The Bookish Naughty List

Who can resist such an alluring tag? I’ve seen Eleanor admit to it, Cleo tackle it but it was originally started before Christmas  by  Jenniely. I can sit on the sidelines no longer!

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

Alas, far too frequently! Admittedly, this tends to happen more with the ones I haven’t requested. I do get around to reading them eventually… but sometimes it is long after the publication of the book, which makes the exercise slightly pointless. However, I always review ARCs that I’ve been sent to review for Crime Fiction Lover, Shiny New Books or other sites.

2. Have less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley?

Does having exactly 60% feedback rating count? My eyes are often bigger than my tummy when it comes to requesting books, but I’ve also been having problems with my e-reader. Not one but two tablets which gave up the ghost, a Kindle I lost in a divorce and then a Kindle that disappeared – all within the last year and a half.

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

Ha, of course! Actually, I’ve learnt not to promise anything on Goodreads. But I often promise things on my blog, to the point where I actually believe my own lies and search desperately for the full review of a book that I *know* I must have written somewhere…

4. Folded down the page of a book?

Are you mad? Why would you do that? I have millions of bookmarks and tiny highlighter post-its and, failing that, train tickets or envelopes to mark a certain spot.

5. Skim read a book?

Let’s just say that certain battle scenes from War and Peace or whaling lore from Moby Dick will forever remain a mystery for me…

6. DNF a book this year?

The year is young, so I think not, but I’ve become more willing to give up on a book rather than read it to the bitter end. I had about 5-6 of those last year. And the low number merely shows that I’ve become better at weeding out those books which are not likely to appeal.

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

No. I always intend to read every book I buy – and I am more swayed by content than by beauty. Although if it is a favourite book in a gorgeous new edition, I might get it (Vintage Classics Jane Austen series, I’m looking at you!).

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else?

Doesn’t everyone? Many, many times at the back of the class at school. Occasionally at work in my younger days, when I had less to do. So often while eating, cooking, babysitting, watching TV. I haven’t quite figured out how to do it while exercising (I’m not a big audiobook fan), but it would certainly make me exercise more if I could.

9. Accidentally spilled on a book?

Erm, I realised belatedly that cooking and eating while reading may lend itself to such excesses, yes…

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

No, because I always underestimate my annual goals. 120 is one I feel comfortable with (I always tell myself I should read more slowly), but I invariably shoot well over it. Still, it should be quality over quantity.

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it?

No. And I hate people who have done that to me (usually because I moved countries or we lost touch or whatever).

12. Broke a book buying ban?

(All the time.) Next question, please.

13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

Sadly, yes. Particularly those books that I care most about, because I want to do them justice. I have to find a more efficient way of blogging.

14. Wrote in a book you were reading?

All the time in my earlier years, partly because my father always did (and still does). I quite like finding those underlined passages and comments now, but I tend to be a bit more careful with my books now. Hence the millions of post-its etc.

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

I try not to, but there are some (particularly by foreign authors) that are not listed there. It makes me feel that I am not doing the counting properly – and not being justly rewarded for my effort!

I won’t tag anyone, but if you want to join in and confess to all your reading sins… Although I don’t think there are any sins that involve reading. Other than cherry-picking your sources to only match with your existing worldview.

 

 

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WWWednesday What Are You Reading? 7 February 2018

It has been a few months since I last joined in with this weekly 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:

Muriel Spark was born on the 1st of February 1918, so what better time to celebrate the #murielspark100 than this month? I have embarked the brief Symposium, one of her later novels – one that I hadn’t read before. It seems to be tour de force of characterisation through dialogue, something Spark does so well.

Just read:

The Asymptote Book Club’s January title Aranyak by the incredibly beautifully named writer Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, one of the greatest writers of modern Bengali literature. It is truly ahead of its time: a 1930s ecological novel, although it seems to stem from an older man’s regret for the events which he has witnessed and played a part in bringing about (the deforestation of Bihar to make way for agriculture and the disappearance of a traditional way of life).

To be read:

I will read two simultaneously, as is my wont. The two I’ve got my eyes on are from Croatia and Wales, respectively. Dubravka Ugresic’s Europe in Sepia is a collection of what one might call travel essays (not just about Europe), full of sharp observations about populism and the hunger for imagined past glories. Meanwhile, Stuart Evans’ The Caves of Alienation has been waiting for me since I reached Chapter 3 during my residence at Ty Newydd, but couldn’t  find the book anywhere outside Wales. I’ve got a rather mangled former library copy at long last and will probably have to restart it.

