Getting Your Priorities Right: Moving a Library

The most important part of the moving process (other than the emotional impact on the children and the cat) was the library. How do you weed out the books you simply must take back to the UK? You may think it’s easy. After all, it’s a case of moving from less to more…

Shelves in France - just two.
Shelves in France – just two.
Shelves in England: three and a half. Still Billy, of course.
Shelves in England: three and a half. Still Billy, of course.

But that does not take into account the books I had double-shelved or set in careful piles on the floor and the filing cabinet. ‘You do have a lot of books…’ sighed the removal men (and I don’t think it was wistfulness I detected in their voices).

I did donate some to the local libraries in France, but I ended up with many more than I had originally come with to France. As any book loverwill understand. So somehow, all of the contents of these boxes…

Boxes1

…have to find a home in the new house. Yes, the study might be bigger here…

Boxes2

… but did I mention that I have twice as many books in the loft, waiting to be rehoused together with their more travelled cousins?

After a week or two of utter panic (not finding the legs for the desk, not opening the right boxes, laptop dying and then the e-reader/tablet dying, I finally managed to get things somewhat presentable (though not arranged yet according to subject, language and other esoteric criteria).

ArrangedShelves

Time to be reunited with some old friends from the loft.

REunited

Sadly, my copies of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and ‘Vile Bodies’ seem to have suffered from some warping in their box in the loft. But I have Jean Rhys’ unfinished autobiography ‘Smile Please’ to read for Jean Rhys Reading Week and Barbara Pym’s diaries and letters, as well as Dostoyevsky and other Russians (short story writers) to keep me company. Plus a few of my favourite children’s books, which I brought back with me from Romania: Arthur Ransome, Paul Berna and Eleanor Farjeon’s collection of stories ‘The Little Bookroom’.

There is more digging to be done, as well as more writing and reading, but for now, this was just a post to let you know my books and I are alive and well.

 

 

City of Books: Lyon

Lyon has an impressive number of independent and chain bookshops, antiquarian and plain second-hand bookshops, as well as a thriving books on the quay (bouquinistes) lifestyle in summer.

Bookstands on the Quai de la Pecherie, on the Saone.
Bookstands on the Quai de la Pecherie, on the Saone.

Although I did stop to peruse outdoors, I was heading to a specific location: the second-hand bookshop Le Pere Penard on the Quai Fulchiron. I had met the owners at the Quais du Polar, and discovered they had a fantastic selection of noir and crime fiction, as well as BD. So I ordered some Jean-Claude Izzo through them. However, the shop is huge, stuffed to the gills with books in all genres, including cookery, history and coffee-table books.

Something for everyone here.
Something for everyone here.

It was set up by a group of friends in 1994: members of the group have changed over the years, but the passion for books has stayed the same. It’s a real treasure trove of a place, to explore at leisure, over many hours.

Upstairs, downstairs...
Upstairs, downstairs…
... and in my lady's chamber...
… and in my lady’s chamber…
... where I found...
… where I found…

a title by Pascal Garnier that I was unfamiliar with, a short novella called Nul n’est a l’abri du succes (Nobody’s safe from success). Then, to my utter surprise and delight, look what I discovered when I looked inside!

Garniersignature
Allons, ca de fait pas si mal que ca, parce que…. Amicalement, P. Garnier.Translation: There, there, it’s not that bad, because… With friendship, P. Garnier.

Yes, it’s a signed copy and it’s as if the author (whom I only discovered about 4 years ago but who’s since become a firm favourite) is talking to me from beyond the grave.

For more Lyon bookshops, see this earlier post. And no, the Lyon Tourist Office is not paying me to promote their city!

 

Nearly Perfect Weekend in Lyon

Lyon is one of my favourite cities, not just because it hosts the annual Quais du Polar crime festival. Yet, no matter how often I come here, I never seem to have enough time to visit everything. So I was determined to do two completely new things this ‘weekend of adieus’: see a show in the Roman amphitheatre for Les Nuits de Fourvière festival; and get to see the Brothers Lumière Museum about early cinema. Well, one out of two is not bad…

The stage is ready in the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France.
The stage is ready in the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France.

