Mood-Boosting Books in the Library

A couple of years ago I discovered that there is a trend now to promote ‘mood-boosting books’ in our local libraries (and perhaps nationally). Perhaps this is to counteract the trauma caused by the daily, weekly, monthly news cycle, or perhaps it’s a bread and circuses distraction so that the population stays calm and carries on. Whatever the reason behind it, it was something I welcomed, even as an inveterate and unrepentant reader of noir literature.

However, the selection is somewhat controversial, to say the least. No disrespect to the librarians who made the selection from what were probably limited resources, but I cannot resist suggesting some alternatives to the more blatant discrepancies between stated purpose and actual effect on the reader.

Completely gratuitous image of Aidan Turner as Poldark – and no, not the torso…

The choice of the Poldark series may have more to do with the phwoar appeal of Aidan Turner’s torso than with the actual storyline, which is often full of cruelty, grim poverty and sadness. If you were aiming for a family saga in which you can sink in, forgetting about your own worries for a minute, then I would recommend Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance or the Jalna series by Mazo de la Roche.

I recently borrowed The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, which was also on that mood-boosting shelf, expecting a book about a cat adopting a youngish couple to be charming and tender. Well, yes it was, but also rather wistful and sad, connected to the end of an era (Showa) and perhaps an end of a certain way of life in Japan. For a cheerier account of cats as saviours, try A Streetcat Named Bob or The Good, the Bad and the Furry. And if you want a satire of a changing Japan, then Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat is a classic.

Portrait of Natsume Soseki with his cat, by Okamoto Ippei.

I’ve laughed before how Alice Munro was mysteriously shelved under Happiness with her stark and unflinching short stories. I could say the same about The Miniaturist, or Chekhov’s short stories, or Louis Sachar’s Holes or A Month in the Country or even The Camomile Lawn. I suppose the idea is to read something about triumph in the face of adversity, but some of the titles seem to wilfully misinterpret what could make people happy. Maybe reading about other people’s suffering makes us more content with our own life?

There are, of course, some excellent choices that I cannot help but agree with: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the irrepressible Adrian Mole, The Enchanted April, Matt Haig’s The Humans and even Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (aka These Foolish Things, although I have problems at times with the ‘white tourists going to exotic locations and poking gentle fun at them’.

What other books would you recommend to people who need escapism or cheering up? Top of my list would be Pippi Longstocking, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt, Paul Berna’s A Hundred Million Francs. What would be top of your list?

Reading and Reviewing Summary 13/08/18

This is a continuation of yesterday’s weekly summary, which was threatening to become far too long. I’ve been trying to curb my book buying, but I cannot quite boast of unalloyed success in this matter. I have borrowed more from the library as well. Netgalley has also reared its ugly (I mean beautiful, tempting) head, although my feedback ratio is still only 60%.

Sent for review:

Jean-Claude Izzo: Chourmo

This was my introduction to Izzo and remains my favourite of his Marseille trilogy. Something which really shouts out in all its dark, joyous, dirty, tasty, messy glory ‘Mediterranean noir’. I have it in the French original edition and now I have it in a rather beautiful reissued edition from Europa. And it reminds me that I need to have a holiday in Marseille and Provence with my boys soon.

Books bought:

Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf started an extremely valuable thread about Malaysian writers on Twitter (and this is where Twitter’s power for the good is evident). You can catch the whole thread on her website. It inspired me to order at least a couple of the books she mentioned, as this is a part of the world I know very little about. I bought Preeta Samarasan’s Evening Is the Whole Day, a family saga in gorgeous prose, and Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain, with its links to Japan and the Second World War. Both are chunky books, which should keep me busy for a while. I also finally gave in and got myself another translation of The Brothers Karamazov, so this will be the fifth summer in which I attempt to read it…

Library loans:

Keeping in trend with the #WITMonth, I borrowed Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt’s Dead Joker (transl. Anne Bruce). Hanne Wilhelmsen is grumpy and exasperating at times, but ahead of the field in so many ways. I’m not going to have time to write a separate review of this book, but I read it in 2 days. Suffice it to say that it’s one of those ‘impossible’ crimes committed by a dead person, and that Hanne’s personal life also takes a turn for the worse.

