Incoming Books (and Their Sources)

I think you all know by now that I am very weak-willed when it comes to books. I have periods of almost feverish book acquisition, followed by periods of… more moderate consumption. Abstention is rarely, if ever, possible. So I thought it would be interesting (at least for myself, if for no one else) to see what are the reasons for recent acquisitions. What are the drivers for my book choices? Alas, in many cases, I read a review and then rush so quickly over to buy the said book that, by the time the book arrives in the post, I have forgotten just where I first saw it mentioned, but I suspect most of the initial impulse came from Twitter.

Barbara Demick: Her latest book, Eat the Buddha, about life in Tibet under Chinese rule, has been out since summer of 2020, but I only recently came across a review of it in Asia Nikkei. When I heard about her previous books (about North Korea and Sarajevo), I thought she sounded exactly like the kind of anthropologist I wanted to become, delving deeper beneath the headlines but investigating people’s current problems and lives. Perhaps investigative journalists are the anthropologists of today, if they have the luxury of spending time in those communities. So I went on a bit of a spending spree and got all three of her books: Besieged (about Sarajevo), Nothing to Envy (about North Korea) and Eat the Buddha.

Yulia Yaklova: Punishment of a Hunter – I saw Poppy Stimpson, the publicist from Pushkin Press, talk about this one on Twitter (or maybe I saw it on the translator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp’s feed) and was intrigued by the 1930 Stalinist Russia setting in Leningrad (written however by a contemporary Russian writer). So I immediately asked Poppy for an ARC, and she kindly sent me one. I love the Pushkin Vertigo series, as well as a lot of their other publications.

Catherine Fox: Angels and Men – This one comes a little more out of the left field. I was jubilating on Twitter about my older son going off to study at Durham, and one of my friends, Con Martin, who blogs as Staircase Wit, mentioned this book, which is set in a northern cathedral town (obviously Durham). I have only passed through the town twice, once as a tourist, once for university open day, so want to get more of a feel for the place, and what better way to do it than through fiction.

Joy Williams: Breaking and Entering – The American writer Joy Williams has a new book out Harrow, which is all post-apocalyptic and dark. I read some contradictory reviews about it, but I also read that most people thought some of her earlier work was well worth reading, and quite a few raved about this particular one: ‘Two young married drifters break into vacation homes in Florida. Ferocious and perfect.’

Francine Prose: Reading Like a Writer – This is quite a funny story. I had read many enthusiastic reviews and recommendations about this from fellow writers, so much so that I was convinced that I had bought it. I went to search for it on my bookshelves recently and discovered that no, I did not own it. Mad scramble to get hold of a copy, as it has that wonderful approach to ‘writing craft’ that Lucy Caldwell also advises: ‘When you cannot figure out how to do something in writing, read examples from writers who do it well and try and figure out how they make it work. Then develop your own solution.’

H.P. Lovecraft: The Dunwich Horror – To my utter surprise, this was a request from my younger son. He hasn’t been much of a reader in recent years (perhaps GCSE English didn’t help), but he read Orwell’s 1984 over the holidays and then tried The Call of the Cthulhu by Lovecraft and was eager to read more. I found this edition in Waterstones Gower Street, which is snugly and fortuitously placed halfway between my place of work and the Tube station.

Maryla Szymiczkowa: Karolina or The Torn Curtain – I have mentioned this before: as part of Noirwich, I attended the interview with the two (male) Polish authors and their translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and was so intrigued by the concept and the charisma of the authors, that I had to get my own copy.

Ann Quin: Berg – I first heard Quin mentioned on Backlisted podcast, made a note of the name and planned to search for her in the Senate House library. Then I saw several people whom I follow on Twitter also mention her: Charlus Kinbote aka TotheHappyNone recently bought several of her books, David Hering has been doing a Quin readathon in September, and there was a review of about her books being reissued in the Sydney Review of Books.

