Summary of Reading October 2017 and Plans for November

Well, would you believe it how October galloped away with me! I only read 7 books, in spite of commuting and its inherent delaying tactics. That is perhaps the lowest number since I started recording my reading on the blog and on Goodreads – and probably reflective of starting two new jobs at the same time and also having children on holiday for part of the month.

Out of the 7 I managed to finish, I have to admit that the vast majority were crime novels (5), while the remaining two had criminal elements and themes. Humph – this doesn’t bode well for any railway professionals who might have the temerity to ask for my opinion about their services, especially given the high cost of commuting. 4 books by women, 3 by men, 2 in translation.

Julie T. Wallace as the She-Devil in the BBC adaptation of the book. Ignore the American film, which is terrible.

October Reads

Eva Dolan: This Is How It Ends -standalone from one of my favourite new writers

Lloyd Otis: Deadlands – debut novel about a serial killer in 1970s London, no review forthcoming but an interview with the author will be up on Crime Fiction Lover shortly

Adrian Magson: Rocco and the Nightingale – delighted to finally have a new book in this series set in 1960s rural Picardie, review to come on CFL

Jenny Quintana: The Missing Girl – less thriller, more a carefully nuanced coming of age story, with beautifully observed sibling rivalry and collusion

Peter Høeg: The Susan Effect – an entertaining enough premise – having the ability to make people open up to you and tell you their life stories (I seem to have that to a certain extent, but of course this is exaggerated in the book), but the conspiracy theory and the ending gets a bit silly

Ariana Harwicz: Die, My Love – upsetting insight into a disturbed mind, full of pain and depression, very emotional and riveting

Fay Weldon: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – a quick reread to cheer on this subversive fantasy revenge story

November Plans

The #1968Club is taking place this week and I intend to (re)read The Wizard of Earthsea, which was published in that year and which meant the world to me when I was a child.

I need to write and update the #EU27Project – must finish it before Brexit is finalised… and I seem to be as slow and muddled about it as our beloved negotiators! But at least I have better and less selfish intentions than them, or so I believe.

I am also ploughing on through two mammoth reads: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Miklos Banffy’s They Were Counted. They might take me all month or even last until the end of 2017.

Fingers crossed, I might be able to attend a masterclass with the wonderful Scottish writer and poet Kathleen Jamie in Geneva this coming month (I have applied but have to wait to see if I’ve been accepted). So I am planning to indulge in some of her work, especially poetry

Last, but not least, I have two Nordic literary events coming up (which will probably mean more books added to my groaning shelves). The first of these is the launch of the book Love/War by Swedish writer Ebba Witt-Brattström by Nordisk Books. Described as a feminist story which allows women ‘to see through male dominant behaviour’, and based on the author’s own bitter divorce, how could I resist it? The second launch is the by-now-legendary Orenda Books and Ragnar Jonasson’s latest novel in the Dark Iceland series Whiteout.

 

What I Really Read on the Beach – Summer Reads

There was quite a bit of uproar on Twitter about the extremely worthy and ever-so-slightly pretentious beach reading promoted by The Guardian. Why can’t people admit that they crave chick lit or the latest Harlan Coben instead? They don’t have to be trashy airport novels (although most recently I’ve noticed a vast improvement in terms of variety being offered at airports), but they have to be able to withstand great heat, sun cream, the odd splash of water, and fried holiday brain. Can your expensive hardback of Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, written by John Banville, with beautiful photography by Paul Joyce, withstand that? Perhaps one to buy and keep at home as a coffee table book, rather than shlepp to distant beaches…

Of course, I won’t actually be going to any beach this summer, but I hope to get a few nice days of sitting in my deck chair in the garden and worrying about nothing else but reading. And I readily admit that I look forward to a nice dose of escapism to mix in with my literary education. So this is what I would really read if I were on a Greek beach.

