Book Buys, Word of Mouth and International Girls’ Day

Restless seeking to find stability, worthless seeking to fill sense of self, call it evasion, elopement or ostrich flight syndrome… the book buying spree is ongoing. But all of the books I bought below come from personal recommendations, mainly via social media.

A trio of blue
A trio of blue

After posting a review about Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, dear blogger friend Susan Osborne recommended Kathleen Jamie’s nature essays, while Dorothy Nimmo and Steve Erickson were mentioned with some admiration on Twitter. Dorothy Nimmo apparently spent the 1960s as a ‘trailing spouse’ in Geneva, and her intriguingly succinct bio  says: ‘DN was an actress for ten years, a wife-and-mother for 25. In 1980 she started to write; in 1989 she ran away from home.’

Monochrome happiness
Monochrome happiness

My Canadian friend and fellow book fanatic Sylvie  sent me the small volume Lire la rue, marcher le poème (Read the street, walk the poem), a series of short essays and ‘provocations’, workshop notes and samples of written work to inspire teachers to use poetry in the classroom. Meanwhile, the indefatigable Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions has sent me the proof copy of Saleem Haddad’s moving novel about growing up queer in an Arab country.

Not a girl in sight in the title, but there may be one in the text...
Not a girl in sight in the title, but there may be one in the text…

This one has a more complicated lead-in. When Sarah Savitt (then working at Faber) visited the Geneva Writers’ Group in 2015 and gave me some feedback on my WIP, she was very excited about a book which she was about to launch, Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat. I was initially somewhat sceptical, having overdosed on books with ‘girls’ in their title, but when I read it, I thought there was a very different and unique voice at work there. Nearly two years later, my novel is nowhere near completion (sorry, Sarah!), but Kate Hamer has written a second one, which will be released in February 2017. When Sophie Portas from Faber asked who wanted an advance copy, I knew I had to request it, especially since it appears to once again feature a young girl’s view on life.

Speaking of which, today is the fifth International Day of the Girl, so here’s to all the wonderful creatures and future generations of women out there! May your way be much smoother than the previous generations’. Here’s a poem by Phoebe Stuckes written just for you.

Let us build bonfires of those unanswered prayers.
Let us learn how to leave with clean and empty hearts
Let us escape these attics still mad, still drunk, still raving
Let us vacate these badly lit odd little towns
Let us want none of what anchored our mothers
Let us never evolve to be good or beautiful
Let us spit and snarl and rattle the hatches
Let us never be conquered
Let us no longer keep keys in our knuckles
Let us run into the streets hungry, fervent, ablaze.

Are a mighty thing
A captive animal, woken with a taste for blood.
Feed it,

You Amazon, you Gloria, you Swiss army knife of a woman.

International Day of the Girl banner from UNICEF, Haiti
International Day of the Girl banner from UNICEF, Haiti




The Biggest Book Haul Ever?

My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.

Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).

The Visible...
The Visible…

Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.

I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.


Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.

Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.

wp_20160920_13_33_02_richLet’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR  for providing me with a copy of that!

wp_20160922_20_37_52_proAs Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)

I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.




Friday Fun: Reading Oasis

I may be ordering an orange and lemon tree for the conservatory, but for the time being, this is what my little reading oasis looks like (before it gets too cold to sit in there). Although there hasn’t been that much time for reading lately…


Here are some more ambitious reading corners to which one might aspire…

The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from
The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from


Reading in a window seat is always fun, and there’s so much storage for books and magazines in there. From
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from

And, for the ultimate dream… with a view…





More Shelving Dilemmas

Having somewhat haphazardly flung my books out of boxes and onto shelves, I discovered I couldn’t find anything anymore. So I’ve tried to rearrange my shelves according to countries and subject matter. Here is what I’ve been able to do so far.

The French Corner. This is a narrow bookcase at the very edge of the room, which has books (some in French, some in translation) by and about French authors or about France (but not the dictionaries or French culture guides, which are housed with the reference books). Unsurprisingly, this section of my library has grown exponentially during my 5 years in that part of the world.