So, what are you reading this week? Anything that might tempt me? (Luckily, you know I have a will of iron, don’t you?)

January 2018 Reading Summary

It’s been a long month, which is reflected in quite a good month of reading. 17 books (18 if I count the book that I read in both French and English), although I have to admit many of them were very short, more like novellas. 10 of those were in translation or another language (representing 9 countries), of which 3 books were by the same author, Cesar Aira. (Bless those rabbit holes…). 7 by men, 10 by women. 1 short story collection, 2 non-fiction, 1 1/2 books of poetry (I’ll explain about the half later). 4 definitely crime fiction, another 2 somewhat crime fiction. I am delighted to see somewhat more variety in my reading.

Bit behind with my reviewing though…

Argentinean fiction

I started off with the first title in the Asymptote Book Club, Cesar Aira’s The Lime TreeI enjoyed that so much, I promptly read another two by the author, The Literary Conference and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. Strange does not even begin to describe the themes and styles of this author: it’s a world away from the magical realism of Marquez which I was never that keen on. Another Argentinean writer with a surrealist metaphorical bent is Ricardo Romero: his novella The President’s Room brought back all sorts of memories of self-censorship, of everyone knowing but no one talking, of not feeling safe even in the bosom of the family.

Crime fiction

Gunnar Staalesen’s Wolves in the Dark tackled the difficult topic of child pornography and abuse, while Nadia Dalbuono’s The Extremist (review forthcoming on Shiny New Books) is a political thriller with a race against the clock hostage situation but also hints at how extremism is born and reborn in the Western world. Mary Anna Barbey’s Swiss Trafic was not cheery either, showing how immigrants are treated in Switzerland and the extent to which human trafficking is hidden in that affluent society. Kate Rhodes’ Hell Bay, meanwhile, is a more typical police procedural, set on a small island, thereby creating a closed room mystery set-up.

The additional two that might very loosely be classed as crime novels are Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd (murders do happen, both in the past and in the present), and Die Stille der Gletscher (The Silence of the Glaciers) by Ulrike Schmitzer, an Austrian author who might be said to be popularising the science of climate change via a crime story and global conspiracy about scarce resources.

Cross-cultural and translated fiction

Tove Jansson’s Letters from Klara contained some very short stories, almost fragments of ideas or flash fiction, from this always interesting, stylistically impeccable author. I had a bit of a French binge with Marie Darrieusecq’s Naissance des fantomes (My Phantom Husband) and Leila Slimani’s Chanson Douce. It is fascinating, if time-consuming, to read books in both languages and see how they compare. I find the English versions a bit colder than the French versions, through no fault of the translators, although I always thought that the English were the masters of the ‘straight to the point, no beating about the bush’ style.

The last one to fit in this category was written in English but depicts a cross-cultural relationship, Leila Abouleli’s The Translator.

Most memorable

It’s been a very good month for reading, with a lot of the books in the above categories vying for the title of ‘Book of the Month’. However, the non-fiction stuck in my mind most this January. I absolutely adored the well-documented biography and sensitive interpretation of Shirley Jackson’s works by Ruth Franklin. I was mowed down and resurrected by the eloquence and clever use of autobiographical detail in Jodie Hollander’s poetry collection My Dark Horses. Last, but not least, I was amazed at the amount of work, passion, dedication and clever detail which went into the creation of the Hamilton musical, as set out in the wonderful book Hamilton: The Revolution, full of lyrics, stage notes, background explanation, mini-bios of cast and creators, and semi-memoir, with great pictures. It offers a brilliant insight into the creative and collaborative process and shows that no genius can operate in isolation.

Glacier on the Grossglockner in Austria. Just because they are receding in worrying fashion.

 

Weekly Cultural Wrap-Up

Instead of just doing a reading and book buying wrap up of the week, I thought it might be fun to do a summary of all the cultural highlights. Which I have been fortunate enough to have plenty of, now that I am living near and working in London. So this will include any films, theatre, opera or ballet, book launches, talks or other events which I might have attended, as well as anything I might be aware of which is coming up for the following week, which might be of interest to others in the area. There’s got to be an upside to the downside of commuting (one day this week was particularly hellish, with my total commute taking over 4 hours – instead of 2.5 – in horrible conditions).

