#AtoZofBooks – Favourites and Forgotten Books

Simon Thomas from Stuck in a Book started a trend on Twitter a few days ago with an A-Z of favourite books: an author for every letter of the alphabet.

Oh HI book twitter!

I’ve decided I’m going to share 26 brilliant books – an author for every letter of the alphabet. It’ll be a gradual thread. It’ll be fun.

Share your own #AToZofBooks!— Simon Thomas (@stuck_inabook) May 22, 2019

This is such a lovely idea, that I wanted to emulate it on my blog – although I will no doubt curse the thought once I reach X or Z.

A: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, of course, one of the most perfect novels ever written.

B: Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal influenced me hugely in my teens and was probably the catalyst that provoked my own outburst of poetry at that age. I can still recite some of the poems by heart.

C: Another poet, Cavafy, whose collected poems I discovered much later, when I fell in love with a Greek man in my 20s. He had been forced to study Ithaka at school, and moaned about it, but I thought it was a fantastic poem and wanted to read more. The Greek man has since disappeared from my life (well, nearly… any day now… he’s a bit like Theresa May) but the love for Cavafy has remained. I have about 5 different translations of his work and can just about read the original Greek as well.

D: Dazai Osamu – I love all of the books by this nice ‘cheery’ Japanese author, but I have a soft spot for the first one I ever read by him: a collection of short stories which have been translated into English as Run, Melos! and Other Stories. The story from Judas’ point of view impressed me so much that I made my first attempt there and then at translating from Japanese.

E: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone impressed me very much when I read it at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe.

F: Benjamin Fondane is Romanian-Jewish poet, translator, literary critic and essayist, who wrote in both French and Romanian and sadly was exterminated in Birkenau in 1944 at the age of just 46. His poetry collection Privelisti (Landscapes) is my choice here.

G: A masterpiece of satire and absurdity, the short story The Nose by Nikolai Gogol.

H: A surfeit of good authors with H, but I think I’ll choose the witty (yet gentle) indictment of UN bureaucrats in Shirley Hazzard’s People in Glass Houses.

I: Who else but Eugene Ionesco, my fellow countryman? And because I love anything to do with language learning and the dangers of miscommunication, I choose The Bald Soprano.

J: Shirley Jackson has long been a favourite of mine, mainly on the basis of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is one of the most chilling yet perfect novellas ever written.

K: Franz Kafka’s Das Schloss (The Castle) – the author was never in doubt, although it’s hard to choose between this, Metamorphosis and The Trial.

L: C. S. Lewis: The Silver Chair – the Narnia chronicles provided me with many, many hours of joy in my childhood, and this one was perhaps my favourite of the lot, because I could relate to Jill and thought Puddleglum was hilarious.

M: Murakami Haruki’s Kafka on the Shore is probably my favourite novel of his, and not just because it features lots of cats.

N: Gellu Naum was a Romanian surrealist poet, but he is best known for his delightful children’s book about the little penguin Apolodor who is trying to find his relatives in Labrador.

O: On my first (and so far only) visit to Canada, I discovered Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals and have been smitten with this author ever since.

P: I could go for obvious choice Proust, but I will opt instead for Barbara Pym. Less than Angels may not be her best-known or most accomplished novel, but she pokes fun at anthropologists in it and I just cannot resist that!

Q: A tricky letter, as you might imagine, but not when you have a favourite called Zazie dans le metro by Raymond Queneau.

R: Which one of Jean Rhys‘ haunting novels to choose? In the end, perhaps After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is the most quietly devastating one.

S: Antoine de Sainte-Exupery’s The Little Prince will forever be one of my favourite books, sorry, cannot be objective about it at all, cry like a leaky faucet whenever I read it.

T: A slight cheating going on here, but I want to make sure that Tove Jansson gets a mention, as she is one of my most favourite writers ever. Plus the title of this book of hers starts with a T too: The True Deceiver.

U: Another avant-garde Romanian poet (we seem to be good at writing about absurdity, perhaps our history has taught us to see the surreal comedy and oxymorons in daily life) is Urmuz, considered a forerunner of Dadaism. His works (short prose and poetry) have been translated into English, if you are curious.

V: Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo gets a few things wrong, so the Colombian storyteller who inspired him decides to tell his own version of events. Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Secret History of Costaguana is a lively rewriting of literary history and Latin America’s riposte to Europe’s limiting vision of their continent.

W: I’m sure you all expect me to choose Virginia Woolf, but I will confound you by going for Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, which I read while visiting Granada as a child and had a lasting effect on me (again, very slightly cheating).

