Reading and Reviewing Summary 13/08/18

This is a continuation of yesterday’s weekly summary, which was threatening to become far too long. I’ve been trying to curb my book buying, but I cannot quite boast of unalloyed success in this matter. I have borrowed more from the library as well. Netgalley has also reared its ugly (I mean beautiful, tempting) head, although my feedback ratio is still only 60%.

Sent for review:

Jean-Claude Izzo: Chourmo

This was my introduction to Izzo and remains my favourite of his Marseille trilogy. Something which really shouts out in all its dark, joyous, dirty, tasty, messy glory ‘Mediterranean noir’. I have it in the French original edition and now I have it in a rather beautiful reissued edition from Europa. And it reminds me that I need to have a holiday in Marseille and Provence with my boys soon.

Books bought:

Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf started an extremely valuable thread about Malaysian writers on Twitter (and this is where Twitter’s power for the good is evident). You can catch the whole thread on her website. It inspired me to order at least a couple of the books she mentioned, as this is a part of the world I know very little about. I bought Preeta Samarasan’s Evening Is the Whole Day, a family saga in gorgeous prose, and Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain, with its links to Japan and the Second World War. Both are chunky books, which should keep me busy for a while. I also finally gave in and got myself another translation of The Brothers Karamazov, so this will be the fifth summer in which I attempt to read it…

Library loans:

Keeping in trend with the #WITMonth, I borrowed Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt’s Dead Joker (transl. Anne Bruce). Hanne Wilhelmsen is grumpy and exasperating at times, but ahead of the field in so many ways. I’m not going to have time to write a separate review of this book, but I read it in 2 days. Suffice it to say that it’s one of those ‘impossible’ crimes committed by a dead person, and that Hanne’s personal life also takes a turn for the worse.

I also got two very different books, one for a quick read and one because I admire the author’s willingness to experiment: Eva Ibbotson’s A Song for Summer (bonus: location of Austria) and Nicola Barker’s Happy, which is a triumph of typography and graphic publishing.

Netgalley:

I couldn’t resist the Swiss mountaintop hotel location and the And Then There Were None plot similarities, so I downloaded Hanna Jameson’s The Last. The other novel I downloaded is also kind of apocalyptical, but fits in perhaps better with my fascination for ‘dictatorship literature’: The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke, one of the foremost contemporary Chinese writers.

Reviews:

I have reviewed three books for #WITMonth already, which is a proud achievement in just over a third of the month. Two are on my blog: the dark Norwegian tale of descent into mental hell Zero and a Brazilian attempt to reconstruct memories and reconcile oneself with the past I Didn’t Talk. The third review is of Teresa Solana’s irreverent and utterly zany collection of short stories The First Prehistoric Serial Killer on Crime Fiction Lover.

#WITMonth

I still need to review Lucy Fricke, but I have three more books lined up for Women in Translation, so am doing better than I had hoped (I think I planned about 5 overall for the month of August, and now it looks like I might have 8). I’m in the midst of Tsvetaeva’s diary, and will embark soon upon Trap by Lilja Sigurdardottir and Veronique Olmi  La Nuit en vérité (untranslated).

 

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Cultural Events and Book Haul Summary 5th August 2018

Not quite sure what the tower is for, but it certainly makes it easier to spot the theatre from wherever you are in Stratford.

This week was simply working flat out and getting home at 8 p.m. – so much for my relaxation week without the boys! However, there was one event from the previous week, when I was attending a course in Warwick, which I didn’t get to write about. I went up there the evening before, stayed at an absolutely charming AirBnB in Stratford-upon-Avon and went to the RSC’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Although I’ve been to Stratford before (as a bookwormish child, I dragged my mother there on my first trip to England in my early teens; as a bookwormish adult, I dragged my freshly-minted husband there as soon as we signed the papers at the registrars’), I’d never seen a play there and the theatre looked nothing like what I remembered it from nearly two decades ago. I later learnt that it has been extensively refurbished since.