On Tuesday I got to see the witty, forthright and beautiful Leïla Slimani in action (and speaking English, much to my surprise!) at a Q&A and book signing at Waterstone’s Gower Street. With her journalistic background and feminist activist credentials, she had lots of opinions about current affairs and the #MeToo movement, but two things she said about her book Chanson Douce (translated as Lullaby in the UK and The Perfect Nanny in the US) particularly resonated with me: 1) how quick readers were to blame the mother Myriam for leaving her children with a stranger to go out and work when she didn’t need to, simply for her personal fulfilment and to go out for dinner with her husband; 2) how differently reviewers reacted to her book in France and in the UK/US. In France they commented mainly on her style and the narrative choices she made, while in the Anglo-Saxon community it is marketed as a thriller and is mainly about plot and unlikable characters. French literature is of course littered with unlikable characters, but so is classic English and American literature, so I don’t understand what this current emphasis is on sympathising with your protagonists. Besides, you can empathise and feel sorry for both Myriam and Louise (the nanny) in the book.

On Friday I saw a ballet double bill at the Coliseum. Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, a very modern tale of depression and suicide (gorgeous Ivan Vasiliev as the young man and the wonderful, ever-young Tamara Rojo as the woman), followed by the very different, classical romantic ballet of La Sylphide, full of men in kilts and the long white tutus of the ghostly sylphides. It was delightful to see the Sylphide played by a junior soloist of the company, the very young, incredibly light and graceful Japanese dancer, Rina Kanehara. Afterwards, we had a wander around the West End to admire the light installations of the Lumiere Festival – although London proved it was not quite the 24 hour city it prides itself on being, with the lights switching off promptly at 22:30!

Westminster Abbey illuminated by French digital artist Patrice Warrener, courtesy of Creative Boom website.

This week I’ve been reading the biography of Shirley Jackson, which has prompted some more purchases of her lesser-known novels Hangsaman and The Sundial. Of course I had to buy the English translation of Slimani’s novel to get it signed by her and I’ve already read it (review will be coming up shortly). And, since I never escape unscathed from a bookshop, I also stumbled across one of those photo-rich trilingual Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis editions about the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth. As the bookseller said, ‘You can’t go wrong with Bowie.’

In other reading: just finished Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes, set on the Isles of Scilly (review coming up on Crime Fiction Lover) and am currently reading Nadia Dalbuono’s The Extremist set in Rome (review coming up on Shiny New Books). I’m reading Marie Darrieussecq in both English and French and will be posting a review of her disappearing husband book, as well as Hawksmoor on this blog very soon.

On TV, I’ve only watched the mistitled Big Cats documentary (because it refers quite a bit to wildcats which are smaller than my own moggy – who was watching just as carefully as me and probably taking hunting lessons) and my beloved Engrenages series.

Last, but not least, the Winter Issue of Asymptote Journal is out, and it is an anniversary edition, as Asymptote celebrates its 7th birthday. Yes, it first launched in January 2011, before I even became absorbed by writing or moved to France. For this special edition, there are some big names (Ismail Kadare and Daniel Mendelsohn), as well as many new voices and languages, including translations from Montenegrin, Mè’phàà and Amharic. For those of you who like short samplers, there is also a special feature on international microfiction or flash fiction.

Coming up: I would really like to attend (but can’t) the Gower Street Waterstone’s Forgotten Fiction Book Club this coming Tuesday, which will be discussing one of the defining books of my adolescence:  Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier. Two art events to catch this coming week (for those who can make it): last week of the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican and the Hayward Gallery at the South Bank finally reopens after refurbishment with a photography retrospective of the work of Andreas Gursky.

Week in Review with a Book Haul

Honestly, sincerely, believe me I meant it… when I said I would start digging into my TBR pile and stop buying books this year. But accidents do happen! And this is how my week panned out…

First of all, I realised that it has been weeks since I last saw my Kindle. I have searched for it everywhere but cannot locate it. So this means no more acquisitions via Netgalley, but also no more reading of the long, long list of books I have there, including some rather pressing reviews. I would buy a new one, but I am fairly sure that the instant I order it, the old one will resurface from some cavernous depth of my house (I don’t often take it out unless I am travelling, and I have already searched my suitcase).

Secondly, I have enjoyed reviewing my first Asymptote Book Club read, Cesar Aira. A new author to me, but I enjoyed him so much that I read two other novellas by him in quick succession. He is remarkably prolific, so he might be a bit hit and miss, but so far I really like him.