X: I love Qiu Xiaolong‘s Chief Inspector Chen series, set in a rapidly changing Shanghai in the 1990s, starting with Death of a Red Heroine.

Y: Very tempted to choose Richard Yates here, but instead I will mention Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, which should be far better known in the English-speaking world.

Z: Émile Zola is currently very much top of my thoughts, but it’s not The Debacle that I will be referring to here, nor Nana or Germinal, his best-known works, but the novel which supposedly brought about the end of his friendship with Cezanne, L’Oeuvre (The Work of Art), in which he somewhat satirizes the Bohemian art world in Paris at the time.

6 Degrees of Separation – August 2017

Well, how could I resist when the link this month starts with Pride and Prejudice? This is a lovely bookish idea of free-associating books based upon one common initial link, as featured here by Kate. She even has board games based on Jane Austen characters – I am SO envious!

 

  1. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and in my 20s used to reread all of her novels every year. My favourite, however, is Persuasion, which I reread recently and which did not disappoint me
  2. Rupert Penry Jones played Captain Wentworth in the TV adaptation of Persuasion (which I haven’t watched), but I have watched him playing Richard Hannay in a new TV film version of The 39 Steps by John Buchan. This is the only book by Buchan that I have read, although apparently he was a very popular spy thriller writer back in the 1920s/30s, as well as a politician. So I can’t help wondering how much of his intimate knowledge of political manoeuvring found its way into his books!

 

 

 

 

  1. Another politician turned writer was Benjamin Disraeli. He was that unusual combination, a Conservative who actually cared about the poor, and in his most famous novel Sybil or The Two Nations, he shows the plight of the working classes being exploited by greedy industrialists.
  2. A little later, in the States, John Dos Passos also worried about the direction that US economy and politics were taking in the 1930s. In the last volume of his USA trilogy, The Big Money, he shows how both the American Dream and the Communist ideal are false, that only the unscrupulous succeed, while most are destroyed and crushed by wild capitalism.
  3. Boris Pasternak also initially believed in the Communist ideals, but soon grew disenchanted. Although his poetry and translations were initially very popular under the new regime, he became a persona non grata and only narrowly escaped the Stalinist purges. His best-known work Doctor Zhivago was not published in Russia until after his death and he was forced to turn down the Nobel Literature Prize. The novel is first and foremost a love story against the backdrop of the October revolution and the ensuing civil war, so it is surprising to me that it was banned at all. But the depiction of the civil war did not follow the official party line, I suppose.
  4. A big skip in time and geography for my last book, which was also initially banned in the author’s own country (not for political reasons, but for its explicit sexual content). It’s The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien, about two convent-educated girls learning to make their way in life in the repressive 1950s Irish society.

 

My journey has taken me throughout England in the early and mid 19th century, as well as the early 20th century, to the United States, Ireland and Russia. Apologies, but somehow the light-hearted Pride and Prejudice took me to some very dark places and associations. I will try to be more light-hearted next time I take part!

 

The Month That Was July 2017

You can tell it’s holiday season, as my reading has slipped into crime more often than not. Out of the 11 books I read this past month, 8 have been crime-related and only 4 of those were for reviewing purposes. Sadly, only two books were in translation, although this was not a deliberate decision. The gender ratio is somewhat better with 6 1/2 female authors (one half of Nicci French).

Crime fiction

Nicci French: Saturday Requiem – a moving entry to the series, as Frieda Klein’s compassion comes to the fore, rather than just her stubbornness and recklessness

Paula Lennon: Murder in Montego Bay  – for fans of Death in Paradise, but showing a grittier view of Jamaican island life

LV Hay: The Other Twin – life, death, gender issues and social media in Brighton

Mary Angela: Passport to Murder – cosy campus crime, review to follow soon on CFL

Robert B. Parker: Bad Business – not the best in the Spenser series, this story of adultery and business interests is nevertheless full of the trademark humour and sharp wit

Helen Cadbury: Bones in the Nest – I will be forever sorry that this series will not run for longer, as Sean Denton is such an endearing hero. In this book his POV is matched by another compelling character, the hapless Chloe, recently released from prison.

Sandrone Dazieri: Kill the Father, transl. Antony Shugaar – not for those of a squeamish disposition, since it deals with child kidnapping, yet it manages to refrain from all too graphic descriptions of that. A wowser of a thriller, with two complex and entertaining main characters, who are a delight when they interact with each other and with other members of the police in passionate Italian fashion. Review coming soon to CFL. But shame on Simon & Schuster for not naming the translator on either the cover or the title page!

