New School Year Resolutions

Call it a remnant of childhood (or habit resulting from protracted studies, plus a few years in academia, or living in France with their emphasis on la rentrée, plus now working in a university environment), but I always feel that September is the month for new notebooks, clean sheets and resolutions. Most of my resolutions are reading and writing related, with a few general lifestyle issues throwing in for balance.

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via GIPHY

 

  1. Rein in my social media, blogging, lit mag and reviewing activity. It’s not a question of not enjoying it, but it’s just not sustainable on top of a full-time job, two children, a long commute and my own writing ambitions. I’ve been reviewing for Crime Fiction Lover for 6 years now, and it will soon be a year since I got involved with Asymptote. I want to continue my collaboration, but not to the point where it starts interfering with my health. If I spread myself too thinly, I will end up not pleasing anyone!
  2. Accept fewer books for review and focus instead on those I really want to read, and on topics I feel strongly about (in a ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ kind of way), for example my much neglected #EU27Project.
  3. Stop going to so many events. I had a sobering moment when I put together a list of all my income and outgoings for the solicitor last week and realised that I have plenty of unavoidable expenses already with household bills, Council Tax, car costs and children’s school-related expenses. No need to live beyond my means quite so extravagantly. One event every month or two might be just about reasonable, but over the next month I have 8 planned, plus a trip to Vienna. Surely a little excessive!
  4. Stop buying so many books, for the same reason as above. There are plenty of books on my shelves still clamouring to be read. I can still get plenty of interesting books from the library, as well as all the review copies I receive. I do not have to read every single book every single person I ever admired ever recommended.
  5. Start writing new things (perhaps do that on the train instead of going through my Twitter feed) and start submitting once more, but more systematically this time.
  6. Put together the manuscript for my poetry collection (chapbook or whatever you wish to call it) and start looking for a publisher.
  7. Exercise more regularly, as my old bones are getting creaky and I want to be able to enjoy food instead of starving myself. A combination of Nordic walking, Tai Chi, contemporary dance and abdominal exercises in front of the telly should do the trick (I get easily bored in a gym).
  8. Set myself some checkpoints to see if I’m sticking to these goals. Revisit this post in early December and see what progress I’ve made.
And then I reach the state of no-mindedness in Zen…

 

Back in the Saddle with 2017 Reasons to Go, Go, Go!

Happy New Year to everyone! No sooner have we drawn a collective sigh of relief that the seemingly cursed 2016 is over, then we realise that 2017 carries the hangover of 2016’s unresolved problems plus bringing many new ones of its own.

The loss of so many cultural heroes has saddened me, but I wonder if some of¬† us are mourning something more than that: a loss of innocence, perhaps, and the triumph of cynicism and mediocrity. I haven’t felt this traumatised since the early 1990s in Romania, when the initial euphoria over the burial of the old world order degenerated into frustration and puzzlement as the new order refused – despite repeated additional chances we gave it – to show anything truly new or valuable.

My Christmas was surprisingly calm, even though it was a calm based on avoidance. The atmosphere was equally as indifferent and frosty as over the past 4-5 years, but this time it was not thwarted with dashed expectations. So I read a lot and ran my own programme of events (some by myself, some with the youngsters) without worrying about keeping the rest of the family fed, washed, educated and entertained (OK, I still had to do the first three, but I did it less obsessively than in previous years).

I know I should have some goals or resolutions for the New Year, and that sharing them here might mean I stand a better chance of actually achieving them. And yet, like every year, I have just the one resolution (or call it hope): that 2017 is going to be my best year yet, the year of changing and growing and learning… and finding the odd moments of contentment, peace and satisfaction.

Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent. (Mignon Mclaughlin)

I have 2017 reasons to make the most of this next year. No, don’t worry, I won’t share them all with you! Merely the first two, the greatest of my reasons: two rapidly growing boys who deserve to know a happier, more optimistic,¬†more successful, less resentful, more active, healthier mother than she has been over the past¬†6-7 years (for more than half of their lives).

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Full Moon on Monday and Writing Plans

The setting full moon over the Jura mountains got me singing ‘Full Moon on Monday’. Although, a while later, I realised that the Duran Duran song of my childhood was actually called ‘New Moon on Monday’. The lyrics are as vague and nonsensical as all Duran Duran lyrics ever were, but the video seems to suggest a revolution in the making, so this is my personal writing revolution, rather than a New Year’s resolution. I will be, as always, ruthlessly candid.FullMoon