Image from olimpia.rs

Crime

Michael Stanley: Dying to Live

I’m a great fan of the Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, and the Kalahari Desert setting fits in perfectly with the beach. Also, it’s a really intriguing tale about the death of a Bushman, who appears to be very old, but his internal organs are puzzlingly young. Could a witch doctor be involved?

Linwood Barclay: Too Close to Home

Another author that I would rather read on the beach than alone at night in a large house, as his nerve-wracking twists are prone to making me jump. The strapline on this one goes: What’s more frightening than your next-door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house…

Helen Cadbury: Bones in the Nest

Like many other crime readers, I was very saddened to hear about the recent death of Helen Cadbury. I had read her debut novel in the Sean Denton series reviewed and marked her out as a talent to watch in 2014 on Crime Fiction Lover. This is the second in a series set in Doncaster, which unfortunately never had the chance to grow to its full potential.

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal

The perfect novel for those who can’t quite take a break from politics: this is the story of an MP whose affair is made public, his wife who tries to stand by him in spite of her doubts, and the barrister who believes he has been guilty of rape. A searing look at privilege, hypocrisy and the social justice system.

YA literature

Not my usual kind of reading at all, but I like to keep abreast of what my children are reading.

G.P. Taylor: Mariah Mundi – The Midas Box

Mariah is a young orphan, fresh out of school, who is employed to work as an assistant to a magician living in the luxurious Prince Regent Hotel. But the slimy, dripping basement of the hotel hides a dark secret. I’ve heard of the author’s Shadowmancer series, but never read anything by him. Described as the next Harry Potter, this book promises to take the reader into a world of magic and fun.

Paul Gallico: Jennie

Peter wakes up from a serious accident and finds himself transformed into a cat. Life as a street cat is tough and he struggle to survive, but luckily stumbles across the scrawny but kindly tabby cat Jennie, who helps him out. Together they embark on a bit of an adventure.

#EU27Project

This is not only worthy reading, but highly enjoyable into the bargain! Although seeking out translations from some of the countries on the list is not that easy or cheap.

Hungary – Miklos Banffy: They Were Counted (transl. Patrick Thursdfiel and Katalin Banffy-Jelen)

Satisfies any cravings for family saga and historical romance, as well as looking at a part of the world which is very close to me (Transylvania). Plus a society bent on self-destruction – what more could one want?

Romania – Ileana Vulpescu: Arta Compromisului (The Art of Compromise)

This author’s earlier book The Art of Conversation was an amazing bestseller in the early 1980s in Romania, partly because it went against all the expectations of ‘socialist realism’ of the time and was quite critical of socialist politics (of an earlier period, admittedly). This book, published in 2009, continues the story of the main character, but this time set in the period after the fall of Communism in 1989. Critics have called it a bit of a soap opera, but at the same time an excellent snapshot of contemporary society. Sounds like delightful light reading, with a social critique, perfect for reconnecting with my native tongue.

Spain – Javier Marias: The Infatuations (transl. Margaret Jull Costa)

Another story with a murderous aside by an author I’ve only recently discovered and whose baroque sentences mesmerise me… Every day, María Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft. She discovers that the man was murdered in the street – and Maria gets entangled in a very odd relationship with the widow.

Women in Translation Month

Another project which has the merit of being both worthy and great fun. I plan to read several of the Keshiki project of Strangers Press – beautifully produced slim translations of Japanese short stories and novellas. There are plenty of women writers represented: Misumi Kubo, Yoko Tawada, Kyoko Yoshida, Aoko Matsuda and the improbably named Nao-Cola Yamazaki. I expect the strange, unsettling, disquieting and sexually heated… Phew!

 

 

 

Reading Plans for 2017: The EU 27 Project

All of last week I’ve been catching up with reviews of books that I read in December and over the holidays, but what are my reading plans going forward?

Initially, I was going to take it easy in 2017. I dropped my Goodreads challenge to 120. [Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I’ve been reading between 155-180 for the last few years.]