Non-fiction is relatively modest and housed just below the French section. (But there is an additional overly large academic and business books section, see below.)


A whole shelf is dedicated to books on the writing craft and literary criticism – and includes the complete diaries of Virginia Woolf (my favourite writing book), while another shelf is all about poetry. Alas, I’ll soon be running out of space on this latter one.


I’m pretty sure I’ve got more German books stashed away in the loft, but for the time being there is sufficient space on these two shelves to house Scandinavian fiction and Peirene Press as well. [Update: just went up to the loft this morning and can tell you there is no more space to house anything. See the picture below this one.]



Japanese literature is housed next to books on Japanese society, culture and religions (which might help you guess what the subject of my Ph.D. was). Once again, I am convinced I have far, far more Japanese books up in the loft (or at my parents’ house in Romania).


As for Romanian books – I had to set up an additional bit of foldable shelving to do it justice, although I also added some authors loosely categorised as ‘East European’ – Milan Kundera, Ivan Klima, Kieslowski (the film director) and Andrzej Stasiuk. The Russians are on the bottom shelf as well, although I am confident there are more of them lurking up in the attic. Apologies for the darkness of the shot, but light conditions were against me.


Then we have the mish-mash shelf: Spanish, South American and some non-Japanese Asians.



After setting up all of these shelves beautifully, I then realised that I don’t  have much space left for the English language fiction, which represents by far the greatest proportion of my books. Sigh! I think I may have too many ‘professional’ books. I love my anthropology books, but I may need another office for the more business-like stuff, so that I can leave this one free for creative pursuits.


There is one more segment of wall against which I could put up additional shelves, but the study will also have to accommodate an armchair-bed for visitors, so I doubt there will be any room left over. If the alternative is no more shelves, then I may have to give visitors my bed and sleep on a mattress in my beloved library.

Or maybe I should copy this brilliant idea of ‘book-hunting’ from Belgium?

In the Spirit of Reunification (of Books)

Yesterday I finally braved the loft again and got down a new set of book boxes. Sadly, quite a few boxes ended up with heavier boxes on top of them during 5 years of storage, so the books are not always in pristine condition. (Fellow booklovers who are equally obsessive about book spines remaining uncreased, corners unturned and therefore hardly ever lending books for fear of damage will understand my dismay!)

Small sample in a dusty bundle...
Small sample in a dusty bundle…
Spread out on the floor...
Spread out on the floor… with a nudge from my bright green slipper

From the English collection: one of the funniest books about anthropologists and one of my favourite Barbara Pym novels; Sylvia Plath’s rite of passage, the Metaphysical poets (which we were not allowed to study at university during Communist times).

From the Austrian collection: the stories of Arthur Schnitzler and Elias Canetti’s first volume of memoirs (given to me as a present by a friend who said it was his favourite book).

From the French collection, a charming coming-of-age story by Colette (perfect summer reading) and a grim childhood memoir by Herve Bazin (required reading in French class, but nevertheless memorable rather than sheer torture).

One of my favourite Romanian poets: Ion Pillat (I don’t think he’s ever been translated) – a lyrical nature-loving poet.

And finally a book that I haven’t read (there aren’t many of those in my loft): Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, because I was translating a Romanian writer at the time who kept referring to Pessoa and was writing in his style.

Here are some excerpts from the Japanese collection against a background of bins:


Ugetsu Monogatari is one of the lesser-known classical works of 18th century Japanese literature. A collection of spooky stories, it is perhaps better known as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. The flowery cover is actually the paper wrapping that you automatically get at the time of purchase in Japanese bookshops for all your paperbacks. It covers Banana Yoshimoto’s Tugumi, which I haven’t looked at since I was a student (and probably won’t be able to read anymore). Finally, we were very excited to read Norwegian Wood with our Japanese professor during our student days, but this is the English language translation. And what a beautiful edition it is too, with its two small volumes encased in a golden box.



Alas, alas, only a small part of the books have descended from the loft and we are already running out of space!



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…


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


… 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).


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


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!

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!