All of us readers are on the look-out for that perfect comfy chair where you can have plenty of books within easy reach, and perhaps a place to put a snack, a coffee, a glass of wine, a bookmark or notebook. None of the ones I’ve found so far quite answer all of my needs.
So, in the end, the best solution is clearly a window seat which combines comfort with storage and pretty views.
I’ve just returned from a few weeks of travelling and working, but have also basked in some restful and productive moments. More about that anon, in my next few posts this coming week. [With lots of pictures. Here’s just one to whet your appetite…]
But for now, let’s see what my reading has been like in this tumultuous and busy month of October. At first, things didn’t go well, and very little reading got done. As for reviewing – foggedaboutit! But it ended in a warm glow of poetry. And I’ve reached my Goodreads annual target of 140 books, with 2 more months to go, so I will almost certainly get to over 150 now.
Reading for Reviews
Gilly Macmillan: The Perfect Girl – Keen to read this, as I enjoyed the debut novel by this author Burnt Paper Sky. Sadly, this one did not quite live up to the promise of the first one – and my review has still not been written for CFL.
Jeffrey Siger: Santorini Caesars – review to follow on CFL
Reading for Projects/Challenges
Anna Katharina Hahn: Kürzere Tage (Shorter Days) and Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant (The Tobacconist) for German Lit Month in November. Was not impressed by one and loved the other, but which is which? You’ll have to wait and see…
Andrea Camilleri: The Age of Doubt – am rereading Camilleri (and reading those books in the series which I missed the first time round) for a feature article on his Montalbano series
Zygmunt Miloszewski: Rage (transl. Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children
I hope to write a longer review for Signs for Lost Children and perhaps a shared post for Rage and Magpie Murders. But then, I am still behind on Romain Gary, so my promises are not that reliable at the moment. As for AD Miller: Snowdrops – DNF – cannot bear to read anymore about Western male fantasies about manipulative but sexy Russian women.
I was lucky enough to spend five days in the house of a poet and artist, and was bathed in beautiful words and images.
The two volumes below I travelled with myself, but there were plenty of other poetry books there, so I will devote a separate post (or two or three) to that.
Tiphanie Yanique: Wife
Vahni Capildeo: Measures of Expatriation
So 11 books (not counting the additional poetry) and a reasonably balanced month: 4 foreign language books, 2 poetry, 5 crime, 5 by men and 6 by women.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
You Amazon, you Gloria, you Swiss army knife of a woman.
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).
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.
Let’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!
As 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.
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…
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?
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!)
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!