The physical and electronic TBR piles are intimidating – almost a health hazard! So I’ve joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge of reading only from the books I already own for the first 3 months of the year. After single-handedly subsidising the publishing industry for the past 4 years, I resolve to buy no new ones for several months. Of course, that doesn’t include books I receive for review on Crime Fiction Lover and other sites, but no more novelties or even ARCs on my own blog.

I’ve already cheated slightly, following the death of John Berger. I remembered how much I enjoyed his Pig Earth when it was on my reading list for anthropology, but I didn’t own it, so… Well, it’s not my fault that he died just after the 1st of January, is it?

So those were my only plans, on the vague side of the spectrum. But then some ambition woke up in me.  The year that Britain triggers Article 51 would be a good year to read a book from every member country of the EU, I decided. Especially following the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU amidst the frankly frightening cries of ‘traitor! pessimist! how dare you tell us that it might be complicated?’ (I’ve heard it all before in another country, but I never thought I would hear it here.)

27 sounds manageable, right? I’m excluding the UK, because obviously I’ll be reading plenty of home-grown authors anyway. A few of these books are sitting on my bookshelves already, while others will require a bit of research. Here is what I have to date, with gaps where I have nought. Also, some suggestions in italics and with question marks, in the hope I might be able to track them down in libraries and keep costs down.

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Austria     Arthur Schnitzler:  Später Ruhm

Belgium    Patrick Delperdange: Si tous les dieux nous abandonnent

Bulgaria    Ilija Trojanow: Macht und Widerstand

Croatia    Miljenko Jergovic: The Walnut Mansion

Cyprus

Czechia [sic?]   Ivan Klima: Lovers for a Day

Denmark  Inger Christensen: Poetry?

Estonia    Sofi Oksanen – she is officially Finnish, but has an Estonian mother and writes about Estonian history?

Finland     Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled

France    Romain Gary: La vie devant soi – or can I get away with claiming that he is Lithuanian (born in Vilnius)?

Germany   Sascha Arango: The Truth and Other Lies

Greece   Nikos Kazantzakis: The Last Temptation (reread, unless I find something new)

Hungary   Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted

Ireland   Davy Byrnes Story Awards 2009

Italy    Andrea Camilleri: Rounding the Mark

Latvia    Inga Abele sounds interesting, not sure if she’s been translated?

Lithuania

Luxembourg    Jean Portante?

Malta

The Netherlands   Gerard Reve: The Evenings?

Poland   Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Road to Babadag

Portugal    Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet

Romania    Ileana Vulpescu: Arta compromisului

Slovakia

Slovenia  Goran Vojnovic: Yugoslavia, My Fatherland

Spain    Javier Marias: Dance and Dream (Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2)

Sweden   Liza Marklund: Last Will

Any suggestions would be gratefully received! And if you want to join in (with your own selection of books, of course, these are just the ones I happen to have to hand), please let me know in the comments below. If there are enough of us who want to do it, I might set up a separate linky. We have all year to do it, so that’s a leisurely book a fortnight. Or, even better: I see no reason why we might not meander over into 2018, very much like the EU disentanglement process itself.

 

 

October Reading and Plans for November

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…]

On my way to the south of France, a perfect day for a drive...
On my way to the south of France, a perfect day for a drive…

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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

Reading for Fun

  1. Henrietta Rose-Innes: Nineveh
  2. Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders
  3. Zygmunt Miloszewski: Rage (transl. Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
  4. 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.

Poetry

I was lucky enough to spend five days in the house of a poet and artist, and was bathed in beautiful words and images.

I wrote a couple of poems at this table. Well, wouldn't you?
I wrote a couple of poems at this table. Well, wouldn’t you?

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.

