Combining Business with Literary Delights

Who said you cannot combine your work with your secret passion? During my recent business trip, I’ve taken advantage of my location to indulge in some literary pleasures.

BookBusinessTripBook Buying

In Quebec, I discovered local authors and McGill University alumni:
1) Heather O’Neill with her story of twelve-year-old Baby living a precarious existence with her junkie father fleeing from one short-term furnished let to the next, Lullabies for Little Criminals.
2) Alain Farah’s Ravenscrag (translated from French), described as an original blend of retro science fiction and autobiography about resilience, literature as remedy and survival through storytelling.

In London, I could not resist the lure of Waterstone’s Piccadilly (I had no time to go further afield, but spent a happy hour or so in there):
1) Penelope Fitzgerald’s short story collection The Means of Escape – I’ve never read any of her short stories
2) Pascal Garnier: Moon in a Dead Eye because I have difficulty finding his books in France, and it has been mentioned as a favourite among his works by so many fellow bloggers
3) Clarice Lispector: Near to the Wild Heart – one of my favourite authors, or at least she used to be when I last read her twenty years ago – high time to reread!
4) Javier Marias: A Heart So White – high time I explored this author – plus he was translated by Margaret Jull Costa, whom I got to see in my second extravagance on this trip. See below.

Literary Conference

The London Lit Weekend, a little-known and not very widely publicised event (at least not online), took place on the 3rd and 4th of October at King’s Place in London. I attended a fascinating discussion on literary translation with Margaret Jull Costa (prize-winning translator from Portuguese and Spanish) and Ann Goldstein (translator from Italian, including the recent Elena Ferrante tetralogy), chaired by Boris Dralyuk, himself a translator from Russian. I’ll write a separate post about this event, as it was full of quotable insights. But I was too shy to take any pictures.


Well, what is London without a visit to the theatre? I couldn’t resist the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which my older son and I both read and enjoyed recently. And yes, he is very envious that I get to see it and he doesn’t!

Dirty Little Reading Habits

I saw this fun tag on the blog 50 a Year and could not resist joining in. It’s all about those silly little rituals us gourmand and gourmet readers like to build up around our favourite activity.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

I can read anywhere, in any position, even if my legs and arms get pins and needles. But I will always read at least a page or two (usually a lot more) propped up on lots of pillows in my bed at night, just before going to sleep. It helps me fall asleep more easily and forget about any of the day’s less glorious moments.

Bookmark or a random piece of paper?

I do prefer a bookmark and have quite an extensive collection of them scattered all over the house. However, bookmarks have a secret life of their own and have been known to disappear suddenly when you need them most (especially on planes). So I’ve been known to use boarding passes and even banknotes as an emergency bookmark.

Can you stop reading any time, or do you have to stop in a certain place?

Always at the end of a chapter. I hope that any choking child or burning house will have the courtesy to wait until I’ve reached that perfect point of interruption!

cherriesDo you eat or drink while reading?

As a child, during my summer holidays, I would read perched up in a cherry tree, so I did develop some fruit-eating habits whilst reading a book. Later in life, this led to quite a bit of reading/snacking marathons (on crisps and chocolate, mostly), because I didn’t want to interrupt the story for a proper sit-down meal. I try not to do it so much nowadays, not just for my own health, but also for the health of the books (no nasty chocolate smears on the pages or greasy thumb prints).

Can you read while listening to music/watching TV?

I say I can, but it does mean that the music/TV just gets completely drowned out and I have no idea what is on in the background.

One book at a time or several at once?

Am I really weird that I do have more than one on the go at any given time? I usually have about three in the mix, so that I can choose what to read depending on mood, time of day, how much time I have to read etc. I always have a crime novel close by (that’s my comfort read, even if I like them quite dark and gruelling), something in a foreign language (too much hard work to read it without occasional light relief) and then a literary novel or a volume of poetry or something non-fictiony. I don’t usually read three in the same genre and language at the same time: that would cross those dainty little wires in my brains.


Reading out loud or silently in your head?

