All Appeared New and Strange at First…

Although perhaps not quite at the level of the end of this quote from metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne: ‘… inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful’.

Yes, I am pushing out my little sailing-boat to new, unexplored shores. New job, new timetable, new way of presenting my book haul and a meeting with one of my living heroines: Herta Müller.

I thought I might save some time if I present my book haul in a one-take video and upload that on You Tube. I’m not quite convinced yet that it will be a time-saver, but perhaps this will get faster as I become more familiar with the settings. I rather cringe, though, when I see and hear myself speaking. Plus, my anonymity is gone now!

Here is the link to the video. Let me know if you have any problems viewing it.

I’m off to catch the train to see Herta Müller at the British Library and will write more about it when I get back.

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WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 13 Sep 2017

WWW Wednesday is a 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:

Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted – for #EU27Project and because it is about Transylvania just before, during and after WW1. Bánffy was a politician as well as a writer born in Transylvania, and he is nostalgic but also scathing about the Hungarian aristocracy. It is a massive tome (and it’s just the first of a trilogy), so I think it should keep me quiet for months to come.

Laura Kaye: English Animals – one of those cultural exploration stories which I find so fascinating. A Slovakian woman gets a job as a sort of housekeeper in an English country house owned by an eccentric mismatched couple. Library book which I couldn’t resist getting. Even better: it’s in large print, so the pages just whizz by!

Santiago Gamboa: Return to the Dark Valley – what is it about these Latin Americans that they are so visceral and interesting and wild? An impossible to define novel about fear, dislocation, crimes, revenge and an increasingly global world. Experimental and yet immensely readable.

 

Recent:

Grazia Deledda: After the Divorce – I will write a proper review of this for #EU27Project, but it’s a sweeping picture of a Sardinian village, with all its poverty, gossip, violence and passion. There have been some complaints about the translation, but it sounds quite modern (perhaps too much so?) to me.

Terence Portelli (ed.): Tangerine Sky: Poems from Malta – review to come for #EU27Project. Nice to read something from a culture and country that I know very little about.

Maggie Nelson: Bluets – is this poetry, essay, memoir? A bit of each? An investigation into the colour blue (my favourite) and the end of a relationship.

Future:

Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk – the last novel of a wonderful writer, who will be much missed

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal – political thriller, was going to be part of my summer reading, but I never got around to it

I will be starting a new full-time job on Monday, which will involve daily commuting into London. Whether that adds to my reading time remains to be seen. I am afraid it may sadly eat into my writing and blogging time. However, I suspect that all those who follow me on Twitter will be hugely relieved that I will be spending less time on that platform!

 

6 Degrees of Separation – September 2017

Kate has a talent for picking interesting books as a starting point for her Six Degrees of Separation meme and this month it’s Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I loved that book when I read it, as I’ve always been fascinated by Chinese culture and history.

 

 

So for my first link I will stay with China but move to crime fiction, with Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, featuring the very likeable Chief Inspector Chen, a poet who has to navigate his way through the political shenanigans of 1990s Shanghai.

 

 

Another poet/policeman is of course PD James’ Adam Dalgliesh and in one of the books of the long-running series Original Sin he investigates the death of the managing director of one of London’s oldest publishing houses, the fictional Peverell Press.

 

 

Another book describing life in the publishing industry, with slightly less murder but considerably more satire, is Muriel Spark’s delightfully outrageous, darkly tongue-in-cheek A Far Cry from Kensington, where the sensible Mrs Hawkins can suddenly no longer bear the frightful prose and arrogant air of one of their authors.

 

 

I always associate Muriel Spark with Barbara Pym, especially with the latter’s novel Less Than Angels, which is equally merciless and satirical about anthropologists as Spark is about publishers. Perhaps I have a soft spot for this novel (which is not necessarily Pym’s best, although it is perhaps her most light-hearted one) because it reminds me of tea-time in the common room at the Anthropology Department in Cambridge and all the characters you might meet there.

 

Speaking of anthropologists, one of the founding mothers of anthropology was Margaret Mead and her memoir Blackberry Winter was one of the books which ignited my life-long love for the subject. Some of her findings have since been contested – which is as it should be, research (and our respect and understanding for other cultures) should progress constantly.

 

 

Another remarkable woman who has inspired me all my life is Marie Curie. I haven’t yet read the biography written by her daughter Ève Curie, but it would be interesting to see what this younger daughter, an artistic cuckoo in a nest of scientists, has to say about her driven mother. Apparently, she used to joke that she was the disappointment of the family: ‘There were five Nobel Prizes in my family, two for my mother, one for my father, one for [my] sister and brother-in-law and one for my husband. Only I was not successful…’

So from China to the UK, Samoa and Papua New Guinea to Poland and France, this has been a meandering sort of literary link… Where will your associations take you?

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

 

 

Summer Update on #EU27Project

What is lovely about the #EU27Project and its easy-going nature is that it bubbles along nicely even if I somewhat neglect it occasionally. And that is thanks to all of your contributions, dear readers and bloggers. Let me try to summarise, however, what has been added to the bouquet of links over the past 3 months. We now have a total of 70 reviews up there (although I have to exclude 4 which are either duplicates or errors) and, for the stats fiends amongst you:

From Urbanexpression.org.uk
  • France leads the way with 12 reviews
  • Austria is punching well above its size with 9
  • Germany and The Netherlands have 6 each
  • Denmark and Italy are next, with 5 each
  • Ireland and Finland have 4
  • Poland and Belgium are on 3
  • Portugal, Croatia and Czechia are on just 2 each
  • And poor Spain only has 1 review – thank you Lizzy!