  1. Tiphanie Yanique: Wife
  2. 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.

Plans for November include:

  • actually writing some reviews
  • German Literature Month with Caroline and Lizzy – I hope to read at least one more book by Clemens J.  Setz
  • preparing for a master class with Laura Kasischke by reading more of her poetry and her novel Suspicious River
  • keeping up the poetry reading habit, because it works wonders for my peace of mind and my creativity
  • book reviews for Crime Fiction Lover will include: A Suitable Lie by Michael Malone; Rob Sinclair’s Dark Fragments and my favourite annual feature of ‘5 women authors to watch’ for New Talent November
  • reducing even a tiny amount of my greedy reading pile on Netgalley

 

August Reading and Misreading

Nearly forgot to do the monthly round-up of my reading, until I saw Tony’s meticulous accounting of his time. I cannot compete with that, of course. August has been haphazard and I’m frankly surprised I got any reading or reviewing done at all.

Haven't taken down all the books from the loft, so these look elegantly empty still.
Haven’t taken down all the books from the loft, so these look elegantly empty still.

I participated (loosely, very loosely speaking) in two challenges this summer.

Women in Translation Month – failed

Although I tried to sneak in two books I read in July for this category (they also fit in the next category, so it is double cheating), I only truly read one book by a woman writer translated into English this month. And it was a reread.

Clarice Lispector: Near to the Wild Heart

20 Books of Summer – failed

I only got as far as 13 books in total, of which I read two in August.

Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground

Wolf Haas: Komm, suesser Tod (same link as above)

Books for Review (but unreviewed  in time thanks to internet circumstances so another failure)

Clare Mackintosh: I See You

Unplanned Books – unreviewed

Arthur Ransome: Swallowdale (reread, picked up at my parents’ house in Romania)

Kate Tempest: The Bricks that Built the Houses (I admire her poetry and couldn’t resist when I saw this featured at the local library)

Only 6 books! I think you will agree that is highly unusual for me. I don’t even have enough to do a ‘best of’.

But there’s always the optimism of September and the fresh page of a new school year.

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I will be #ReadingRhys together with Jacqui and Eric.

I’ve just finished rereading The Moonstone, that famed ‘first ever detective novel’ and will be featuring it in Classics in September, together with another feature on ‘literary crime’ (I have my own list of obvious suspects there, but any suggestions you might have would be gratefully received).

Catching up with my long-inaccessible and neglected Netgalley shelves. I’ll be working in pairs of ‘recent/older’ titles. First up: Pascal Garnier’s The Eskimo Solution and Essential Poems by 10 American poets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July Reading: A Moveable Feast

Not my most productive reading month, tempting though it might have been to bury myself in a book instead of dealing with removal minutiae.

#20booksofsummer

Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour

Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en foret

GrażynaPlebanek: Illegal Liaisons (transl. by Danusia Stok) – also for WIT month, see below.

Valerie Gilliard: Le Canal – likewise, a candidate for WIT month

This is going more slowly than I expected, mostly because all sorts of other books get in the way.

Review copies:

Fred Vargas: A Climate of Fear

Ragnar Jonasson: Blackout

Anne Korkeakivi: Shining Sea

Michael Stanley: A Death in the Family

Crime fiction:

K.A. Richardson: I’ve Been Watching You – serial killer, tortured women, evil twins – not my cup of tea

Intruders:

Jaume Cabre: Confessions

Akira Mizubayashi: Une langue venue d’ailleurs

I have a feeling the August reading will be a bit of a mish-mash too, but I’ve deliberately set some books aside for reading during packing and before unpacking at the other end. Tony Malone also kindly reminded me that August is Women in Translation month, so here are some books I have planned for that, even at the risk of it interfering with my #20booksofsummer goals.

The one I look forward to most is the one I’ve been saving up for the summer:

  • Clarice Lispector: Near to the Wild Heart (her debut novel – a reread, but it’s been so long ago, that it will feel like a fresh read)

As always, I seem to have a sizeable chunk of French (or Swiss) books:

  • Valerie Gilliard: Le Canal
  • Madame du Chatelet: Discours sur le bonheur (How to Be Happy)
  • Muriel Barbery: The Life of Elves
  • Marie Darrieussecq: Men

Two tense, thriller-like books from Eastern Europe:

  • Rodica Ojog-Brasoveanu: Cutia cu nasturi (The Box with Buttons)
  • Grażyna Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons – no, it wasn’t a thriller, I was wrong about that

And that’s probably ambitious enough already! Once things calm down in September, and the children go to school, I am planning to contribute some articles for Crime Fiction Lover’s Classics in September feature. Early days yet, but I was thinking of something along the lines ‘Classic novels with more than a hint of crime’ and possibly also a re-read of The Moonstone (the novel which supposedly started all this crime fiction madness).