The Blues Night featured American blues music legend Taj Mahal; a ‘Mali meets New York’ session with guitarists Habib Koité and Eric Bibb; and local boy (relatively speaking), saxophonist Raphaël Imbert and his band. The atmosphere was very special (at least until the cushions went flying onstage), and it was delightful to see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying this kind of music. Thank you to Emma from Book Around the Corner, who suggested I join her for this event!

But the rest of the weekend involved doing a few of my favourite things.

Some eating at a traditional Lyonnais bouchon may have been involved...
Some eating at a traditional Lyonnais bouchon may have been involved…
Wandering through some of the spectacular old traboules.
Wandering through some of the spectacular old traboules.
One of my favourite 'hidden gardens': the cafe at the top of the Gadagne Museum.
One of my favourite ‘hidden gardens’: the cafe at the top of the Gadagne Museum.
Visiting the Art Museum, with its beautiful shady gardens.
Visiting the Art Museum, with its inner courtyard, a haven of peace.
I didn't go to see a Guignol show this time, but I do like the French equivalent of 'Punch and Judy'.
I didn’t go to see a Guignol show this time, but I do like the French equivalent of ‘Punch and Judy’.
Popping into the boulangerie for a croissant (old shop sign in the Old Town).
Popping into the boulangerie for a croissant (old shop sign in the Old Town).
Looking through the second-hand books on the quay.
Looking through the second-hand books on the quay.

Of course, it’s the last thing I needed right now, but a few books just seemed to sneak their way into my bag. I will write more about the bookshop I got them from in a follow-up post.

With HUGE thanks to Emma for the Romain Gary book.
With HUGE thanks to Emma for the Romain Gary book.

So what prevented it from being the perfect weekend? Not the fact that I didn’t make it to the Lumière Museum, but that when I sat down for breakfast at a local café, there was a disturbance outside. A group of diverse young men, some black, some white, some drunk, some sober, started making a great deal of noise and one of them grabbed another by the neck in what looked like a rather violent incident. The police were called and managed to walk one or two of the worst troublemakers away. Then, as I passed in front of the remaining group, I heard them speaking Romanian.

I wanted the pavement to open up and swallow me right then and there.

 

Cocktail of Reading in March 2016

What a month it has been! More snow than we’ve had all winter, amidst bursts of sunshine and flowers coming out. Helping to prepare a conference with the Geneva Writers’ Group and getting to meet so many talented writers. Getting even more impetus to work on my novel and poetry. And, of course, without fail, plenty of reading – a cocktail of flavours. Some day, I may even catch up with the reviewing…

Photo from Balugabar.co.uk
Photo from Balugabar.co.uk

Foreign language fiction:

  1. Pascal Garnier: Too Close to the EdgeBlack Vodka and Pomegranate
  2. Peter Gardos: Fever at DawnVodka and Cranberry Blush
  3. Mircea Eliade: Romanul Adolescentului Miop (The Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent) – a mocktail for underage drinkers to be reviewed for Necessary Fiction
  4. Marius Daniel Popescu: La Symphonie du Loup (The Wolf’s Symphony) – Bitter Orange and Cardamom
  5. Alina Bronsky: Scherbenpark (Broken Glass Park) – White Russian – the cream makes it a bit sickly

Crime Fiction (stretching the boundaries a bit):

  1. Quentin Bates: Thin Ice Margarita – let’s get the party started!
  2. Guy Fraser-Sampson: Death in Profile  – Pina Colada with an umbrella
  3. Joe Flanagan: Lesser EvilsOld-Fashioned with a twist of lemon
  4. Katharina Hall (ed.): Crime Fiction in German – Hefeweizen beer
  5. Elizabeth Knox: WakeBloody Mary
  6. Liz Jensen: The Uninvited – Sidecar – there’s far more to it than immediately obvious
  7. Claire McGowan: A Savage Hunger – Guinness
  8. Sara Gran: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead  Mai Tai – colourful, vibrant
  9. L.S. Hilton: Maestra – trendy Amaro-based mix (with oysters on the side)
  10. Laura Lebow: Sent to the Devil – Opera (or Bellini?)