Emmanuel Carrère: The Adversary, transl. Linda Coverdale – reread this in English translation for CFL, as it has recently been reissued. I hope that means that other translations of works by this author are forthcoming, as he is interesting both as a fiction and non-fiction writer. I have a personal interest in this story, of course, as I lived for five years in the area where this tragedy took place.

Other Reading:

Jane Austen: Persuasion – still my favourite Jane Austen novel, it is sweet, mature, restrained and so precise in its description of near hopelessness

Anthony Cartwright: The Cut

Naomi Alderman: The Power – great premise, enjoyable and thought-provoking read, but slightly too long and too much jumping around from one point of view to the other. The ending also felt a bit of a cop-out.

Undoubtedly, my (re)read of the month was Persuasion – there can be no competition! Meanwhile, my favourite crime read (if I take aside The Adversary, which was a reread) was probably Bones in the Nest.

Plans for August

I do want to take part in #WIT – Women in Translation Month, and have all the Japanese novellas lined up for that purpose, as well as Romanian author Ileana Vulpescu. However, I also want to catch up with #EU27Project, which I have shamefully neglected. And, of course, write and edit, which I haven’t been able to do much this past month. Let’s see how it goes!

Another Little Book Splurge

Repeat after me: summertime, and the living is easy… And, if it is not, we like to pretend it is. What better way to do so than with some new books? All recommended by online or writing friends.

  1. After rereading Persuasion, Janet Emson decided to give Mansfield Park another go, which made me want to reread all the Austen novels, as I used to do once a year in my so-called less busy 20s (when I was juggling three jobs at at a time). So the perfect excuse to acquire these pretty new Vintage Classics editions of my two least favourite Jane Austen novels, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. (I still like them a lot and these editions will make me like them more.)
  2. Rebecca Watts: The Met Office Advises Caution grabbed my attention on Kaggsy’s blog. A debut collection of poetry which combines observations of nature, wit, science and human drama.
  3. Meena Kandasamy: When I Hit You or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife caught my eye in this smart review, A List of People Who Should Read this book. I want to learn more about present-day India and anything about the struggle between marriage and art is bound to attract me…
  4. Rae Armantrout: Entanglements is a tiny volume of poetry, but it’s apparently described as making poetry of physics. I did at one point want to study physics and most of my physicist friends (other than my husband) are also very fond of poetry. There seems to be a hidden connection there (as with maths and music). Furthermore, at our poetry masterclass, Laura Kasischke said that my poetry reminded her of Rae Armantrout’s (whom I have never read).
  5. Charles Forsdick & Christian Hogsbjerg: Toussaint Louverture – A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions. This book was mentioned on the Repeating Islands website, which focuses on Caribbean art, culture, history and literature. The Haitian slave who became a military leader and governor, led the only successful slave revolt in history and founded the first free colonial society which explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking is a fascinating character. I had heard of him from my Haitian salsa teacher in France. After a year or two of having mainly girls as a partner, I gave up on salsa but I was impressed by the dancing skills and revolutionary spirit of my teacher (although he was less impressed with Voltaire than me).

WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 12th July 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:

Two easy-going crime fiction books, to keep me motivated in my job hunt as the summer holidays beckon. The first is Robert B. Parker’s Bad Business, inspired by a great analysis of the Spenser series at the Captivating Criminality conference I attended. The second is a cosy mystery for review on Crime Fiction Lover, a nice change of pace: Mary Angela’s Passport to Murder. A campus mystery combined with a failed attempt to visit France.

 

 

 

Finished:

You’ll have seen the review of The Cut by Anthony Cartwright yesterday. This was commissioned as a Brexit novel, but it goes beyond a single issue. It is in fact the portrait of a divided country and a battle of the classes and regions which fail to understand or even listen to each other. My other great pleasure this past week or two has been to reread one of my favourite novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion. No matter how many times I read it, I always find something new to admire. The control of language and emotions is so admirable! I did a mini-readalong with Janet Emson and Laura Patricia Rose, tweeting favourite phrases and observations as we went along. Great fun, highly recommended way of reading old favourites!

 

 

 

 

Next:

I’ve just borrowed a pile of books from the library that I should be working my way through, and I also planned to contribute to Spanish Reading Month. But I craved something angry and combative instead, so here are my predictions for upcoming reads. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power

Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: Hotel Europa (transl. by Patrick Camiller)

The author-narrator, a sarcastic Romanian émigré with a French wife, tells with great insight and humor the story of a young student’s life and education as he passes from post-Ceausescu Romania through an unwelcoming Western Europe beset with dangerous problems of its own.