Thirdly, I had a busy week at work, but it was creative, strategic work which I enjoyed, made all the better by listening to Hamilton, which I now have uploaded onto my laptop. Initially I loved all the big, obvious songs like My Shot or The Room Where It Happens, but now I am more drawn to Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story and the optimism of The Story of Tonight. ‘Raise a glass to the four of us, tomorrow there will be more of us.’

Finally, yes, OK, I admit I did get some new books this week. What?! You expect me to pile ashes on my head and put the hair shirt on? I only bought three, of which two were second-hand, and I received two more for review.

Alison Lurie: Women and Ghosts

Collection of short stories, sometimes comic, sometimes, haunting, where people’s lives are disrupted by supernatural occurrences. Not normally a fan of ghost stories, but I know that Lurie is such a keen observer of human foibles, so I think this could be good.

Jodie Hollander: My Dark Horses

A debut poetry collection that traces the troubled relationship of the poet with her mother, as well as the charms and vicissitudes of growing up in a family of obsessive musicians. I have to admit to a selfish reason for ordering this one via Waterstones: it was recommended to me by a fellow poet after she read my poems about my mother.

Nice cover, but isn’t that dress from post WW2?

Paula McLain: The Paris Wife

I’ve been meaning to read this forever, ever since it came out in 2010. I really enjoyed Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, with its portrait of bohemian expat artist life in Paris in the 1920s, but that is just Hemingway’s side of the story. And, as we all know, he wasn’t really good to the women in his life.

 

Thomas Enger: Killed

Orenda Books shares my passion for Norway and has kindly sent me the dark, suspenseful finale of this series about crime reporter Henning Juul.

Kate Rhodes: Hell Bay

This is the start of a new series by Kate Rhodes, set on the Scilly Islands (which I now want to visit). I read a sample of it after going to the Simon & Schuster launch evening last year and have been eagerly awaiting the rest of the story ever since.

Other Bookish Favourites of 2017 and Plans for 2018

After sharing with you my favourite books in translation, my favourite untranslated books, and the best of both translated and English-language crime fiction, including my Top 5 on Crime Fiction Lover, what is left? Well, all the other favourites, of course, which don’t fit into any of these categories. They fall mainly into the fiction category, with a couple of non-fiction mixed into it. (I will discuss the poetry separately, as I tend not to list the poetry books on Goodreads).

Now, what do you notice about this list? That’s right: it’s all women writers. I believe I’ve read roughly equal amounts of male and female authors, but it’s the women who have really appealed to me in this year of finally living on my own.

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Hard to categorise, I see this as a book of ideas, where essay and stories blend, where the narrator becomes a camera recording other people’s thoughts and reactions. A very Anglo-Saxon way of dealing with grief and separation, slightly detached, masking the heartbreak with cold detachment.

Katie Kitamura: A Separation

In many ways, the mirror image of Outline, but with more abandon. Once again, Greece is the backdrop, almost an excuse for a story about break-up and grief and self-recrimination – to a much more self-excoriating extent than with Cusk. A clear story arc, but also a novel of ideas, of reflection, but inwardly rather than outwardly focused.

Helen Garner: This House of Grief

Perhaps it’s not surprising that stories about separations loomed large in my reading this year, but this true crime account of a man who was suspected of killing his children took me to places where I barely dare to tread. Garner has a talent for unpicking not only the personal tragedy but also the judicial system and the way in which a jury’s mind can be made up.

Fiona Melrose: Midwinter

The farming heritage in me thrilled at this story of hard graft and taciturn farmer families.

Jane Gardam: The Stories

Controlled, ironic, melancholy

Alison Lurie: Real People

Writers’ retreats and big egos are an endless source of satire.

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Enchanted April

Delightful escapism, with a real love of beautiful location and a sharp eye for human foibles.

Winifred Watson: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Just as charming, warm-hearted but keeping the eyes wide open and critical.

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Quite simply one of the most quietly menacing, tightly written and brooding books ever!

Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk

Perhaps it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I still found it a beautiful read about an uncomfortable marriage and a bid for freedom.

Kathleen Jamie: Sightlines

Non-fiction of the highest intellectual and poetic order.

Liz Jensen: The Rapture

Eco-thriller with rich prose and unusual characters which deserves to be better known (full review coming soon).

Reading Plans for 2018

It looks like I will be reading quite a bit of translated fiction in 2018 – 12 titles are guaranteed, since I joined the Asymptote Book Club. I can’t wait to start getting involved in the discussions and all the special features (interviews with translators and authors, book selections, reviews, pictures and so on). Don’t forget you can join anytime during the year, for either 3 months or 12 months.

