All Appeared New and Strange at First…

Although perhaps not quite at the level of the end of this quote from metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne: ‘… inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful’.

Yes, I am pushing out my little sailing-boat to new, unexplored shores. New job, new timetable, new way of presenting my book haul and a meeting with one of my living heroines: Herta Müller.

I thought I might save some time if I present my book haul in a one-take video and upload that on You Tube. I’m not quite convinced yet that it will be a time-saver, but perhaps this will get faster as I become more familiar with the settings. I rather cringe, though, when I see and hear myself speaking. Plus, my anonymity is gone now!

Here is the link to the video. Let me know if you have any problems viewing it.

I’m off to catch the train to see Herta Müller at the British Library and will write more about it when I get back.

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WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 13 Sep 2017

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

Current:

Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted – for #EU27Project and because it is about Transylvania just before, during and after WW1. Bánffy was a politician as well as a writer born in Transylvania, and he is nostalgic but also scathing about the Hungarian aristocracy. It is a massive tome (and it’s just the first of a trilogy), so I think it should keep me quiet for months to come.

Laura Kaye: English Animals – one of those cultural exploration stories which I find so fascinating. A Slovakian woman gets a job as a sort of housekeeper in an English country house owned by an eccentric mismatched couple. Library book which I couldn’t resist getting. Even better: it’s in large print, so the pages just whizz by!

Santiago Gamboa: Return to the Dark Valley – what is it about these Latin Americans that they are so visceral and interesting and wild? An impossible to define novel about fear, dislocation, crimes, revenge and an increasingly global world. Experimental and yet immensely readable.

 

Recent:

Grazia Deledda: After the Divorce – I will write a proper review of this for #EU27Project, but it’s a sweeping picture of a Sardinian village, with all its poverty, gossip, violence and passion. There have been some complaints about the translation, but it sounds quite modern (perhaps too much so?) to me.

Terence Portelli (ed.): Tangerine Sky: Poems from Malta – review to come for #EU27Project. Nice to read something from a culture and country that I know very little about.

Maggie Nelson: Bluets – is this poetry, essay, memoir? A bit of each? An investigation into the colour blue (my favourite) and the end of a relationship.

Future:

Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk – the last novel of a wonderful writer, who will be much missed

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal – political thriller, was going to be part of my summer reading, but I never got around to it

I will be starting a new full-time job on Monday, which will involve daily commuting into London. Whether that adds to my reading time remains to be seen. I am afraid it may sadly eat into my writing and blogging time. However, I suspect that all those who follow me on Twitter will be hugely relieved that I will be spending less time on that platform!

 

Summer Update on #EU27Project

What is lovely about the #EU27Project and its easy-going nature is that it bubbles along nicely even if I somewhat neglect it occasionally. And that is thanks to all of your contributions, dear readers and bloggers. Let me try to summarise, however, what has been added to the bouquet of links over the past 3 months. We now have a total of 70 reviews up there (although I have to exclude 4 which are either duplicates or errors) and, for the stats fiends amongst you:

From Urbanexpression.org.uk
  • France leads the way with 12 reviews
  • Austria is punching well above its size with 9
  • Germany and The Netherlands have 6 each
  • Denmark and Italy are next, with 5 each
  • Ireland and Finland have 4
  • Poland and Belgium are on 3
  • Portugal, Croatia and Czechia are on just 2 each
  • And poor Spain only has 1 review – thank you Lizzy!

We have had the good fortune of attracting some new contributors. Marcelle is a Norwegian booklover who blogs at Lesser Known Gems. As the name indicates, she likes finding the less obvious classical authors and books which deserve to be more widely read, and she does so from a very international perspective. She has added some Portuguese, Italian, Austrian  Belgian and Dutch gems to our links page. In fact, her puzzled review of Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce made me seek it out to read and make up my own mind.

Emma from Book Around the Corner has also joined us with a review of short stories by 1920s Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz.  And I’m delighted to say that Maphead has come back after a long absence with a Croatian entry.

Elsewhere, we have plentiful and excellent reviews from Jonathan, Susan Osborne, Lizzy’s Literary Life, The Book Satchel and Booker Talk. Some of our earlier contributors have taken a wee bit of a rest (as I have myself, so who’s to blame them?), but I hope they will remember to link some more of their reviews in the future. In the meantime, there is plenty catch up on here, if you just click on the Mister Linky button at the bottom of the page, you will see all of the countries, books and blogger names. Please feel free to add your own links, even if they are books you’ve read a few months ago. The more the merrier!