 

My June in Reading

June has been a funny old month: too busy to engage much in reading, even when I needed it most. So, only 7 books that I read from cover to cover – a record low for me. And, for the first time ever, there were two books I did not finish (in the same month!). But I have made a bit of an inroad into my #20booksofsummer list, although they haven’t been an unalloyed joy so far. So, if you are sitting comfortably, shall we begin?

Doesn't this look like the path to unimaginable riches and adventures?
Doesn’t this look like the path to unimaginable riches and adventures?

The DNF stack

Ingrid Desjours: Les Fauves – for its gender stereotypes and mediocre thrillerish treatment of a subject which could have been very interesting

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star – with apologies to Naomi Frisby, who sent me this one and whose opinions I value extremely highly. Call me shallow, call me comfort-zone reader, but it just required too much effort to follow. The made-up language was very clever (as a linguist, I appreciated the fact it had certain basic rules). I really admired the author’s inventiveness, and the energy and diversity of the young people in the story. However, I’m just not all that fond of post-apocalyptic fiction, and a combination of flu and migraine made it even harder for me to go through with it. I may still go back to it later, when I am fitter and my brains are in less of a jamble.

The #20booksofsummer pile

In addition to Les Fauves (see above), I read four more of the 20 books of summer. At the rate of 5 a month, I may not finish the challenge by September 5th.

Ariel Gore: Atlas of the Human Heart – self-absorbed, navel-gazing, travelling to find one’s self instead of get to know other people

Michel Bussi: Black Water Lilies – Monet, gardens, three generations of women, convoluted yawn

Emma Cline: The Girls – teenager looking for meaning and a sense of belonging, MFA writing style with glimmers of real style

Alison Umminger: My Favourite Manson Girl – another lost teenager with a dysfunctional family, strong YA voice

Found on a bookshelf

Claire Messud: The Emperor’s Children – slightly pretentious, but a sharp, sarcastic portrayal of ‘intellectual’ New York life

Jean-Claude Izzo: Vivre fatigue (Living wears you out) – oh, boy, is he depressing, but oh, boy, does he fit my current mood!

Review copy

Rebecca Bradley: Made to Be Broken – a friend, but also a talented writer who really knows her police procedures and whose work is getting better and better

Unintentionally, this has been a month of women writers – only two men snuck in. It was also, unusually, an Anglo-French month: one third French, two thirds English-speaking. So not the most varied of months.

Before I leave France, however, I want to make more of an effort to find Romain Gary at the library. And I should leave out some poetry books: poetry is always a wonderful source of comfort and inspiration even in the most insane of moments.

 

20 Books of Summer 2016 – the Packing Up Version

I was quietly resisting joining the 20 Books of Summer challenge, which I’ve seen recently on the sites of some of my favourite bloggers: Cleopatra, Jose Ignacio, Fiction Fan, Margaret and, of course, Cathy, who started the whole madness. [My heroics are somewhat undermined by the fact that I was barely able to keep up with blog posts over the past three internetless weeks.] The reason I was hesitant was because I’ll be moving over the summer and that would mean ensuring that all the 20 books are in one easily accessible box plus eReader plus charger, preferably to be transported by car rather than removal companies. One additional thing to organise which may be the proverbial straw to break my back!

And yet… the prospect of making a bit of an indent into my TBR pile is too tempting! And, for once, I’ll be cutting down on the ‘official’ reviewing, so won’t be constantly disturbed in my reading selections by ’emergency’ (i.e. quick turnaround) reviews. So, yes, Cathy, I’ve come over to the dark summery side!