I also got two very different books, one for a quick read and one because I admire the author’s willingness to experiment: Eva Ibbotson’s A Song for Summer (bonus: location of Austria) and Nicola Barker’s Happy, which is a triumph of typography and graphic publishing.

Netgalley:

I couldn’t resist the Swiss mountaintop hotel location and the And Then There Were None plot similarities, so I downloaded Hanna Jameson’s The Last. The other novel I downloaded is also kind of apocalyptical, but fits in perhaps better with my fascination for ‘dictatorship literature’: The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke, one of the foremost contemporary Chinese writers.

Reviews:

I have reviewed three books for #WITMonth already, which is a proud achievement in just over a third of the month. Two are on my blog: the dark Norwegian tale of descent into mental hell Zero and a Brazilian attempt to reconstruct memories and reconcile oneself with the past I Didn’t Talk. The third review is of Teresa Solana’s irreverent and utterly zany collection of short stories The First Prehistoric Serial Killer on Crime Fiction Lover.

#WITMonth

I still need to review Lucy Fricke, but I have three more books lined up for Women in Translation, so am doing better than I had hoped (I think I planned about 5 overall for the month of August, and now it looks like I might have 8). I’m in the midst of Tsvetaeva’s diary, and will embark soon upon Trap by Lilja Sigurdardottir and Veronique Olmi  La Nuit en vérité (untranslated).

 

Reading, Borrowing and Buying Update

You might think that after my splurge last week at Hay on Wye, I would be more careful about buying books. Well, you would think wrong, although that’s only because I received an Amazon voucher which made Homer’s Odyssey in the translation of Emily Wilson affordable (I’d been waiting for it to come out in paperback but was really, really keen to read it.) And, once that purchase was made, the dam was broken and a lot more books starting gushing out.

You may have seen Salt Publishing’s appeal on Twitter #JustOneBook, asking their fans to buy just one book from them as they were on the brink of bankruptcy. Now, however you feel about their sudden closure of their poetry section (I have a few poet friends who were upset about the way they did it), I still want independent publishers to survive, as they are the ones who give us that much-needed variety and more experimental works. So I bought The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce – anything but cheery. Then that pesky Anthony from Times Flow Stemmed mentioned Jane Bowles, so I had to track down a second-hand copy of Two Serious Ladies. I also happened to pop into the vintage Penguin section of Waterstones Gower Street and found one of my favourite Ngaio Marshes Artists in Crime, plus The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson. This latter author had been mentioned and reviewed recently by Ali, and you know what a weakling I am when it comes to your recommendations.

Other books arrived by prior appointment. Asymptote Book Club’s May offer was Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan from China – I’m a great fan of both Chinese literature and families (and bean paste, although I prefer it in my desserts usually), so this is a must-read-next. For review, I received a Greek book (perfect description of the surreal post-crisis Athens and homeless lifestyle) Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis from Bitter Lemon Press. By way of contrast, I also received a noir novel set in rural Lancashire, Mere by Carol Fenlon, from Thunderpoint Publishing. In electronic format I received two jet-setter books (crime with an international setting) Return to Hiroshima by Belgian author Bob van Laerhoven and Dead in the Water by Simon Bower. Last but by no means least, I couldn’t resist getting Roxanne Bouchard’s We were the Salt of the Sea, because: Quebec, Orenda Books, special offer on Kindle!

In terms of borrowing, I’ve reserved Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire and Elif Batuman’s The Idiot at my local library, but will only get to read them after the Women’s Prize for Fiction winner has been announced.