I am almost a speed-reader (not really, I haven’t done any proper training, but I am quite fast), so far too fast to read out loud! However, I do love to read out loud if given half a chance. I used to bore my poor mother to death reading from the Mallory Towers series and The Little White Horse when I was a child, and I really enjoyed bedtime stories with my own children. Sadly, they won’t let me ‘perform’ for them anymore. I miss those cuddly, sharing moments.

Do you read ahead and skip pages?

Only if the book is really, really boring but I have promised to read it for reviewing purposes and I am trying to find its redeeming feature. Sadly, in most such cases, I will end up refusing to review it.

In my misguided youth, I may have peeked at the very last sentence of a book if I cared a lot about the characters. Unfortunately, the final sentence usually doesn’t give a lot away… and then I would have that on my conscience for the duration of the book. Not worth the guilt, I say!

Break the spine or keep it new?

Most of my books look virtually new and unread, so I expect to see them returned in that very same condition when I lend them to others. (!!!) Alas! I’ve often learnt that a bookworm friend might have very different reading habits from mine (bent-down corners, broken spines, even scribbles and greasy pawprints, to name just a few pet peeves).

But, before you think I’m too anal about it, I have to admit that I do have some well-thumbed, less pristine books in my collection. These are my faithful old companions that have followed me across borders for over thirty years now and have been re-read many, many times.

No, not my books! From
No, not my books! From

Do you write in books?

(Whispers) I used to. I feel really bad about it still.

I might do it in textbooks or reference books (the ones I own, of course, not the ones I borrow from the library, of course), but not in novels. I have a notebook to scribble my thoughts in for later reviews, but I don’t always have it to hand, so the best thoughts just fly away…

I’d love to hear all about your own secret little reading habits, if you want to let me know in the comments below. Or, who knows, maybe even join in the tag on your own blog?

Reading Acrostic

What better way to start a week full of hard work and worthy projects than with a delightful bit of procrastination? Thank you to Susan, Annabel and David for the impetus… I think…

The rules are simple: make an acrostic of your name using the books you have read recently (or, in some cases, not all that recently). I have used books that have truly impressed me, that I have rated 4 or 5 stars. The links are to reviews, although not all of the books below have received the reviews they deserve from me. I don’t think I’ll have time to do them justice in the near future, so I’ve completed with brief comments taken from my Goodreads archive.


M  Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson

An island, a lighthouse, a garden: what more could you want? The book where we get the clearest picture of the tensions between Moominpappa and Moominmamma, yet also a story of the triumph of family love and the beauty of impractical dreaming.

A  Apocalypse Baby by Virginie Despentes

R  La Route de Beit Zera by Hubert Mingarelli

I  The Islanders by Pascal Garnier

N  No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

A The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Amazing how the author manages to inject such a serious and heartbreaking subject, so many rather shocking and sad events, with humour, tenderness and the practical, no-nonsense yet vulnerable mindset of an adolescent. Beautiful and emotional piece of work.

S  Scarred Hearts by Max Blecher

Such a modern feel to this one: Blecher does not shy away from the good, the bad, the ugly, the things we would rather not acknowledge. Not for the squeamish or hypocritical. A burst of candour and poignancy, an urgent love of life, from a character (and an author) doomed to die. Heartbreaking.

O  Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy

This inspiring collection of poems has something for all tastes: from the playful and linguistically inventive (particularly for those among us who are more auditively inclined) to the deeply moving pathos of the title poem, which had me in tears even while queuing for 1.5 hours at US borders. Captivating voice and a willingness to be brave, honest and experiment, rather than showing off.

F Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

I  Les Ignorants by Étienne Davodeau

A  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Would love to see your own versions, so please don’t be shy!



Summer Reading Round-Up

Back from holidays and sooo much work to catch up on (as well as reviews). Needless to say, I did not get quite as much writing and reading done this past week of ‘real holiday’, because I did not spend all my time on the beaches below (more’s the pity!).


Luckily for my reading/writing projects, I only had one week ‘off’. This summary represents two months’ worth of reading, because the school holidays here spread over July and August.