Not visible on the pile above are the books I downloaded on my Kindle recently. Quite a few of them are because I know the authors in real life and want to follow their latest releases. That is the case for the following:

  • Rebecca J. Bradley: Seconds to Die (Rebecca is the organiser of our Virtual Crime Book Club and I’ve been following her blog and her work for 7-8 years now)
  • Nikki Dudley: Volta – I attended a writing for Mums workshop with Nikki, and she was a wonderfully encouraging tutor for experimental fiction, but this is a bit of a departure for her, as it’s a psychological thriller.
  • Claire Dyer: The Significant Others of Odie May. I met Claire virtually during lockdown, as she is one of the organisers of the Poets’ Cafe in Reading (which went online for a while). I have always appreciated her poetry, but this book is crime fiction.
  • Matt Wesolowski: Deity. I’ve met Matt at several Orenda events or crime festivals, and have read all the books in the Six Stories series, with the exception of this one.

Last but not least, I do try to get books from the library as well. I am currently reading (and very much enjoying) Tokyo Redux by David Peace. I have also requested (and am on the waiting list) for Magpie by Elizabeth Day and hope to read the most recent Louise Penny soon. After spending September binge-reading the Cazalet Chronicles, I wanted to find out more about their author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, so I just borrowed a biography written by Artemis Cooper. The best thing about libraries, however, is the haphazard finds while browsing the shelves, and I came across a book by Freeman Wills Crofts: The Groote Park Murder. A Golden Age crime author who appears in the British Library Crime Classics series (especially in anthologies), he has also been favourably reviewed by trustworthy blogger friends such as Fiction Fan (with one exception), Booker Talk and Classic Mystery Blog.

Clearly, most if not all of my impulsive physical book purchases are a result of recommendations by people whose opinion I trust, i.e. bookish Twitter and blogger friends. Articles in literary journals only serve to reaffirm (and justify) my decision.

I also want to support writer friends and acquaintances, and although I don’t much like Amazon and don’t want to order physical products from them, I know that buying e-books at least helps their Amazon ranking. (I should also make more of a habit of leaving reviews on Amazon, rather than just Goodreads or my blog)

Finally, when it comes to libraries, I can afford to be more adventurous and rely on serendipity, knowing that if I hate a certain book, I can just return it without any fuss or expenditure. Sadly, the local libraries are getting less and less adventurous, with a tendency to spend their limited budget only the sure-fire bestsellers or literary prize winners. Still, I suppose that saves me from having to buy any of those… More money left for the smaller, quieter, quirkier books, authors and publishers.

Plans for August Reading: #WIT and #20BooksofSummer

August is obviously Women in Translation Month, and I’ve been taking part since 2014, which I believe is the year it was initiated by that indefatigable supporter of women writers from all parts of the world, Meytal Radzinski. Last year I had a bit of a Brazilian theme going on; this year, it’s going to be more of a free for all. I cheated a little by starting my reading in July, to comply with Stu’s initiative of #SpanishLitMonth. So I have reviews for Lina Meruane, Margarita Garcia Robayo and Liliana Colanzi. I am still planning to read Ariana Harwicz’s Feebleminded, but I also have a very tempting stack of books by women writers from other countries.

I’ve recently finished Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and also am nearing the end of Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall. There are definite similarities between the two books (middle aged woman living alone, loving animals, philosophising about the world), aside from the fact that I really enjoyed both of them. But I still have to write the reviews. They will also constitute Books 18 and 19 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge.

I have one more book remaining then for the 20 books challenge, and I think it will be Teffi’s Subtly Worded, which has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. After that, I am free to roam wildly, so I may add Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs to the mix, although she wasn’t on my original list of possible summer reads. Then again, I recently bought a couple of Yuko Tsushima books, so I may choose those instead (or additionally). I’ll also dip into Tove Jansson’s letters, but I suspect that, like Virginia Woolf’s diaries, it will be the kind of book that I want to read every day over a long period of time, in small gulps, and ponder over the creative life and what might apply to me.

I’ve also borrowed quite a few books from the library, so will prioritise those, even if they don’t fall into the WIT category.

Polly Sansom’s A Theatre for Dreamers will transport me to the Greek islands, which are very precious to me, although a bit less accessible to me during and after my divorce. The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet and Come Again by Robert Webb look like light-hearted, fun holiday reads. And of course I will continue with my exploration of Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger and The Paying Guests are beckoning, each in their own creepy way. I have also bought the most recent Susie Steiner, which I’ve been awaiting with impatience, so I doubt I’ll be able to resist that one for too long!

If you are looking for inspiration for Women in Translation Month, here are some of my favourites from the past few years, all of them good fun, not too dark:

(This last one is coming out in translation in September via V&Q Books.)