And for my #20booksofsummer update, I’ve taken just 2 days to read the delightfully sunny Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by German author (of Italian origin) Mario Giordano. It’s like an expat version of Camilleri’s Montalbano, but with a feisty middle-aged woman as the main protagonist. 1 down, 19 to go! Next one I am already halfway through is The Single Mums’ Mansion, which I thought would also be lovely comedic escapism. But alas, it’s a little too much about divorce and bad behaviours, so may not be the best escapism in my current situation!

Incoming Books – Week of 16-22 October

My iron willpower may not match that of the legendary Fiction Fan, but I have tried to limit my spending on books, since I realised that my income is now a stable monthly affair, and cannot be supplemented by a few extra days of work.

So this week most of the books I’ve acquired have been sent for review or borrowed from the library. So there, ye doubters! I did have one momentary lapse of reason when I entered that fatal Waterstone’s near work and found their second-hand vintage Penguin section. I spent many a happy minute (hour?) in the sea of orange and emerged victorious with High Rising by Angela Thirkell. I’ve never read anything by this author, who was very popular in the 1930s/40s, but this book in particular has been discussed by several bloggers whose opinion I value, including Jacqui, Heaven Ali and Booker Talk (the last not very complimentary).

Plus, you can see why the premise of a single mother trying to make a living as a novelist in order to educate her sons might appeal to me…

Although I’m trying to pretend Christmas is still miles away, I was sent a Christmas anthology Murder on Christmas Eve by Profile Books. Classic Christmas-themed mysteries always make for popular presents for booklovers whose tastes you don’t quite know, so this should do a roaring trade. It includes stories by Ian Rankin, Ellis Peters, G. K. Chesterton, Val McDermid, Margery Allingham and many more. And you can’t fault the cover either for what it promises!

One I received this week and have already read (gasp! yes, I am occasionally speedy!) was Jenny Quintana’s The Missing GirlI was very touched by the fact that Emma Draude, the publicist for the book, actually sent me her own personal copy, as she had just run out of preview copies. So it’s a much-loved proof! And I found it very compelling – although perhaps the label of crime fiction does it an injustice. This is not the kind of book which you read for unfathomable twists (in fact, I figured out what was going on pretty early on). Instead, I enjoyed it for the pitch-perfect evocation of the 1980s, excellent writing and the psychological depth of sisterly love, family secrets and the lonely surliness of growing up.

My local library finally found a book I had reserved as soon as I heard that Kazuo Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize, namely The Unconsoledone of the few which I haven’t read. I can feel another bout of Artist of the Floating World coming along, that is my favourite book by him, probably because of the obvious Japanese connection.

Last but not least, I ‘happened’ to pass by the Senate House Library at lunchtime and got lost in the Latin American section. I couldn’t resist Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, translated by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger. A Mexican take on the Romanian Vlad the Impaler? Yes, please! In this book, Vlad is upset by the shortage of blood in modern-day Eastern Europe and is looking for a new place to establish his kingdom. What country or city on earth could offer him a lot of people crowded in one place, where a few human disappearances wouldn’t even be noticed? Well, Mexico City, of course! And so begins this satire of the Mexican bourgeoisie…

I notice that, by some strange coincidence, all of the cover pictures above seem to be going for the monochrome look tinged with red. Luckily, the bright orange Penguin spoils that sober elegance!

So what lovely reads have you begged, borrowed, stolen or bought this week? Do tempt me if you can…

The Last of the Holiday Reading – August 2017

September is still full of ‘back to school’ vibes for me, not just because of the children. I always make my resolutions at the start of September and look back on my holiday thoughts and reading, even if I don’t always have a holiday in summer.

It’s hard to estimate how many books I read in August, because for the last week I’ve been diving into endless amounts of poetry books and some slim Japanese novellas which I am not counting as full-sized books. Aside from that, however, I’ve read 12: 3 for #WITMonth, 3 other translations or foreign language books, 4 review books and 2 library books. 7 books were by women, 5 by men. One thing is clear: I have had the privilege of reading some outstanding and memorable books this past month.

