Or maybe it should be called Trying to Bring Some Order to the Madness. With all of these inspiring end of year book lists, I just keep adding and adding to my TBR pile. More frighteningly, I keep adding to my purchases for both the physical and the virtual bookshelves, which will make next year’s challenge of reading them all soooo much harder.
Still, I am trying to combine the 3 main challenges I have set myself: I am buying or have already bought lots of German and Japanese books. So here are some of the delights currently waiting patiently for me or flying on wings of Christmas joy towards me:
Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X
Ryu Murakami: Audition
Natsuo Kirino: Grotesque
Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore
Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief
Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years
Minae Mizumura: A True Novel
I miss those days when I would be able to read Japanese novels in the original. [Although always with a Kanji dictionary to hand. I remember our colleagues studying English, French, Italian or Spanish at university would laugh at us for having to use a dictionary to read even the shortest novel.] I now have to rely on translations and there are very few available, even of the classics. I miss my collection of Kawabata, Mishima, Dazai Osamu etc. They are all safely boxed up in an attic in the Thames Valley. Maybe rereading them could be my challenge for 2016 or whenever we move back to the UK?
Stefan Zweig: Meisternovellen
Bernhard Schlink: Liebesfluchten
Irena Brezna: Die undankbare Fremde
Edda Ziegler: Verboten Verfemt Vertrieben
Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink
Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time
I also have a few crime novels in the mix. I’ll be rereading Jakob Arjouni and hope to read his last novel ‘Brother Kemal’, published posthumously this year. I also want to explore the writer Sebastian Fitzek, who writes breathtaking psychological thrillers, and is beginning to make a name for himself beyond the German-speaking world.
I would love to ask for more suggestions, but am afraid that I might succumb to temptation… The Calvinist spirit of self-denial does not enter my soul when it comes to books (or desserts).
Instead, I will ask if you have read any of the Japanese or German writers on my list and what you think of them. And, if you haven’t, maybe you want to join me in the challenge and we can discuss them together?
Just to put you in the mood for Japan and its literature, I have included some pictures of the Christmas/New Year lights in Tokyo.
It’s not yet that time of year to make my ‘definitive book list’. I like to leave it until the last 2-3 days of the year, just in case that world-shattering read comes along at the last minute. However, Goodreads is congratulating me that I have reached my (upwardly revised) reading goal of 140 books for the year, so I had to celebrate.
Statistics: Want cold hard figures? Look no further. 140 read and a few more to squeeze in before December 31st (not enough to claim 150, though). 10 books a month on average (childless and workless August was the personal record with 27, but there were quite a few months with just 5-6). A respectable reading speed of 2.5 days per book, with some devoured in a single day (or night).
Challenges Completed: The Global Reading Challenge (for crime fiction), with two books for each continent, including a wildcard 7th continent – excellent for broadening my palate. Sadly, I was unable to complete the Translation Challenge – which sounds crazy when you look at the 27 translated titles on my list. However, most of them were crime fiction for review, and of the remaining there was only a small handful I reviewed or mentioned in any detail. So that doesn’t count. I did manage to read roughly one French book per month (in French) – my personal Holy Grail, as I try to improve my vocabulary. Sadly, literary works do not seem to equip you with the right words for dealing with tax offices or other bureaucracy. Perhaps I should stick to the swear words in the BD?
Lessons Learnt: What would I forget, borrow and learn from this year’s reading and take forward to next year’s reading?
1) When you set yourself such a high target, re-reading goes out the window. I would like more time to revisit old favourites.
2) You become cynical and less patient about clichés – and you have no qualms about abandoning a book if it still doesn’t move you after 50 pages.
3) Whether you sign up for a challenge formally or not, it is such a good idea to broaden your horizons and try out new things in literature. Some won’t work, but some will and then you have the pleasure of entering a whole new realm you had previously sealed off.
4) Although I always have 4-5 books on the go at any point in time, this simultaneity is a bit of a myth. I cannot enter, exit and parachute into other worlds quite so easily. I may not be in the mood for the same book during the day or in the evening, though, so having a couple on your bedside table makes sense. I usually alternate between a paperback and an e-book.
5) I must NOT buy any more books until I read all those I bought this past year. In 2014 I need to be ruthless about reading the books I have, instead of always reaching out for new ones at the library. I have 50 on my Kindle, 20 on my shelf and 8 on my laptop waiting to be read. And I suspect there will be many more ARC to review for Crime Fiction Lover too. Plus I have a few challenges of my own up my sleeve (am thinking of reigniting my passion for Japanese and German literature).
And now I have a goal of 140 to beat in the New Year…
I wish this could be a light-hearted piece about my latest book purchases and what I am looking forward to reading.