European Union flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels

So my conscience is now telling me it is high time to pay some attention to previously unreviewed countries. I still have that collection of poetry from Malta. I have recently acquired a Latvian book High Tide by Inga Abele. I’ve kept mentioning Miklos Banffy (Hungary) and Javier Marias (Spain). On my ereader, I’ve got mainly German and French authors, so I will leave that aside for the time being.   Above all, I keep meaning to review Romanian authors – and have indeed read quite a few in preparation, but then decided that they weren’t quite right for this project. Maybe I’m being too fussy.

What countries from the EU27 would you like to know more about? What have you read recently which opened your eyes to a whole new culture?

 

 

 

June 2017 Summary

Yes, I know I always say it, so you can join in. Altogether now! ‘Where has June gone?’

It is always my favourite month, a birthday month for me, my younger son and several of my closest friends. But with the heat, the work, the travel, it somehow just sped by… I do, however, have some good books to show for it.

I’ve read 12 books this month, of which: 5 crime fiction, 1 poetry, 4 feel-good books and 2 not-so-feel-good books. 5 were from the library, 4 were review copies and 3 I bought myself (an unusual proportion this time round, I feel, but something to keep track of in the future). 9 were by women writers, 2 by men, and one was an anthology. Uh-oh only 2 books in translation (or the original)! I’ve not reviewed all of these, but have included links where reviews are available.

Crime fiction:

Karen Dionne: The Marsh King’s Daughter – a surprise hit with me, although the subject matter very nearly made me give up on it from the outset

Busted! Arresting Stories from the Beat – eclectic collection of short stories featuring largely US law enforcement professionals

Nicky Wells: Dead Hope – Nicky is a friend of mine in real life and has previously written romance novels featuring rock stars. This is her first thriller, although it does contain a good dose of romantic elements.

Annemarie Neary: The Orphans – a story of dysfunctional families and obsession set in London

Pierre Lemaitre: Three Days and a Life – study of youthful anger and guilt in a small French village

Feel-good:

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Enchanted April

Elizabeth von Arnim: Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Alison Lurie: Real People

Elizabeth Jane Howard: Marking Time (Cazalet 2)

Raymond Antrobus: To Sweeten Bitter – because poetry always makes me feel good, even if it is sad

Other (aka not recommended if you are suffering from depression):

Sarah Pinborough: The Language of Dying  – Slow-building sense of claustrophobia, gradual reveal about a family stretched to breaking point and … the unfairness, the pain, the poignancy of grieving yet with economy of detail. Succint, subtle and devastatingly effective.

Nelly Arcan author photo.

Nelly Arcan: Folle – I wanted to like this one so badly, but, although I appreciated the candour and insight into a troubled mind, I expected it to be much more frenzied and lyrical. It was instead a factual, often cold analysis of unsuitable passion, very frank about sex, but ultimately about a self-centred guy who was definitely not worth the narrator’s time and passion!

And you know what is most shocking? She was younger than me – and, despite her chaotic life and messed-up mental health, wrote 5 novels and has now been dead for 8 years.

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: From Shopgirl to…

Hosted each month by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, the Six Degrees of Separation meme picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. This month’s starting point was suggested by Annabel.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin. I had no idea that comedian Steve Martin wrote novels, but apparently this one is a bit of a satire about life in LA, as well as a love story.

Lonely, depressed Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

So my second pick is purely picked for the title which sounds fairly similar. 1) Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. I haven’t read this one either and I can think of nothing less likely for me to pick up, as I hated that whole Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal and ditzy single shopaholic chick scene which seemed so prevalent when I first started working in London in the late 1990s.

 

The third book is a bit of a leap, but bear with me… I’ll be taking you to 18th century Geneva and Paris, via the 2) Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is an extraordinarily honest autobiography of one of the greatest minds – but also one of the greatest narcissists – of the Century of Lights. Here he lays out and examines, without too much artifice, his weaknesses and blind spots, his triumphs and mistakes, his way of life often contradicting his principles (abandoning his children when he wrote so eloquently about children’s better nature and the importance of education).