For June and July, I’m aiming to read some books which are unsigned by authors, which I’m unsure of whether I will want to keep on my shelves, so that I don’t have to lug them back to the UK and can donate them to local libraries instead. In August, however, it will be the turn of well-loved books which will stay at the very top of any suitcase I pack. Of course, I’ll also use my eReader (so many Netgalley requests making me feel guilty every time I look), but its battery seems to run out every day, so I don’t want more than 1/3 of my books to be ebooks.

I also took the summer theme a little further and have tried to make it run like a thread through my reading – so it’s all about travel, new places, events which happened in summer or sunny climes. I mean, why make life easy if it can be hard?

physicalTBR20

  1. Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children – well, the US is an exotic holiday location for me
  2. Mircea Cărtărescu: Fata de la marginea vieţii (The Girl from the Edge of Life) –  short story collection
  3. Wolf Haas: Komm, süßer Tod (Come, Sweet Death) – Austrian crime fiction
  4. Ariel Gore: Atlas of the Human Heart – searching for self and meaning abroad
  5. Valérie Gilliard: Le Canal (The Canal) – short Swiss Rashomon-style novella set in spa town Yverdon
  6. Chico Buarque: Budapest – the Brazilian singer and songwriter’s novel about being stranded in Hungary
  7. Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour – because Paris and because I’ve been following Isabel online for quite some time
  8. Michelle Paver: Thin Air – not very summery, but it sure has become a holiday destination – mountain-climbing in the Himalayas.
  9. Ingrid Desjours: Les Fauves (The Beasts) – OK, the holiday premise stretches thin here, but there are connections to Afghanistan
  10. Milton Hatoum: Ashes of the Amazon – trying to escape one’s heritage, taking in the Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and London.
  11.  Laurent Guillaume: White Leopard – running away from a dark past in France to the ‘peacefulness’ of Mali
  12. Sarah Jasmon: The Summer of Secrets
  13. Eleanor Wasserberg: Foxlowe – a closed community celebrating summer solstice ‘properly’
  14. Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en forêt – exciting new series and writer I met in Lyon, the setting is French Guyana
  15. Charlotte Otter: Balthasar’s Gift – set in South Africa and on my TBR list far too long
  16. Tim Lott: Under the Same Stars – an American road trip to find a missing father
  17. Grazya Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons – Polish and other nationalities engaging in politics and much more in Brussels
  18. John Burdett: Bangkok Haunts – because it’s been far too long since my last meeting with Sonchai Jitpleecheep
  19. Gaito Gazdanov: The Flight – summering on the French Riviera
  20. Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground – set in Amsterdam and I believe it was Stav’s debut novel

And, by complete chance, a perfect 50/50 split of men and women, translated/foreign and English-language fiction. The hardest thing, of course, will be sticking to the list and not allowing distractions to lead me astray… is that a butterfly I see in my garden?

Papillon at Lucenay, Rhone-Alpes, from trekearth.com
Papillon at Lucenay, Rhone-Alpes, from trekearth.com

 

Why I Plan to Do Diverse December Too

I’ve already committed to reducing the number of books on my Netgalley shelves in December. I’ve been monstrously greedy throughout the year and now need to be munching on my existing goodies.

However, Naomi Frisby makes a lot of sense when she talks about her reasons for the Diverse December initiative, as does Dan. So I will do my best to participate in this initiative as well, since unconscious bias is always with us, no matter how ‘liberal’ and ‘socially aware’ we like to think we are.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very international environment. Although the overseas English school I attended as a child included more than your fair share of children from privileged (moneyed, diplomatic, well-educated) backgrounds, at least it contained all colours and religions as well. So I’ve never been able to resort to glib generalisations about people based on their skin tone, nationality or ethnic group. And yet…

I too did the Harvard University’s Implicit Association test for skin colour and found that I had a slight preference for lighter skin tones. But I need look no further than among my group of friends to know that, although they are a cosmopolitan crowd, not that many of them are non-white.

