, medieval literature and anything else you can think of. Poetry, romance, heartbreak and sumptuous description of clothes, festivals and the Imperial Court. I did struggle with this far too literal translation (and footnotes), though, and it took me about 6 weeks to read its 1000+ pages.
Read the book, met the author and saw the movie within a few weeks of each other. I liked all three: the book had far more filmworthy scenes which never made it to the screen; the film did not have the preposterous coincidence at the end. And the author ain’t bad-looking either! (He’s also written the screenplay for the current TV mystery series ‘London Spy’).
Quite a bit of jostling in this category, although less than last year. I’ve stuck to my plan for reading beyond the obvious latest releases. This is a touching, if somewhat uneven description of life during and after the Yugoslav war.
At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to find anything in this category, but then I realised that Jeremie (who has written 5 novels by now) is still only 27 years old. This, his debut novel, was published in 2010, when he was just 22.
Again, a difficult category, but I think this counts: a sentient sea on a strange planet, who makes all the characters revisit all the things they fear most or feel most guilty about counts as a very unusual.
And a topic that goes straight to the heart of women’s suffering – just so powerful and emotionally draining. I’ve read a lot by female authors this year, but this is the one that I automatically think of when I hear ‘women’s writing’, whatever that might mean.
I read so many crime novels, yet I was really stumped for this category, as I felt I wanted to include a writer that wouldn’t fit in any of the other categories. In the end, I will dispense with originality and go with a classic that has been so influential in film and writing since its publication.
Silences by Tillie Olsen
A book that has been so influential on me as a woman and a writer – talking about all the artists who have been silenced by history, circumstances, gender or jobs, written by one of the first generation of American feminists.
Or is it too much to claim a favourite author if this is the only book I have read by her? I have just bought her latest book, though, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, and hope to read it over the holidays.
Free download when I first bought my husband a Kindle 4 years ago. I was clearing out the books I had on his Kindle and it fitted in well with German Literature Month. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t have died if I’d forgotten about it.
Not sure I can claim Petina Gappah as a friend, but we do know each other from the Geneva Writers’ Group and she recommended this book when she spoke on a panel in Morges, saying it was the best portrayal of the UN and ‘organisation man’ that she’d ever come across.
I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.
Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist. I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.
6 Books I Loved
Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable
Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.
6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations
Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success
Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.
Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in
John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one
Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…
Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…
Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…
6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention
Inspired by fellow crime addict Kerrie from the Mysteries in Paradise website, I compiled a list of all the books I had read in June. Imagine my surprise when I realised I’d actually read a lot more than I expected, probably thanks to Crime Fiction Lover, who keeps sending books my way to review. Yes, the vast majority of them are crime fiction:
Jo Nesbø: The Snowman
Jo Nesbø: The Redeemer
Jo Nesbø: Headhunters
Camilla Läckberg: The Stonecutter
Pia Juul: The Murder of Halland
Sophie Hannah: A Room Swept White
Victoria Hislop: The Thread
Janet Hubbard: Champagne: The Farewell
Magdalena Nabb: Death of an Englishman
Mari Jungstedt: The Dead of Summer
Anna Jansson: Killer Island
D.A. Serra: Primal
Some of them have already been reviewed on this blog or on the Crime Fiction Lover site. You may notice a certain repetitiveness: Jo Nesbø features a lot, because there will be a special on him on the Crime Fiction Lover website later in July. But which one was my pick of the month? Well, it was a close call between ‘Primal’ (review and author interview will be coming up soon) and ‘Headhunters’. In the end, ‘Headhunters’ won out, because the set-up was so absurd, the humour so wicked, the characters so vile… There was more than a touch of Patricia Highsmith about it, I felt. Now I can’t wait to see the Morten Tyldum film version (perhaps less so the upcoming American version).
Some of you may know that since mid-February, roughly about the time I started this blog, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a writing renaissance. Or, let me rephrase this: a rebirth of creative writing, because I was always busy writing articles, talks, research findings, blog posts. So much so, that I think it left me in a soapy bath of corporate-speak: dozy, inert, unwilling to step out of its reassuring warmth.
Since that time, however, writing has been pouring out of me like a water out of a burst watermain, and somehow this has survived two school holidays (one is still ongoing), a long bout of flu and a house move. Any of these factors by itself would have been enough to make me run and hide the manuscript/save the file in some obscure folder/dump it all in a box in the garage in the past. But now…
Now I even have time to read something other than just crime fiction (which I still love to read, but I think I was also using it too much to unwind and switch off my brain, instead of challenging myself with different kinds of writing). OK, compared with some of you voracious readers and book bloggers out there, I am very small fry indeed. I’ve calculated that I’ve read about 18 books in 10 weeks, which is 1.8 per week (even though I have more than one on the go at any given time). That is a very faint and far cry indeed from my teenage self, when I could devour that amount per day (and write extensive reviews of each one).
Anyway, because my nosey self always enjoys looking at other people’s reading lists, here are some of the more memorable books I’ve been reading these past ten weeks:
Fred Vargas: Dans les Bois Eternelles
Sheila Kohler: Becoming Jane Eyre
Chris Pavone: The Expats (I have a review of it here)
Orhan Pamuk: My Name Is Red (which I think I will review at some point)
Bret Lott: The Difference Between Women and Men
Patricia Duncker: The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge
Robert Bly: Silence in the Snowy Fields (poetry)
Stanley Kunitz: The Wild Braid (talking about creativity and gardening)
Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit (you can read my thoughts on it elsewhere on the blog)
Le Carré: The Constant Gardener
Fred Vargas: Sous les Vents de Neptune
Virginia Woolf’s Diary edited by Anne Olivier Bell (rereading)
Ha Jin: Waiting
Not a very impressive list, I’m sure, in terms of quantity at least. I’ve also been re-reading a couple of other books (poetry and novels), an anthology of short stories and the wonderful stories and poems that appear on so many of your blogs. With the exception of the last, what is the common trait of all of the above? That they are nearly all (‘The Expats’ is the sole exception) books that have been out for many years and that I had never got around to reading. Whether that means I am deeply unfashionable, badly out of date, or just starting to crank up my engine for becoming a good and prolific reader (and writer) once more, I don’t know.