Women in Translation Month

In August I spent most of my time reading women in translation, trying to rely on books that I already had. I grouped some of them together for reviewing purposes (lack of time or because I thought they were made for each other), but here they are in the order I read them.

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Defenceless and an interview with the author here

Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd

Therese Bohmann: Drowned

Virginie Despentes: Apocalypse Baby

Karin Fossum: The Drowned Boy

Alice Quinn: Queen of the Trailer Park

Judith Schalansky: The Neck of the Giraffe

Adina Rosetti: Ten Times on the Lips

Renate Dorrestein: The Darkness that Divides Us

Gøhril Gabrielsen: The Looking-Glass Sisters

Tove Janssen: The True Deceiver (and other assorted Moomin books) – to catch up on later

Rodica Ojog-Braşoveanu: The Man at the End of the Line (to be reviewed)

Veronika Peters: Was in zwei Koffer passt (All that Fits in 2 Suitcases)


Other Women Writers

Following the WIT reading, I was in the mood to read more women authors in English as well. Some of them were for CFL reviews, but many were just escapism.

Lucy Atkins: The Other Child

Sophie Hannah: A Game for All the Family

Sarah Ward: In Bitter Chill

Rosamond Lehmann: The Echoing Grove

Anya Lipska: A Devil Under the Skin

Susan M. Tiberghien: Footsteps

Jenny Lawson: Furiously Happy


And Other Reads:

Review copy: Sebastian Fitzek: The Child

Library book: Emmanuel Carrere: The Adversary

Rereading: F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is the Night



24 books, 15 in or from other languages, 9 in English, 8 crime fiction.

My best proportion of translated fiction ever, so the WIT initiative clearly works well even for those of us who believe we read a lot of women writers and a lot of translated fiction. I made many wonderful discoveries, and feel I have learnt something from each book, even though I may not have loved them all.

My crime pick of the month/holidays is Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless, because it is such a timely topic (about the way we treat asylum-seekers). My overall favourite read is also Finnish (with a Swedish twist): Tove Jansson. Well, she sets a very high bar… But honourable mentions go to Valeria Luiselli and Gøhril Gabrielsen. (I exclude F. Scott Fitzgerald from the competition.) My disappointment was the Veronika Peters book, which I thought was going to be a more in-depth account of a woman’s search for herself, for God, for inner peace or spirituality. Instead, it was an (entertaining enough) account of everyday life in a convent, with all its rivalries, good and bad bits, but a lot more shallow than I expected – both the book and the narrator.






Reading Plans for the Summer Holidays

Only one week of summer holidays has gone by. A week only. Nothing but a week. ONLY one week with both children at home (2 1/2 weeks with the older son, who started earlier)… and I can see my plans for writing and reading are going to suffer… Add to that admin or professional things such as arranging house rentals, visa applications, travel arrangements for September, course preparation and tax returns, plus some writing-related projects which are more fun, but still require a lot of time. So you will not see me blogging very regularly over the next few weeks.


Instead, let me me tell you about my tentative reading plans. I’m very happy to have finished my #TBR20, but it’s only made a small dent in my reading pile. I will need to do a rerun at some point in September/October.

But first, I want to read those books I borrowed from the library, which have been waiting patiently in queue for #TBR20 to be over.

  1. Fred Vargas: Temps Glaciares – the latest Adamsberg book, not yet available in English
  2. Caroline Deyns: Perdu, le jour où nous n’avons pas dansé (Wasted, the Day We Did Not Spend Dancing) – a fictional account of Isadora Duncan’s life
  3.  Emannuel Carrère: L’Adversaire

Women in Translation Month (August)


  1. Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd (Mexico) – this will count towards my Global Reading Challenge as well
  2. Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver (Finnish)
  3. Therese Bohman: Drowned (Swedish)
  4. Alice Quinn: Queen of the Trailer Park (French) – this will count towards my Netgalley Challenge as well

Netgalley Challenge – trying to get my bookshelf in order, as I’ve been ‘overfeeding’ my already obese e-reader


  1. Sarah Ward: In Bitter Chill
  2. Renee Knight: Disclaimer
  3. Karin Fossum: The Drowned Boy (also counts towards WIT challenge)
  4. Sarah Leipciger: The Mountain Can Wait (also counts towards Global Reading Challenge)
  5. Lucy Atkins: The Other Child

You may notice there is a pronounced chiller thriller feel to the list above – just what I like reading on the beach (although there won’t be much beach featuring in my summer this year).