Non-fiction

  1. Olivia Laing: The Lonely City  – Manhattan
  2. David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day – Cosmopolitan
  3. Mary Oliver: Felicity (poetry collection) – Long Island Ice Tea

18 books, of which 10 by women, 5 in translation, 9 crime(ish) novels and one book about crime fiction. Let me tell you which of the yet-to-be-reviewed books I really enjoyed: Olivia Laing, Liz Jensen and Crime Fiction in German. Meanwhile, Sara Gran, Laura Lebow and David Sedaris were a nice diversion. One book I did not much like, although it is currently getting a lot of hype and will no doubt sell well, since it is being marketed as ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ meets ’50 Shades of Grey’ is Maestra. [The art history and fraud element in there was the most interesting part to me, and I wish there’d been more of that instead.]

While there is nothing much I can do about the books I am given to review, I should make more of an effort to read more diversely, while also reducing the piles on my virtual and physical shelves. [Although I suspect I will be buying plenty of new books in Lyon, as usual.]

Here are some suggestions for myself: Marina Sonkina, Claire Fuller, Joanna Cannon, Sarah Hilary from Netgalley; Clarice Lispector, Yana Vagner and Virginia Woolf from my shelves; Circ (written by 10 authors), Jennifer Tseng and The Devil is a Black Dog: Stories of the Middle East by Sandor Jaszberenyi from ‘books found languishing on my e-reader for far too long’. But of course, I am also eager to read the books I acquired at the GWG Conference…

Fox Minding the Chicken Coop

There is a saying in Romanian that, if you are a wise farmer, you would not put the fox in charge of minding the chicken coop… However, at the Geneva Writers’ Conference this past weekend, they had no qualms about putting me (and the gentle, lovely Kathy – whom I want to resemble when I grow up) in charge of the bookstore. With predictable consequences!

I came away with quite a respectable book haul, especially since I could also get the authors to sign the books for me then and there. But even minding the bookstore is no guarantee that you’ll get hold of all the books you want, since some authors sold out so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to grab one of their books!

GWGPile

One of the big-name authors at the conference was Tessa Hadley, recent winner of the surprise Windham-Campbell prize. I had already seen Tessa in action at the Morges book festival, and she is the most articulate, inspiring and modest writer you could imagine. This time I bought her latest book The Past, about a family reunion in the house of her childhood memories, and Clever Girl, which in many ways feels like the story of many a gifted woman who allows herself to be weighed down by the crunch of daily responsibilities and the merciless grind of life itself.

An author who writes more in my genre (although she actually straddles multiple genres, and very elegantly too) is Liz Jensen. I had recently read her very chilling (and yet quite funny) book The Uninvited and had to buy the previous one, The Rapture, which is its companion piece (although an entirely distinct story).

I bought two more crime novels, this time by authors who are either part of the Geneva Writers Group or have close links to it. D-L Nelson is American, but has lived most of her life outside the States and writes murder mysteries featuring third-culture kid Annie Young. As a TCK myself (and mother of a TCK), this proved irresistible. Besides, D-L is the kindest, wisest person I know, generous of spirit and indomitable of heart.

The final crime novel Behind Closed Doors is by a Zurich-based writer, Jill Marsh, and takes place there. It’s about ‘poetic justice’: an unethical banker suffocate, a diamond dealers slits his wrists, a disgraced CEO inhales exhaust fumes… a series of apparent suicides by slimey businessmen. But of course, there is more to it than just a sudden attack of conscience…

Maps1The final book I came away with is very expensive but beautiful. Diccon Bewes has written several witty and insightful books about Switzerland and its people, but his latest, Around Switzerland in 80 Maps, is an utterly flawless combination of information and gorgeous old maps or illustrations.

Below are some examples of the illustrations. A lovely souvenir of my time in Switzerland, I think you’ll agree.

Maps2

Maps3

Maps4

Holiday Activities: Going to the Bookshop and Library

Just another day of holidays, but with coughs and flu looming, we didn’t go skiing. Instead, my sons and I (all of us great readers) had to return some books to the library and passed by the only two bookshops in the area. The first one is a standard bookshop, which is a resurrected version of the previous bookshop which had gone bankrupt and was rescued by an association of book lovers. We stopped there to collect a book we had ordered, one that my older son needed for his French classes: a junior edition of the medieval collection of animal stories/fables ‘Le roman de renart’ (roughly translated as: The Novel of the Fox).