Portrait of the Man Himself in Lego bricks

It must be hard to think of a new way in which to present Shakespeare’s best-known plays – although it was rather sweet to hear a young girl say tearfully on the way out ‘I wasn’t expecting that ending’ – but this production certainly went for the modern and diverse approach. The Capulets and Montagues are two rival gangs (although not along racial lines, unlike West Side Story). The cast was very diverse, and so were their accents (although at times that made it even harder to understand the text). I really liked the star-crossed lovers: Romeo was so obviously young and rather naive, quick to anger, even quicker to fall in love, while Juliet was clearly the driving force, fragile and young, but so much more mature. However, I did not like the way Mercutio was played (or is that because Mercutio is one of my favourite characters in Shakespeare?). I had no problems with Mercutio being portrayed as a butch lesbian in leather, but I think the director made the actress exaggerate those traits so much that all of Mercutio’s fey charm, loyalty and quicksilvery nature got lost.

All of my books arrived in one go this week – the poor postman could only stuff two through the front door and just flung the others over the side gate, hoping for the best (which is fine when it’s not rainy).

Felix Francis and Lin Anderson were unsolicited ARCs from publishers, which might be a bit of a waste of hardbacks in my case, as I am unlikely to get around to reviewing them. I finally got The House by the Lake, which has been calling to me for ages. Guy Savage’s recent review tipped me over into ordering it, especially since I have Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation, which is also about a house witnessing Germany’s history over the past century. So I will read the two together.

It was on Twitter that I heard about Frangello’s A Life in Men, someone saying it was one of the books that deserved to be better known, so I will persevere with it, although the title alone is enough to set my teeth on edge. It sounds a little bit like Eat Pray Love, but for younger people and with a lot more sex. Last but not least, the two at the top I bought because Influx Press was having a sale. Clare Fisher’s How the Light Gets In is in fact a flash fiction collection about modern Britain, while The Foreign Passion shows us Europe through the eyes of a non-European in equally short vignettes.

It’s my party and I’ll buy if I want to…

My birthday month, my right to buy books!

In fact, they’ve been creeping up on me for a while now and the ones I got in Berlin (pretext: much cheaper to get them directly there than to pay for P&P) were just one of many slippery slopes. First there was a slip of the foot as I entered the Waterstones Gower Street on the way home.

Second hand bijou:

I remember my mother’s generation (all of my friends’ mothers too) were reading (alongside The Thorn Birds) the Jalna series by Mazo de la Roche (who, it turns out, is a woman rather than a man). A bit of Canadian history and family saga, something very unlike what I would usually read, so why not push the boundaries and see what all the fuss was about?

Jessa Crispin is perhaps better known as the Bookslut (although that book blog has closed down now). I’m somewhat ambiguous about her most recent book against what she calls ‘lifestyle feminism’, which has become indistinguishable from white capitalist privilege. I agree with many of her points, but find it strangely de-contextualised, as if she hasn’t read any other feminist texts which address many similar issues. However, this book The Dead Ladies Project sounds interesting, even though I’m not usually of the self-discovery as a book project school of thinking, because the author travels through Europe in the footsteps of women writers as exiles, expats, and exploring ex-countries.

New acquisitions:

I picked up Breton’s Nadja, which I read in my teens, to see how I might feel about it nowadays, and because it was quoted by Joanna Walsh in Break.Up. I’d meant to get The Sorrows of Mexico at Hay Festival, because I saw the editor speaking there, but better late than never. I couldn’t resist the last instalment of Rachel Cusk’s trilogy, which somehow resonates with me, forever the anthropological observer. I heard so much about Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers and am never immune to that subject. Last but not least, I’m still not over my Hamilton fixation, so I thought I’d attempt to read the biography that started it all.

Arrived too late for a group photo: Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter, an almost forgotten book about a young black woman playing jazz saxophone on the streets of New York and casually solving crimes alongside. Two late additions which have not arrived yet but will also fall in my birthday indulgence (and after that I stop! I promise!): Josephine Corcoran’s debut poetry collection What Are You After from Nine Arches Press and Lucy Fricke’s Töchter (Daughters) about taking a terminally father to Switzerland and then travelling on, trying to make sense of life, loss, middle-age and female friendships. It came highly recommended by a German blogger I trust, Cafehaussitzer (Uwe Kalkowski), but I only read it after my trip to Berlin, so had to order online…

 

Birthday, Berlin and Books

Or ‘The Three Bs that made me very happy this weekend’.