I reserve the right to chop and change within each category (except for the library books, which are due back end of August). I also hope at some point this summer to reread ‘Tender is the Night’ – quintessential summer read, to my mind (OK, depressing as hell, but still…).

Still, those are but shadowy plans and, as the Romanians say (as the Greeks are finding out): ‘your calculations at home never match the calculations in the marketplace’.



Six in Six Book Meme

I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist.  I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.

6 Books I Loved

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.

6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.

Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…

6 Authors I Want to

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…

6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to


Reading in June

Longest days, shortest nights of the year, so plenty of time for reading in June –  not much time for anything else in fact! It’s the kind of month where I can’t hear myself think, let alone write, we were all so busy with end-of-year stuff. So reading it is, to feed that relentlessly hungry gawp in myself.

#TBR20 Challenge is going well:

#TBR3 Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji (also re-reading challenge)

#TBR4 Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilch

#TBR5 Wendy Cope (ed.): The Funny Side

#TBR6 Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

#TBR7 Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

#TBR8 Ever Yours: Essential Van Gogh Letters

#TBR9: Alex Capus: Mein Nachbar Urs

#TBR10: Sergei Dovlatov: Pushkin Hills

#TBR11: Jeremie Guez: Paris La Nuit

#TBR12: Muriel Spark: Loitering with Intent (also a rereading challenge)

#TBR13: Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

#TBR14: Fouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine

These last two will be reviewed shortly, or as soon as holidays and children allow.

Review copies:

Cath Staincliffe: Half the World Away

Hakan Nesser: The Summer of Kim Novak

Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood

Maggie Mitchell: Pretty Is

Pascal Garnier: Boxes

The One That Got Away:

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants

Some other facts and figures:

18 books read in total, of which 7 can be legitimately classified as crime fiction/psychological thriller. My Crime Fiction Pick of the month (a meme initiated by Mysteries in Paradise) is Witness the Night, although I was also very impressed with Tel Aviv Suspects and Paris la Nuit.

3 books in German, 4 in French, 7 translations (from French, Swedish, Russian, Dutch, Hebrew and Japanese). I haven’t done so well in my Global Reading Challenge, with only Kishwar Desai bringing me to a new country, India. I still have to read books set in Africa, Oceania and South America, and find something for the 7th continent. 9 by women authors, 9 by men. And I am only 3 reviews behind!

1 poetry, 1 graphic non-fiction book, 2 rereading challenges, 1 auto-biography/letters.

Doing the #TBR20 challenge is having a very calming effect on me. Although I’ve still been doing a fair share of reviewing, it has felt much more within my control. I’ve felt much more freedom in the selection of my next book, plus there is such satisfaction to be had when you make a dent in your messy book pile!

Having said that, though, I must admit that I’ve cheated slightly and borrowed some books from the library. I haven’t actually started reading them yet, as they are for the duration of the summer holidays. So I will start them once I’ve completed my #TBR20 – that’s still within the rules, right?

Coming up for the #TBR20? A female French writer, for a change – Sylvie Granotier’s latest. One of my favourite German crime writers, Jakob Arjouni, and The Neck of the Giraffe by Judith Schalansky. Blood Jungle Ballet, set in American Samoa. I may have a change of heart for the remaining two books of the challenge, so I’ll allow myself (and you) to be surprised.

And those library books? The latest Vargas Temps Glaciares, a fictionalised biography of Isadora Duncan (one of my childhood heroines) by Caroline Deyns and Carrère’s L’Adversaire (couldn’t resist, after hearing the neighbours’ story of the real-life event which it’s based upon).