Instead, it is with great sadness that I show you my last purchases from the local independent bookshop. Unfortunately, the wonderful Librairie Centrale in Ferney-Voltaire in France is going to close this coming Saturday. Despite French policy on fixed pricing for books, and despite the fact that it was the only bookshop in a region of 27 villages and 80,000 inhabitants, it too fell victim to online retailers and the rise of e-books. It had been operating at a loss for about a year, although I personally never left the shop empty-handed. I loved chatting to the owner, who would recommend books or order those hard-to-find editions for me.
It made the national news (you can see a short clip in French on You Tube, see the link below). The local inhabitants did try to form an association to save the bookshop. We organised bring-and-buy book sales, literary events, word-of-mouth campaigns, but it was all too little too late. Late last week we were told that the court of Bourg-en-Bresse has ordered the cessation of commercial activity (forced bankruptcy). As the video says, it is ironic that in the village founded by writer and patron of the arts Voltaire, there should be no bookshop. Market forces, I suppose, but I still have a leaden heart about it!
Today I was late returning books to one of the multiple libraries in our area. Yes, late again and once more (this never used to happen to me pre-children, I assure you!). After apologising profusely and being excused my fine (French librarians are kind like that), I eyed the shelves greedily for my next ‘fix’. Reading is a heavy addiction, and I did find something new to try out and experiment.
When I got home, though, I began to wonder why I borrow more and more books from the library, which I never have a hope in heaven, earth and hell to finish on time (especially when it’s in French)… when I have a pile of books at home, on my shelves and on my Kindle, patiently waiting to be noticed.
When I started counting them, I was shocked. What have I been up to? While I’ve been busy receiving books for review from publishers (I’m not counting those at all for now), I’ve also been steadily adding to my To Be Read list. Eight paperbacks, six on my tablet, 14 on my husband’s Kindle and one on my laptop. That’s 29 books in all – enough to see me through till the end of the year, pretty much. And I’m not even looking at the massive tomes of Maigret and Proust, which fall officially into the ‘would like to reread’ bucket.
Right, that’s me sorted for the next year or so. Pray excuse me, while I see a man about a new pair of glasses… and a better reading light… mutter… mutter…
And, just to be contrary, here are some inspirational libraries, both public and private, just for the joy of it. Not that I plan visiting any of them any time soon. Promise!
Not sure what is going to happen with this wonderful building, as the Business University of Vienna has just moved to a new campus over the summer.
It doesn’t happen often anymore. Yet I need it, it’s like a tonic.
I now read so many books for reviewing purposes, or for my reading challenges, that I don’t often have this luxury. But I should occasionally escape the tyranny of my TBR list and do this more often.
Besides, I usually have two or three books on the go at the same time, so it’s not possible. But why not?
What am I talking about?
The hiatus. The pause. That wonderful moment when you finish the pile of books on your night-table and stop. To breathe. To ponder. To contemplate that world of endless possibilities. What am I in the mood for next? What new treasure will I discover, what old favourite will I pursue? Everything is within our grasp…
I log all of my reading and TBR now on Goodreads, as it helps to keep a semblance of order. (Although I know full well that chaos lurks underneath!) Imagine my surprise when I discovered that 7 of the last 10 books I read (and certainly all of the books that I’ve read so far in March) have been books sent to me by publishers for book reviews.
Not that I am complaining! It’s not that I don’t enjoy these books, and I am grateful to the publishers for exposing me to authors or translations which I may not have come across otherwise. But reading books for the purpose of reviewing is different: it’s WORK. I have to read them with pen in hand, making notes of characters’ names, or a phrase that grabs my attention, or a thought which I need to explore further. Also, because I review for a crime fiction website , the books I get to review all fall into this category. Plus, I have signed up for the Global (crime fiction) Reading Challenge, so even my ‘spare time’ reading has turned completely mysterious.
Now, you may know I absolutely love crime fiction, but I do also need a break from it every now and then. I need a gentler read (or a demanding, experimental, pretentious literary read) by way of contrast. To keep me fresh and eager to return to my old love. So, although I still have a pile of books to review, I also want to make sure I plan in some time to read more widely.
The last non-crime book I read (back in February) was ‘Kokoro’ by Natsume Soseki, a writer so well-known in Japan that he is pictured on the 1000 Yen note. I had read this as a student – supposedly in Japanese, but I seem to remember cheating and reading the translation alongside the original. This was a new translation, much more colloquial and lively than the previous one, perhaps even a bit too chatty for the rather serious, contemplative nature of the story. It is so interesting comparing different translations, though, that I wish I had the time to do this more frequently. I also want to spend some time reading books in the original and then comparing them with their translations into English.
So, what am I going to attempt this month? First of all, a true classic: Carson McCullers’ ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’. I have a weak spot for misfits and outcasts, and this is full of such characters. Plus, I find it amazing that such a young writer could write so accurately and eloquently about life on the margins of society.