I will be continuing with my #EU27Project and spend more time planning to cover all of the countries rather than handling it haphazardly as I have done in the past year. After all, I want to show those Brexit negotiators what it means to be well prepared…

I also want to take part in the by now classic reading events such as January in Japan, Women in Translation Month and German Literature Month, although I make no promise about how many titles I can cover: at least one, hopefully more. Of course, I will continue reading and reviewing crime fiction: it’s a habit I cannot kick (nor do I want to).

Finally, I want to read and review more poetry and take part more frequently in the dVerse Poets Pub or other prompts, both to limber up my writing muscles and also to see what others are writing – always inspiring! Speaking of dVerse Poets, I am delighted to announce the arrival of an anthology of poetry from over 100 dVerse contributors all over the world. Entitled Chiaroscuro: Darkness and Lightthis surprisingly chunky volume is a testament to our friendship across borders and shared love for the well-chosen word.

Reading Bingo 2017

Thank you to Cleo for reminding me about this, one of my favourite annual memes – the Reading Bingo. It’s always a mad scramble to see if I can fit any of my haphazard reading into the categories at the end of the year, but I was very ambitious last year and did two of each. I’d struggle to do that this year: in fact, I may not be able to fill in the whole sheet!

More than 500 Pages

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne

Forgotten Classic

Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler – this was quite literally forgotten, or set aside by the author and never published until a couple of years ago

Turned into a Movie

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon – although I haven’t actually watched the two adaptations

Published This Year

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – what a brilliant, creepy, atmospheric story, capturing our passion for podcasts and the teenage grumpiness very well

Number in Title

Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre – a much gentler pace than this master of the chilling read has accustomed us to

Written by Someone Under 30

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis – at least I think the author is still very young, and he published this in French quite a few years ago. Correct me if I’m wrong. Besides, I may want to turn this into ‘a book by someone over 70’ instead!

Non-Human Characters

The Humans by Matt Haig – well, it’s an alien and a dog who pull most at the heartstrings

Funny

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson – delightful comedy of manners

Female Author

Folle by Nelly Arcan – so many I could have chosen from, but I decided to choose one that could only have been written by a fierce and bitter woman

Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny – I couldn’t resist picking the title which has the most resonance – and it is, indeed, a mystery in a crime fiction series

One-Word Title

Men by Marie Darrieussecq – not my favourite book, it had a bit of a colonial feel to it

Short Stories

The Stories by Jane Gardam – klipp und klar, as the Germans would say – outstanding stories by a real master/mistress of the genre

Free Square

Most obscure: Vlad by Carlos Fuentes – and perhaps should stay so…

Different Continent

Boundary by Andree A. Michaud – Maine and Canada, border country, and an area I know very little about

Non-Fiction

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich – probably one of my top reads of the year

First Book by Favourite Author

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim – it was a reread, but just delightful, even for a non-gardener like myself

Heard About Online

To Clear the Air by Mechtild Borrmann – I usually think Mrs. P’s recommendations are unbeatable, but this book did not quite do it for me. However, she has written others and they are better.

Bestseller

The Power by Naomi Alderman – I realised this was quite a difficult category for me, as the books I like don’t usually sell in the hundreds of thousand which shout bestseller to me, but I think this one did quite well after winning a few prizes. I’ve certainly seen it everywhere in bookshops and libraries.

True Story

This House of Grief by Helen Garner – just heart-breaking, another contender for book of the year – and I’m not even a huge non-fiction fan

Bottom of TBR Pile

On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej Stasiuk – I think this one has been on my bookshelves for quite a while, I can’t even remember when I bought it

Loved by a Friend

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker – Liz Barnsley, book blogger and crime fiction aficionado/editor had been buzzing about this one for ages – and it really lived up to every recommendation!

Scary

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – subtle horror – in fact, just put all of Shirley Jackson’s work in this category

More than 10 Years Old

The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch – a nice old-fashioned feel to this, and yet still terribly timely

2nd in a Series

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner – she’s fast becoming a favourite author, and I can’t wait for the next one!

Blue Cover

Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie

And it will forever remind me of that wonderful, educational and inspirational weekend of poetry!

And, just because there weren’t a lot of pictures involved in the above, here is a gratuitous picture of my favourite non-human, bemused and bedecked for Christmas.