Spring Reading Tag

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
The RHS Wisley garden borders are pretty much my ideal. From their site.

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!

Books and Crowds at Salon du Livre Geneva

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.

Sal1

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.

Sal2

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!)

Sal3Laferriere

There were a number of famous BD illustrators present, including a special exhibition dedicated to the Swiss claim to fame: the unruly teenager Titeuf.

Sal4Titeuf

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…

A polar bear bemoaning global warming.
A polar bear bemoaning global warming.

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.

Sal6interactive

Of course, there were plenty of places to eat and rest, and the beloved Swiss cow had to be present somewhere as well.

Sal7family

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.

Sal8conf

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?

sal9art

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…

Reading Bingo 2015

reading-bingo-small (1)

Thank you, Cleo, for making me spend far too long on this – but hey, it’s my day off and if I choose to spend it reviewing my year’s reading, then so be it!

More than 500 pages

Genji
Not the edition mentioned in the text, but the translation I prefer, by Seidensticker.

Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (transl. Royall Tyler)

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.

Forgotten Classic

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale (transl. Donald Nicholson-Smith)

Violent, twisted, hardcore, with a compassionate streak. Not for fans of poetic descriptions or deep psychological insights – it’s all very dark and externalised.

Became a Movie

Film poster from imdb.com
Film poster from imdb.com

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

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’).

Published This Year

Girl at War by Sara Novic

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.

Number in Title

De zece ori pe buze (10 Times on the Lips) by Adina Rosetti

Since Child 44 was already taken for another category, this was all I could come up with – a collection of stories about life in Romania before and after the fall of Communism.

GuezAuthor Under 30

Paris la Nuit by Jeremie Guez

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.

Non-Human Characters

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

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.

Funny

Wendy Cope (editor): The Funny Side

Poems that challenge our perception of poetry as far too serious, elitist and abstract. A delight – and it’s not just limericks!

Female Author

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

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.

Mystery

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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.

From babelio.com
From babelio.com

One-Word Title

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.

Short Stories

Meisternovellen by Stefan Zweig

I haven’t read many short stories this year, but Zweig’s novellas and short stories are always worth a reread- thank you German Literature Month for making me revisit them.

Joker – Poetry

When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard by Megan Beech

Outspoken, hopeful and charmingly humorous as only young people can be: my first volume of spoken word poetry (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms).

Different Continent

Ru by Kim Thuy

Not just one, but two different continents: Vietnam, Malaysia and Canada.

Non-Fiction

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl

For anyone who has ever been overwhelmed by motherhood and artistic impulse, To Do lists and reality, and whose creativity has to take the back seat on occasion.

First Book by Favourite Author

lullabiesLullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

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.

Heard About Online

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

This one had so many lovely reviews from bloggers whose opinion I trust, such as Stu, Jacqui, Bibliobio, Tony, Naomi Frisby, Poppy Peacock, that I just had to try it for myself.

Bestseller

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

I’m pretty sure it’s a bestseller, as it’s been No. 1 on Amazon for ages and Orenda are busy doing a second print run. Well deserved, an intriguing blend of Icelandic chill and Agatha Christie puzzle.

True Story

L’Adversaire by Emmanuel Carrere

Made all the more chilling because it involves the death of children and took place 500 metres down my road.

Bottom of TBR

Morgue Drawer Four by Jutta Profijt

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.

Loved by a Friend

people-in-glass-houses-novel-shirley-hazzard-paperback-cover-artPeople in Glass Houses by Shirley Hazzard

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.

Scary

The Woman Who Fed the Dogs by Kristien Hemmerechts

Blood-chilling portrayal of the accomplice of a serial killer of young girls – it gave me nightmares.

10+ Years

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

Still one of my favourite authors and books – this will break your heart, but oh, how well written.

2nd Book in a Series

The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto

This Finnish police procedural with a touch of immigrant blues about it is getting better and better – so looking forward to the next.

barracudaBlue Cover

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Actually, a lot of the books I read have blue covers – either it’s a publishing trend at the moment, or else I am subconsciously drawn to my favourite colour.

Six in Six Book Meme

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

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

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…

6 Authors I Want to Read More of

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

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

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to

 

Top Reads for June

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).

Books I’ve Been Reading

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.

Here’s to hoping…