The next choice is obvious, because Rousseau’s greatest rival at the time was 3) Voltaire. The two men started off by admiring each other’s work, but then disagreed on fundamental philosophical and moral issues and became arch-enemies. The turning point was the horrendous earthquake of Lisbon in 1755, when more than 60,000 people died. Rousseau said it should not make us doubt God’s kindness and that people brought it upon themselves by settling in cities with such dense populations. Voltaire was stunned by such heartlessness and produced in return the remarkable story of Candidea young man whose naive optimism and belief in God is sorely tested by earthquakes, syphilis, the Inquisition, murder and banishment. Mindless optimism, Voltaire contends, is stupid, unsustainable, a crime almost.

The two geniuses also fought about establishing a theatre in Geneva (Voltaire was for it, Rousseau against), so my next link is theatrical, a play which is somewhat linked to Candide, in that it presents scenes of life which test our belief in optimism and love.

4) Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (aka Liebelei, aka La Ronde) made a profound impression on me at the age of 13, when I saw it performed on stage. It’s brief scenes of ten couples (one of the couple linking to the next, like a daisy chain) before, during and after love-making and it is incredibly revealing about class and lifestyle in decadent, pre-war Vienna.

Speaking of decadence and pre-war jitters, I’ve recently read 5) Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet, which also mentions Vienna, although it features the period before a different world war. This slim yet powerful work is brilliant at dissecting how world events are perceived by different people and cultures, depending on how safe you consider yourself to be. It is also a biting satire of the film industry and features a semi-fictional portrait of Isherwood as a hapless scriptwriter.

 

Clearly, my final link has to be the film industry and so we move to LA once more together with 6) Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, a vivid, poignant, epic reimagining of the story of one of the most idolised yet summarily dismissed and underestimated women of the film world, Marilyn Monroe.

So my journey this month takes me from selling gloves in a department store in LA to becoming an iconic film star in the same city, via London, Geneva, Paris and Vienna. You can follow this meme on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees or create your own blog post. Where will your 6 degrees of separation journey take you?

Well-Spent Day in London Plus Book Haul

Back in the days when I used to work in London, my office was on Piccadilly, so I used to pop into the exhibitions at the Royal Academy quite frequently. This time I had to plan and travel to see the America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s exhibition (as seen by Emma in Paris and associated with books of the time), which closes on the 4th of June, but I’m glad I did.

First, let me start by saying that it is rather small – only three rooms, making it at £12 entry fee for the exhibition – a high price/per room ratio. I have seen many more artists at the wonderful Phillips Collection in Washington DC. However, if you do not have access to American paintings, it is a good starting point, with a very informative guide in each room.

The exhibition was very popular and full of people of all ages, and I wonder if it is because the 1930s have such a resonance for us nowadays. Certainly I could detect many parallels:

a long drawn out economic depression and the decline of industry

Roustabouts by Joe Jones

admiring the dynamism of city life while bemoaning the loneliness it engenders

New York Movie by Edward Hopper

nostalgia for a glorious past and the ‘simpler’ country life

Cotton Pickers by T.H. Benton. Whose nostalgia?
Daughters of Revolution by Grant Wood, who is also the painter of that iconic American Gothic image. He’s not a man who flatters, is he?

but, above all, unsettling visions of dystopia

Jackson Pollock: Untitled (1928-41)
Death on Ridge Road by Grant Wood, for times of car crashes…
The Eternal City by Peter Blume, with visions of Mussolini smashing Roman art and civilisation into fragments.

Art born out of crisis and insecurity, art (and a nation) searching for its identity: it bears out the belief that art can remain after those troubled times have gone, and can offer a far better insight into all its fears and hopes, dreams and nightmares, than mere historical description can ever hope to capture.

I then had a lovely, protracted lunch with two friends from primary school. We’d not met in 30+ years, but were not short of topics to discuss even after we’d gone through all the ‘remember that horrible teacher?’, ‘remember when that wonderful teacher took us to the ballet?’, ‘remember what ghastly clothes we wore in that class picture?’ etc. etc. It turned out that our lives featured some great parallels (we all went to Cambridge, for instance, although at slightly different times, we all travelled widely and ended up doing something very different from what we originally studied), but above all, we all had a very international, open, tolerant outlook. Which goes to show that exposing children to different cultures when they are very young is the only way to foster diversity, genuine curiosity and willingness to understand.

Vienna International School, from vis.ac.at

Two more brief observations about my day in London.