Virtual bookshelves from trademarksandbrandsonline.com
Virtual bookshelves from trademarksandbrandsonline.com

So let me search among my Netgalley shelves and see what BAME writers I can find there. A bit shameful, really. Of the 45 books currently on my shelf, only 5 fit the criteria.

  1. The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee – a Korean growing up in Hong Kong
  2. The Dictator’s Last Night by Yasmina Khadra – Algerian writer working largely in France
  3. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – Japanese-Hawaiian in US
  4. The Killing Lessons by Saul Black – pseudonym of Glen Duncan, Anglo-Indian writer growing up in Bolton – the only non-white child at his school.
  5. The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura – OK, I’m clutching at straws here, as this is a Japanese author living and writing in Japan, so never part of an oppressed minority.

If I were to include ‘other white’ immigrants (a category in which I always have to put myself at the census), I could also read:

  1. Expulsion and Other Stories by Marina Sonkina – Russian living in Canada
  2. Forty One by Lesia Daria – of Ukrainian origin (? – not entirely sure)

Not a great proportion, but it’s a start for this month… And I may sneak in some other reads from beyond those virtual shelves!

Reading Plans for the Rest of 2015

2015 is not over yet, so there’s still time to take a little control of my reading. It’s been a reasonably good year, and I’ve felt far less of a pressure to be ‘up-to-date’ with my reading and reviewing than in previous years. [Where did that come from? I think social media may have played a part, as I never used to care about the latest launches before.]

Anyway, I have managed to stick by and large to my resolution to be less ‘greedy’ and to allow myself to be guided by my own tastes and nothing else. I’ve surpassed my target of 120 books on Goodreads (136 and counting, so likely to hit 150 by the end of the year) and only a small number of those have been ‘unsolicited’ books for reviewing purposes. [Fortunately, I’ve learnt to turn down books I don’t fancy, so I seldom feel horribly frustrated at having to come up with something about a book I was indifferent about.]

So I’ve had fun and broadened my horizons. But… you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you?… I still struggle with a toppling TBR pile (both physical and electronic). Something needs to be done about it.

Fortunately, there are a couple of months left to make a small dent in my TBR skyscraper.

GermanLitNovember will be German Lit Month, an initiative hosted by Caroline and Lizzy (now in its 5th year, if I’m not mistaken). I plan to read 1 Swiss, 2 Austrian and 3 German books, all with a noirish feel.

  1. First up, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s follow-up Bärlach novel Der Verdacht (Suspicion but a.k.a. The Quarry in English). I loved The Judge and His Hangman: these are philosophical crime novels, although Dürrenmatt himself thought of them as potboilers.
  2. A new name to me from Pushkin Vertigo. Alexander Lernet-Holenia: I Was Jack Mortimer (transl.  Ignat Avsey), first published in 1933.
  3. Stefan Zweig. I have a copy of Meisternovellen (collected novellas), but I haven’t quite decided which ones I will read – or if I can read all of them. This volume includes the Chess novella, 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Burning Secret, Confusion of Feelings, so pretty much all of the shorter pieces for which he is famous.
  4. The final three are all crime fiction: Jakob Arjouni’s 3rd Kayankaya novel Ein Mann, ein Mord (One Man, One Murder) and 2 volumes of the Es geschah in Berlin (It happened in Berlin) series 1934 and 1938. No thanks to Mrs. Peabody for making me buy the last two!

December will be my Netgalley catch-up month, as I now have 35 titles on my bookshelf. I do want to read them all, so it’s not like my eyes were larger than my tummy. Here are the ones that attract me at the moment (although this may change by December): Yasmina Khadra’s The Dictator’s Last Night; Lauren Groff: Fates and Furies; Saul Black: The Killing Lessons; S.K. Tremayne: The Ice Twins; Sarah Jasmon: The Summer of Secrets and something completely out of my comfort zone, Massimo Marino’s Daimones Trilogy (Book 1). I know Massimo as a fellow member of the Geneva Writers’ Group – he is a former high energy physicist who has turned to writing ‘science fiction with heart and soul’.