Library Haul for January

I’ve been trying not to borrow too many library books these past few months, since I still have so many unread books on my shelf. But I cannot help but heed the sire call of the Senate House Library just above my workplace… I went in yesterday for just one book and came out with four.

I have the English edition, of course, but isn’t this Romanian cover pretty?

The one I went in for was Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, because this is the first book chosen by Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, who is starting an informal book club in honour of his father, who was ‘a beast of a reader’. Apparently, online booksellers have been inflating the price of this book since he announced his choice, because it is currently out of print. I’ve only ever read biographies by Peter Ackroyd, so this will be my first novel by him.

 

On the shelf above this book I found Leila Aboulela’s The Translator. As if the title alone wasn’t enough to entice me, the blurb says it is the love story between a young Sudanese widow working as an Arabic translator at a British university and a Scottish academic. Intercultural relations and university environment? Count me in! Maybe I really am an old Romantic after all.

On my way out, I then stumbled into the French literature section, as one does. I had to check quickly to see if Marie Darrieussecq‘s latest was available, as one of my writer friends recommended it, but instead I came across an early one, My Phantom Husband. The first paragraph proved to be irresistible:

My husband’s disappeared. He got in from work, propped his briefcase against the wall and asked me if I’d bought any bread. It must have been around half past seven.

Of course I had to get the original French version Naissance des fantĂ´mes as well, to compare and contrast the two. It has been a while since I’ve done that – the last book I read simultaneously in two languages was by Maylis de Kerangal and I really enjoyed that experience.

See what I mean about the joy of open shelf libraries and serendipity?

 

Showcase Sunday: Book Haul

BooksMay18

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by omnivorous book blogger Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. The aim of this event is to showcase the latest precious hoard of books we received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders this week. It’s fun to see what others are reading (or adding to their TBR pile) as well. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, click here.  

 

A relatively quiet week, without too many extravagant purchases (perhaps because my Internet was down for 30 hours and I had only one trip to the library).

 

Paperbacks:

1) Bought for my children, but since we now have a cat of our own, I too adore the manga series about the cute kitten Chi by Konami Kanata.

2) Sam Alexander is the pseudonym for a highly-regarded crime novelist. I wish I didn’t know that, as now I’ll be searching for clues for his/her identity instead of just enjoying the book. Described as ‘crime noir at its darkest and most terrifying’, Arcadia Books sent me a review copy of this. Set in the Northern English borderlands and replete with Albanian mafia and sex crimes, I think I will need a strong stomach and plenty of sunlight to embark on this one.

3) Finally, a book by Romanian writer Marius Daniel Popescu, who emigrated to Switzerland in 1990. After working for many years as a bus driver, he finally gained recognition for his poetry and novels (written in French). This novel about the immigrant experience and life under Communist dictatorship in Romania won the Robert Walser Prize in 2008. I bought this book after hearing about the author at the Salon du Livre in Geneva.

Ebook:

4) After reading an interview with the author, I was eager to get my hands on Miriam Toews’ book ‘All My Puny Sorrows’, a novel with some autobiographical details, about two sisters, one of whom suffers from depression. According to Faber & Faber, this book ‘offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities.’

Library Haul:

Of course I shouldn’t have, what with a billion books waiting for me back home… but, as the librarian said, ‘Who can resist?’

Taniguchi5) Jiro Taniguchi: A Distant Neighbourhood

This too is a Japanese manga, but this time for adults. Middle-aged salaryman Hiroshi Nakahara accidentally takes a train ride back to his old hometown to visit his mother’s grave. For reasons he can’t explain, he is then transported back in time, and discovers that he’s an 8th grader again, but with all of his adult memories intact. A clear-eyed, only half nostalgic look at Japan in the days before the bubble and the bust. Also asking if we can ever influence or change the past.

 

6) Katherine Pancol: Les Yeux jaunes des crocodiles

yeuxjaunesI’ve heard so much about this book, the first in a best-selling trilogy about two sisters who are polar opposites. I like the premise of one sister writing a novel and the other getting all the credit for it. It has been translated into English as ‘The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles’ and a film starring Emanuelle Beart (as Iris) and Julie Depardieu (as Josephine) has just come out in France in April.

 

So that’s my news for this week! Thank you to Vicky for introducing me to this fun meme, and I look forward to seeing what other people have bought/borrowed/read.

 

 

Books, Biscuits, and Tea