Just in case I get too depressed, I also have a lighter read up my sleeve, which should have me laughing out loud in recognition: Peter Mayle’s ‘Toujours Provence’.
Do you prefer to read all in one genre, or do you feel the need to balance your reading with something completely different at times? And what are your ‘go to’ reads in such a situation?
This is the year to discover Marseille. Named European Capital of Culture for 2013, the second-largest city of France will host numerous events, open new public buildings, enjoy an overall face-lift. I have never been there, although I have visited the South of France as recently as last summer. Perhaps, like many other tourists, I was put off by its reputation as a messy, ugly industrial town with high youth unemployment and criminality.
Having just discovered Jean-Claude Izzo and his trio of books set in his home town of Marseille, you might think I would be even less inclined to visit the city. The author describes a chaotic city, teeming with immigrants, noise, drugs and criminal gangs. Yet through it all you can feel his enduring love for the city, its colourful sights, huge variety of smells, the bustling vivacity of its music and its people.
The books are closely linked and chronological, so I would recommend reading them in order (although I didn’t do it myself):(1) ‘Total Chaos’ ; (2) ‘Chourmo’; (3) ‘Solea’. In the first book, Fabio Montale is a typical product of his native town – the son of poor Italian immigrants, he falls in with a dodgy crowd, gets involved in rather dubious activities as a teenager and only cleans up his act by joining the Foreign Legion and later the police. His two best friends, however, Manu and Ugu, and the girl they all loved, Lole, never manage to escape the brutish life of the northern (forgotten) suburbs of Marseille. When Fabio hears of their violent deaths, he sets aside conventional notions of policing to try and uncover who killed his childhood friends. Along the way he encounters other horrible crimes, damaged lives, Mafia links and a few good women who save him from himself.
If the first book still contains a fair amount of ‘setting the scene’ (and some very atmospheric descriptions of Marseille in all its gritty beauty), the second one is a more straightforward crime story and my favourite of the three. Feeling disillusioned and betrayed, Fabio has left the police force and spends his days fishing peacefully on the coast. He does not want to take part in any criminal investigations anymore, but when his beautiful cousin Gelou asks him to investigate the disappearance of her teenage son, Guitou, he reluctantly gets involved. The story of Guitou and his Muslim girlfriend, a real-life Romeo and Juliet, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, is deeply moving. The story is far more complex, of course, and involves the Mafia once more, but also Islamic fundamentalism as well as Islamophobic policemen, several years before 9/11 brought the issue to the fore. Marseille was always a melting pot and therefore simmering with racial tensions which the rest of the world only find out about much later.
The third book features the journalist Babette (one of Fabio’s friends who also appears in the first book), who is uncovering some insalubrious links between the Italian and the French mafia. Fabio is once again involved in protecting his friend and her investigative work, almost against his will and with terrible consequences. The Mafia start picking off, one by one, all of the people closest and dearest to him. This book is all about the end of an era, the end of a town (through greediness and rampant over-development, as Izzo sees it), the end of hope and of friendship. It doesn’t get much bleaker than this, and the author never offers a happy ending, but I was captivated by the evocative language, the charm of the main protagonist, and the haunting sense of regret, of what might have been.
What I loved about this trilogy was that, although it makes no excuses for crime, it does show just how easy it is to fall into temptation and into a bad crowd. It is all about trying to live at the fringes of society – bleakness alleviated at times by tasty meals, washed down by good wine and glimmers of love, real or imagined. Fabio is unusually honest and sentimental for a cop, but he is also a flawed human being, overindulging in food and drink, prone to quick judgements, far too susceptible to feminine beauty, convinced he brings bad luck to his friends, far too eager to run off in his boat, to get away from it all and fish in the calanques. Someone we can all relate to, then!
The short, snappy titles, by the way, are song titles – the whole series is permeated by the variety of music that Fabio listens to (Arabic, French rap, jazz, Classical), although ‘Chourmo’ also refers to the sense of brotherhood of galley slaves, all pulling together in time on their oars, helping each other out in their shared misery. When I embarked on this series, I had no idea they had been so popular and influential, giving rise to a whole new genre, the Mediterranean noir, nor that Izzo had refused from the outset to write a sequel to them.
The Marseille trilogy has been very skillfully translated into English by Howard Curtis and published by Europa Editions in 2005-2007. Unfortunately, there will be no more new works by Izzo, as he died in 2000 at the age of just 55. However, he has a few other free-standing novels which I intend to read. And when I do go to Marseille, both he and Fabio Montale will be there with me. As will Miles Davis.
I read this trilogy as part of my Global Reading Challenge 2013, hosted by the very widely-read and knowledgeable Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise. This counts as the first of my European books (discovering a new location or writer).