Women in Translation

Elena Varvello: Can You Hear Me? – coming of age, spooky atmosphere, spare prose style, participant in #EU27Project

Svetlana Alexievich: The Unwomanly Face of War – gripping, heartbreaking, unforgettable

Ileana Vulpescu: Arta compromisului – trying too hard, too polemical and cerebral

Other Translations

Pascal Garnier: Low Heights – one of his more attractive offerings, mordantly funny in parts

Dumitru Tsepeneag: Hotel Europa – ambitious, interesting concept, not quite right in execution

Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet – a book to brood over for the rest of my life, entry to the #EU27Project

Reviews or Features

Lin Anderson: Follow the Dead – mountain climbing, blizzards and North Sea Oil – very atmospheric

Chris Whitaker: All the Wicked Girls – judicious combination of laughter, tension and tears set in small-town Alabama

Attica Locke: Bluebird Bluebird – more personal less political, but simmering with racial tension, review to come on Crime Fiction Lover

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle – disturbing classic to be featured on Crime Fiction Lover

Library Books

Winifred Watson: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – joyful and elegant like a Fred Astaire dance

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West – great premise but a bit disappointing in execution

 

 

Friday Fun: Conservatories

It’s a peculiarly English thing (perhaps because of the unreliable summers?). I don’t think I’ve seen that many conservatories or winter gardens or orangeries in any other country. While waiting for my conservatory to miraculously transform into the perfect reading nook with plants, here are some I admire.

From DesignRulz.
From DesignRulz. I do like the classic café design of the floor tiles.

For the more ambitious and well-moneyed (and bookless), from Crystal Living.
For the more ambitious and well-moneyed (and bookless), from Crystal Living.

More of a bookworm's path to the terrace than a full-blown conservatory, from Eclectic Sunroom.
More of a bookworm’s path to the terrace than a full-blown conservatory, from Eclectic Sunroom.

For those with a very large collection of books, from Message Note.
For those with a very large collection of books, from Message Note.

For the romantic vintage-lovers, from Pinterest.
For the romantic vintage-lovers, from Pinterest.

For more modest ambitions, from lowcostconservatory.com
For more modest , lean-to ambitions, from lowcostconservatory.com

Mark Twain clearly knew a thing or two about conservatories and libraries: he combined the two in his house. From Architecture Today.
Mark Twain clearly knew a thing or two about conservatories and libraries: he combined the two in his house.

A view of Twain's library and conservatory from further away. From About Architecture.
A view of Twain’s library and conservatory from further away. From About Architecture.

 

Is It Time for Castles Yet?

Not for me a timid manor-house, a larger-than-average barn:

Towers, sculptures, crenellations are things I yearn.

A place where my imagination and I can gallop unfettered,

where no one has tethered my quiver so impatient.

Castles in Spain? Pah! I scorn!

It’s the chateaux in France that I adore!

 

It’s Friday, it’s been a crazy week, so I felt like having a silly little ditty to accompany the pictures below. I am also responding to the prompt over at dVerse Poets, where we are asked to experiment with slant rhymes: the ones that sound nearly but not quite right, and are so much more interesting than perfection!

Chateau in Angers, www.affinityprestige.ch
Chateau in Angers, http://www.affinityprestige.ch

Chateau in Angouleme, avendrealouer.fr
Chateau in Angouleme, avendrealouer.fr

Chateau near Blois, www.maisons-et-chateaux.com
Chateau near Blois, http://www.maisons-et-chateaux.com

Chateau near Limousin, bellesdemeures.com
Chateau near Limousin, bellesdemeures.com

They probably have libraries already, but just in case you are looking for the perfect one… (I may have posted this picture before, but it’s just the most romantic chateau library I have ever seen).

Chateau de Groussay, from bookmania.me
Chateau de Groussay, from bookmania.me