  1. The Romanian Consulate was absolutely heaving with people renewing their passports and preparing to go home or in another EU country. I’ve applied for mine now but the earliest appointment I could get for passports for my children would be end of August. Hmmm, I wonder why everyone is in such a rush to have a Plan B?
  2. Arranging to meet friends at Waterstones Piccadilly is a dangerous sport. Especially if you are slightly early. This is what happened.

Three Romanian writers (one wrote in German, one mainly in French and one in Romanian), an Italian and an Englishman with international connections. The 1930s theme of menace continues too, not just with Isherwood, but also with Benjamin Fondane, who died in a concentration camp in 1944, Paul Celan’s parents died in labour camps during WW2, and Tabucchi’s book is set in Lisbon in 1938m in the grip of Portugal’s fascist dictatorship.

I already read Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood last night. It’s a charming, if slight story about the time Isherwood was a script consultant for a film directed by an Austrian. Sadly, it does not take place in Vienna, but it describes a period of civil war in Vienna in February 1934, following the protests of socialist workers against Chancellor Dollfuss’ plan to create a one-party state, and huge uncertainty which led to an attempted coup by the Nazis and Dollfuss’ assassination in July 1934. An excellent indictment of British lack of interest in ‘Continental’ affairs at that time, particularly in this passage where an insensitive journalist asks the film director what he thinks of events in Austria and is surprised by the counter-attack of ‘Well, what do you think about it?’:

‘After all, Mr Bergmann… you must remember, it isn’t our affair. I mean, you really can’t expect people in England to care…’

Bergmann’s fist hit the table, so that the knives and forks rang. He turned scarlet in the face. He shouted, ‘I expect everybody to care! Everybody who is not a coward, a moron, a piece of dirt! I expect this whole damned island to care! I will tell you something: if they do not care, they will be made to care. The whole lot of you. You will be bombed and slaughtered and conquered. And do you know what I shall do? I shall sit by and smoke my cigar and laugh. And I shall say, “Yes, it’s terrible; and I do not give a damn. Not one damn.”‘

Patterson at last was looking a bit scared.

‘Don’t get me wrong, Mr Bergmann,’ he said hastily, ‘I quite agree with you… We don’t think enough of the other fellow and that’s a fact… Well, I must be toddling along. Glad to have seen you. We must have a talk, some day…’

Well, as you can see, even a day of leisure and admin in London ends up political at these times. I’m off to water the flowers, breathe in deeply and meditate.

 

 

One Thousand Ways to Say I Love You

What better way to celebrate a thousand blog posts since February 2012 than by sharing memorable thousands I have seen elsewhere?

  1. 1001 Nights – one of the best collection of stories anywhere – the original page-turner
Illustration from 1001 Nights, from Book Drum

2. A burger with Thousand Island dressing (which I pretended to like in my youth, but time is too short for me to ever befriend mayonnaise).

3. Will I finally read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, about an intergenerational friendship between Afghan women, a book about which I’ve heard many good things? (Why oh why am I so reluctant to read bestsellers though?)

4. Certainly not a bestseller, but this looks very interesting: One Thousand White Women: The Journal of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. It’s based on a true story about pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians, in an effort to assimilate them.

5. Admire the art project with anthropological flair: One Thousand ShacksTracey Snelling has created a multimedia sculptural installation depicting shantytowns from around the world.

6. 1000 Meere (or 1000 Oceans) – a song by German band Tokio Hotel. They’ve recorded this song in both English and German and I love the difference in voice timbre when singing in the two languages.

7. Anne of the Thousand Days – a film I loved in my childhood about the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, with Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold.

8. New film just out: One Thousand Ropes directed by New Zealand-Samoan film director Tusi Tamasese has been presented at the Berlin Film Festival. This seems to be a film for our times, questioning notions of masculinity and toughness in a traditional society.

9. One for One Thousand literary magazine (1:1000) is open for submissions. They are looking for 1,000-word stories or narrative essays inspired by a photo, and will accept literary, genre, and experimental work, as long as the writing is quality.

10. Above all, a thousand thanks and kisses to all of you who have read, shared, commented, reblogged and simply been there for me over the past five years.

From freepik.com

Finally, because today is International Women’s Day, I just wanted to link up to a few posts from previous years celebrating inspirational role models.

2015 post about personal heroines

2016 post about more heroines

Inspiring women and their one weakness