Can heartily recommend: celebrating with your two oldest and kindest friends who have also just turned the same age and still have pictures of you giggling together from your youth, feeling loved, dancing to 99 Luftballons and Falco’s Der Kommissar (songs from our childhood), watching football with German friends unhappy about the way their team played but relieved that they won nevertheless, home-cooked party food, lots of dancing, partying with former Olympic rowers, walk along the banks of the Tegeler See at sunset, walk through the tourist-thronged streets of pretty much anywhere in Museumsinsel area and not feel like a tourist, stop at the biggest bookshop in the city with a friend who has the same literary tastes as you do, not mind the rain, discover your friend lives just opposite the house where Christopher Isherwood stayed during his year in Berlin.

To be honest, the Berliners didn’t understand much of the song lyrics either – it’s very Viennese dialect and humour.

Not so good: forgetting your mobile phone at home, so I couldn’t take any pictures [but I have the memories!] And having your flight delayed by two hours on the way home.

Wonderful book haul, though, especially for hand luggage only standards.

And great reasons for acquiring each one of them. From top to bottom:

  1. Pascal Mercier: Perlmann’s Silence – Swiss writer who was professor of philosophy at the University of Marburg where I spent a year during my Ph.D. The topic of the novel is also one that is perpetually fascinating to me: academic conference, plagiarism, professional identity and murder…
  2. Daniel Kehlmann: Measuring the World – not as well known as more recent works by Kehlmann which have been translated since, this story of German scientists Humboldt and Gauss, and their obsession with time/space displacement.
  3. Ilinca Florian: When We Learnt to Lie – Romanian film director and writer, this is her debut novel, about a Romanian family during the last few years of Communism, a society about to transform profoundly.
  4. Joachim Riedl: The Genius the Meanness – Austrian writer, who studied in Cambridge and has written a lot about Jewish life in Vienna. This book, originally published in 1992, was one of the first to question the golden shimmer of fin de siecle Vienna and show its tarnished side as well. This was a present from my Viennese friend, who shares my critical love relationship with that city.
  5. Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall – have wanted to read this one for ages, but not in translation. I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of its existence before, since it was first published in 1963 (and so has nothing to do with the Berlin Wall), well before I was born, but I only started hearing about it about 4-5 years ago. Perhaps the ultimate dystopian novel about human isolation.
  6. Julia Franck: The Midday Woman – I was impressed by Franck’s book West and when I asked my friend what else I could read by her, she said that this novel is perhaps one of her favourite novels of the past decade or more. This one has apparently also been translated into English by the much-missed Anthea Bell as The Blind Side of the Heart.
  7. Eva Menasse: Quasi-Crystals – Another author I really liked (having read some short stories by her). I was thinking of acquiring her prize-winning historical novel about a Jewish-Catholic mixed family in Vienna (entitled Vienna), but then I found this book about a woman at 13 different stages in life. Turns out my friend knows the author personally (not just because Vienna is a small town and she is of the same age as we are, but their sons went to the same school in Berlin too).

 

 

 

Reading, Borrowing and Buying Update

You might think that after my splurge last week at Hay on Wye, I would be more careful about buying books. Well, you would think wrong, although that’s only because I received an Amazon voucher which made Homer’s Odyssey in the translation of Emily Wilson affordable (I’d been waiting for it to come out in paperback but was really, really keen to read it.) And, once that purchase was made, the dam was broken and a lot more books starting gushing out.

You may have seen Salt Publishing’s appeal on Twitter #JustOneBook, asking their fans to buy just one book from them as they were on the brink of bankruptcy. Now, however you feel about their sudden closure of their poetry section (I have a few poet friends who were upset about the way they did it), I still want independent publishers to survive, as they are the ones who give us that much-needed variety and more experimental works. So I bought The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce – anything but cheery. Then that pesky Anthony from Times Flow Stemmed mentioned Jane Bowles, so I had to track down a second-hand copy of Two Serious Ladies. I also happened to pop into the vintage Penguin section of Waterstones Gower Street and found one of my favourite Ngaio Marshes Artists in Crime, plus The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson. This latter author had been mentioned and reviewed recently by Ali, and you know what a weakling I am when it comes to your recommendations.

Other books arrived by prior appointment. Asymptote Book Club’s May offer was Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan from China – I’m a great fan of both Chinese literature and families (and bean paste, although I prefer it in my desserts usually), so this is a must-read-next. For review, I received a Greek book (perfect description of the surreal post-crisis Athens and homeless lifestyle) Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis from Bitter Lemon Press. By way of contrast, I also received a noir novel set in rural Lancashire, Mere by Carol Fenlon, from Thunderpoint Publishing. In electronic format I received two jet-setter books (crime with an international setting) Return to Hiroshima by Belgian author Bob van Laerhoven and Dead in the Water by Simon Bower. Last but by no means least, I couldn’t resist getting Roxanne Bouchard’s We were the Salt of the Sea, because: Quebec, Orenda Books, special offer on Kindle!