Then we passed by the other bookshop, which specialises in BD (bandes dessinées – graphic novels and comic books), where I had acquired my original Max Cabanes adaptation of Manchette’s novel Fatale. I had chatted with Cabanes in Lyon and he told me he was redoing and continuing another Manchette adaptation, so I couldn’t resist asking if they had his latest. They did, so I acquired that – it’s a visual delight, as well as being based upon one of my favourite French noir authors.

While Younger Son was reading another BD cover to cover, Older Son asked me to buy the latest in the series ‘Seuls’, a Franco-Belgian children’s fantasy thriller about children having to cope alone in a world without adults. (Later on we discover the children are all dead.) Twice a winner in the youth category at Angouleme Festival, and winner of the Grand Prize of the Mickey Mouse Journal. The well-intentioned bookseller advised me to read these comic books with my boys, to make sure that they wouldn’t get scared. Then, when my eldest scoffed, claiming proudly that he was a teenager now and not easily scared, we received a zombie poster for him to put up on his wall, as well as a magazine with extracts from all the latest releases.

Haulbookshop

And that is why we love going into real bookshops: we spent a happy morning browsing, discovering new things, making mental notes about what to buy next time, and feeling the love of books and the personalised service of the booksellers. We never leave empty-handed.

tempsglacThe library run also ended with 6 books: 4 BD for the boys (fun holiday reading, as they also have a bit of a TBR pile at home) and 2 books I wasn’t intending to get… secret TBR Triple Dog Dare and all that… Fred Vargas’ Temps Glaciaires (the latest Adamsberg mystery, published in 2015) and Emmanuel Carrere’s  D’autres vies que la mienne (Lives Other Than My Own) – which is a story about grief and loss, but also a kind of memoir of how a narcissist became a more empathetic human being.

 

 

 

 

I Thought I Was Doing So Well…

I haven’t signed up to the TBR Triple Dog challenge this year (which means no purchasing or borrowing new books for 3 months, until you reduce your TBR pile considerably). I love the concept, but I failed rather dismally last year. Secretly, however, I was planning to tag along unofficially. I noticed, with some satisfaction, that in January I managed to read 14 from my TBR list, 2 review books, 1 from the library and 1 that a friend lent me. So I blithely informed James at his end of January update that I had done quite well.

But then books started arriving in the post, my willpower weakened and my clicky finger got activated…

So here is the truth of the matter:

Books I borrowed and had to read quickly before returning:

Christos Tsiolkas: Dead Europe

Ian Rankin: Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Books I got sent by publishers:

Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall – Vol. 5 about attending writing school and becoming an adult – I dived into it at once

Peter Gardos: Fever at Dawn – 1945 and Hungarian Miklos has just emerged from Belsen and is recovering in a refuggee camp in Sweden; he is looking for love and writes a letter to 117 Hungarian women from his village.

He Jiahong: Hanging Devils – Set in the mid 1990s, this debut by one of China’s foremost legal experts turned crime fiction author describes a rapidly-changing society.

Succumbed to Netgalley temptation:

Simon Booker: Without Trace  – a miscarriage of justice, a childhood sweetheart released from prison and then her own daughter goes missing – can she trust anyone?

Lisa Owens: Not Working – 20-something stops working to figure out what her purpose in life is

Joanna Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – 1976 and 2 ten-year-olds decide to uncover the mystery of the missing neighbour

Melissa Harrison: Rain – 4 walks in the English weather – better get used to it again

Ordered thanks to enthusiastic reviews (I name the guilty party too):

Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow trilogy (Tony Malone)

Andrew McMillan: Physical (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: hymns to the male body, friendship and love

Rebecca Goss: Her Birth (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: series of poems documenting the short life of a daughter born with a rare and incurable heart condition

Claudia Rankine: Citizen (Naomi Frisby) – I’ve read this but wanted my own copy

Complete Novels of E. Nesbit (Simon Thomas) – because I haven’t read any of her novels for adults

So I acknowledge defeat on the buy/borrow/download front, but will stick to reading more from the TBR pile at least…