We have had the good fortune of attracting some new contributors. Marcelle is a Norwegian booklover who blogs at Lesser Known Gems. As the name indicates, she likes finding the less obvious classical authors and books which deserve to be more widely read, and she does so from a very international perspective. She has added some Portuguese, Italian, Austrian  Belgian and Dutch gems to our links page. In fact, her puzzled review of Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce made me seek it out to read and make up my own mind.

Emma from Book Around the Corner has also joined us with a review of short stories by 1920s Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz.  And I’m delighted to say that Maphead has come back after a long absence with a Croatian entry.

Elsewhere, we have plentiful and excellent reviews from Jonathan, Susan Osborne, Lizzy’s Literary Life, The Book Satchel and Booker Talk. Some of our earlier contributors have taken a wee bit of a rest (as I have myself, so who’s to blame them?), but I hope they will remember to link some more of their reviews in the future. In the meantime, there is plenty catch up on here, if you just click on the Mister Linky button at the bottom of the page, you will see all of the countries, books and blogger names. Please feel free to add your own links, even if they are books you’ve read a few months ago. The more the merrier!

European Union flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels

So my conscience is now telling me it is high time to pay some attention to previously unreviewed countries. I still have that collection of poetry from Malta. I have recently acquired a Latvian book High Tide by Inga Abele. I’ve kept mentioning Miklos Banffy (Hungary) and Javier Marias (Spain). On my ereader, I’ve got mainly German and French authors, so I will leave that aside for the time being.   Above all, I keep meaning to review Romanian authors – and have indeed read quite a few in preparation, but then decided that they weren’t quite right for this project. Maybe I’m being too fussy.

What countries from the EU27 would you like to know more about? What have you read recently which opened your eyes to a whole new culture?

 

 

 

End of Summer Book Haul

When I shared my last book haul, I told you I’d already ordered some other books. Some of them have duly arrived, and then I happened to pass by Foyles bookshop in London yesterday, so I couldn’t resist a few more. I tell myself (somewhat unconvincingly) that these will be my last purchases for a while. They had better be, or I might go bankrupt!

Herta Müller

The only ‘Romanian’ author to ever have won the Nobel Prize, although she actually writes in German and is an ethnic German who happened to be born in Romania (where she was not very happy, one might say, and rather discriminated against during the Communist era). I think she has a wonderful prose style, although the topics are painful ones. I bought three of her novels:

Herztier – a group of friends who try to protest against Ceausescu’s regime in the 80s and then suffer the consequences

Atemschaukel – the fate of the ethnic Germans who were sent to Soviet labour camps after the end of the Second World War

Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger – trust and friendships are broken in the last few days of the Communist dictatorship

Clarice Lispector

My Brazilian love affair, with two books Complete Stories and her shortest, most poetic and enigmatic ‘novel’ Agua Viva.

Maggie Nelson: Bluets

Somewhat similar in subject matter to Lispector’s Agua Viva, this is a book impossible to define: somewhere on the borders of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and essay. And of course, I am mildly obsessed with the colour blue myself.

Leila Slimani: Dans le jardin de l’ogre

I’ve discovered that Foyles has a section of books in foreign languages and the prices are relatively decent (especially if you compare to the cost of buying in France and having them shipped over). So I found this book, which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time, Slimani’s debut novel about a sexual addict, although I’m still trying to read her second book (winner of the Prix Goncourt) Chanson Douce.

 

George Szirtes: Mapping the Delta

Poems about history, dislocation, memory, forgetting and the anxiety of disaster zones. I’ve read Szirtes only sporadically before, but thought I should read more of him before next week, when I will have the pleasure of going on a writing retreat tutored by him.

 

 

Two more are ordered but not quite here yet:

Ulrike Schmitzer: Die Stille der Gletscher

Austrian writer from Salzburg, in this most recent novel she presents the story of a researcher who is investigating the melting of the glaciers and then mysteriously disappears. An eco-thriller, one might say. Some of the coolest contemporary writing in German is coming out of Austria (plus I am susceptible to books about mountains), so I could not resist after reading Austrian book blogger Mariki’s review.

Milena Michiko Flasar: I Called Him Necktie (transl. Sheila Dickie)

The relationship that develops between a young Japanese hikikomori—a shut-in who never leaves his room and has no human interaction—and a middle-aged salaryman who has lost his job but can’t bring himself to tell his wife. Written by a Japanese-German author, translated and published by New Vessel Press.

WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 16th August

WWW Wednesday is a 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:

Ileana Vulpescu: Arta Compromisului (The Art of Compromise) – a Romanian writer for #EU27Project, although I can’t really claim her for #WITMonth, as she hasn’t been translated into English

Chris Whitaker: All the Wicked Girls – to be reviewed soon on Crime Fiction Lover. I loved his previous book Tall Oaks, but this one is quite different, although it still depicts small-town America.

Finished:

Svetlana Alexievich: The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II (transl. Pevear & Volokhonsky) – another wonderful choice for #WITMonth, this is oral history at its most riveting and poignant. Such strong women, but the scars are there. Review to follow.

Elena Varvello: Can You Hear Me? – a perfect fit for #WITMonth and #EU27Project

 

Next:

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West – this one doesn’t fit into any of my reading plans, but I saw the book at the library and I’d better read it before I need to return it. Besides, I can never resist a story about refugees. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Margaret Millar: Collected Millar (Vanish in an Instant, Wives and Lovers, Beast in View, An Air that Kills, The Listening Walls) – this is for a feature I’ll be writing for Classics in September for Crime Fiction Lover, reviewing the work and legacy of Margaret Millar and suggesting the top five reads if you are new to her excellent suspense novels. The real and inimitable creator of domestic noir.

Have you read any of the above? And what are you currently reading or planning to read? Do share in the comments below. You know I am such a nosey parker!