In terms of borrowing, I’ve reserved Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire and Elif Batuman’s The Idiot at my local library, but will only get to read them after the Women’s Prize for Fiction winner has been announced.

And for my #20booksofsummer update, I’ve taken just 2 days to read the delightfully sunny Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by German author (of Italian origin) Mario Giordano. It’s like an expat version of Camilleri’s Montalbano, but with a feisty middle-aged woman as the main protagonist. 1 down, 19 to go! Next one I am already halfway through is The Single Mums’ Mansion, which I thought would also be lovely comedic escapism. But alas, it’s a little too much about divorce and bad behaviours, so may not be the best escapism in my current situation!

You bought HOW many books at #HayFestival?

Call it ostrich behaviour or making hay before the financial crisis beckons, but I bought quite a large number of books at the Hay Festival. This is what comes of not having any second-hand bookshops in our local area (most of the ones I bought were second-hand, a bargain at £3 apiece). Of course, that shimmering, glimmering possibility of getting books signed also influenced my new book purchases. And I would have bought more, if the authors would have been available in translation (maybe next year).

The shiny new signed books.

The Bogota 39 panels heavily influenced me and my buying, and opened me up completely to Spanish Language literature (of which I sadly know all too little): Carlos Fonseca, Liliana Colanzi, Laia Jufresa, Lina Meruane and Juan Gabriel Vasquez are all associated with Bogota 39 past or present, while Javier Cercas was already known to me via The Soldiers of Salamis. I was also very impressed with the very candid assessments of contemporary British society via memoir/essays and poetry of Akala and Kayo Chingonyi respectively. I also bought Joanna Walsh’s first novel, although she was not there (yet) to sign it.

The second-hand buys were more impulse buys of authors that I’d previously enjoyed or books that I wanted to try but didn’t feel I could afford the full price.

In the first category, we have:

  • Lauren Beukes: Zoo City – a delicious mash-up of genres, Lauren writes books that always leave me feeling breathless and exhilarated
  • W. G. Sebald: Austerlitz – although his The Emigrants is probably one of my favourite books, I haven’t actually read this one
  • Carol Shields: Mary Swann – I was familiar with her poetry and The Stone Diaries, but this obscure little book is one I’ve never heard of
  • Bohumil Hrabal: The Little Town Where Time Stood Still – less well known than his two short masterpieces Too Loud a Solitude and  Closely Observed Trains, this portrayal of small-town Bohemia between the two world wars certainly promises to be witty, satirical and brilliantly observed by a writer who never bores me
  • Penelope Fitzgerald – a collection of three of her novels, two of my favourites plus one I haven’t read yet: The Bookshop, The Blue Flower and The Gate of Angels.
  • Laura Kasischke: Be Mine – I love Laura as a poet and thought her novel Mind of Winter was very unsettling and atmospheric
  • Mario Vargas Llosa: The Bad Girl – I’ve loved many of his works and disliked others, but I thought it would be fun to compare the older generation of Latin American writers with the younger generation
  • Stevie Smith: Over the Frontier – another novel by a poet (do I detect a theme her?). From the blurb, it sounds quite unlike her usual stuff.

For my children I bought The Three Musketeers (although I hope they will also read it in the original) and Holes by Louis Sachar – an old and a new classic.

As for books I thought I would give a whirl, given the cheap price:

  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein 1818 text with critical notes. A must after attending the Living Frankenstein event last week.
  • Meg Wolitzer: The Interestings
  • Kent Haruf: Plainsong
  • Radclyffe Hall: The Unlit Lamp
  • Elizabeth von Arnim: Love – I’ve read of course her two best-known books, but this story of an older woman and a younger man has passed me by – plus it’s a Virago Green cover!
  • Alaa Al Aswany: The Yacoubian Building – always comes highly recommended when I ask about Egyptian literature
  • Carlos Ruis Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind – because it features a library, what more could you want?

Now the big question is: how to get these books off the floor and onto my already double-packed shelves?

Still Learning How to Vlog – Book Haul 12th May

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.