  1. No one else is going to write my novel for me.
  2. Agents and publishers have a short attention span and will not wait for me forever.
  3. In fact, it may already be too late for 2.
  4. But that is no excuse to lay down arms.
  5. The next few months may be my last chance to focus with anything resembling single-mindedness on writing.
  6. Yes, there are still major logistical hurdles before me (moving house and country, changing schools, job hunting), but I will worry about those nearer the time.
  7. So what if everyone and their dog are writing ‘domestic noir’ and I am getting bored with the genre? That doesn’t mean I should lose confidence in my own project. If I don’t believe it offers something fresh and unique, then who else is going to believe it? Besides, it’s more of a gangster and police chase novel than a pure domestic.
  8. Volunteering for all sorts of writing-related responsibilities and tasks may be fun, but do they help me to finish the novel? If the answer is no, then I need to be ruthless about turning down these requests.
  9. I will still read and review crime fiction – it helps to know what is currently being published – but I should also read more widely and critically, with particular emphasis on the writers that I can learn from. Not to copy them, of course, but to understand the mechanics rather than just be wowed by the style.
  10. I also want to read for fun, without reviewing, without pen in hand, according to whim and fancy. Because life is too short to be earnest all the time.
  11. And on that note, always have something to look forward to and something to celebrate. That is my remedy for depression. Yes, there are all the other possible solutions as well: medication or talking to someone, exercising more regularly, using my daylight-simulating lamp or just going out more above the cloud level, exploring the settings for my novel… Add to that things such as a writing conference in March, the crime festival in Lyon on 1-3 April, and a writing retreat in June, and you can see that 2016 will be all about drive but also treats!
  12. If I don’t take care of myself, no one else will, and I won’t be able to take care of others. Yet I must also allow those others to take more care of themselves, without agonising too much about what kind of a parent I am.
  13. Don’t think diet, think lifestyle change. I intend to write more than one novel, so I need to form lifelong habits.
  14. Stop caring what other people say about my decisions and my life. No one knows what pain feels like for other people, no one can live my life for me.
  15. And no one can write my life for me either. Or my novel. Or my poems.

Reading Challenges Update

This is a bit early for a monthly reading update, but I seem to be currently stuck in three books which will take me through right to the end of January and beyond, so it is fair to say that the ten books below are the only ones I read through January.

My only New Year’s resolutions have been my reading challenges. I have signed up for three of them – how have I fared this month? Well, it’s a mixed picture, but I’m not quite ready to give up on my resolutions just yet.

2015global_reading_challengev21)¬†Global Reading Challenge hosted by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise: I’m making it easy on myself this year and opting for the Easy Level – one book from each of the 7 continents (Africa, Asia, Australasia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America, plus a new continent – Antarctica or a new threshold you are willing to pass – paranormal, historical, space, sea). The reason I have pulled back a little is because I want to choose really brand-new settings/authors, rather than falling back on my usual French/German/Scandinavian/South African staples. So, although I read 3 French books, 1 Japanese book, 1 German book, 1 Irish and 1 Swedish book and 1 ‘vampirish’ novel this month. I am reluctant to put any of them down as my European component. Because none of that would be new to me. Mission not accomplished.¬†Have to do better next month!

2) January in Japan Challenge hosted by Tony Malone at Tony’s Reading List.¬†Not quite good enough.¬†I only managed to finish one book: Kanae Minato’s¬†Confessions¬†and am still in the midst of reading Natsume SŇćseki’s last, unfinished novel¬†Light and Dark.¬†As for my ambition to read the new(ish) translation of¬†Tales of Genji (Royall Tyler version): well, this will have to wait, but will hopefully be my epic undertaking for the year.

tbr-dare-20143) TBR Double Dog Dare  hosted by James at James Reads Books. This is a last-ditch attempt to bring some order into the chaos which is my TBR pile Рoverflowing on shelves, on the floor and threatening to inundate my laptop and tablet as well. The aim is to not buy any new books until I have made a sizeable dent in my pile of ready and waiting books. With a little cheating. i.e. borrowing from libraries just before the holidays and last minute purchasing of books in 2014, I managed to do quite well with this challenge Рvictory!

The three library books I borrowed were all in French, so they don’t count, because it’s like work (improving my vocabulary, making the most of my current location etc. etc.) They were:

  • Patrick Modiano:¬†L’Herbe des nuits

Given the blurb on the back, I was expecting more of a crime fiction type mystery, but it’s the usual Modiano fare about the reliability of memory, how well we really know people, trying to recapture the past and whether nostalgia really lives up to its name.

  • Jeanne Desaubry:¬†Poubelle’s Girls

poubelles-girls-jeanne-desaubyA touching Thelma and Louise type story of two women living on the margins of French society and the unlikely friendship which arises between them. A depressingly realistic story of the poor and downtrodden, but also quite funny, with fascinating, well-rounded characters and juicy dialogue.

  • Daniel Pennac:¬†Comme un roman

An essay about the joys of reading and how schools, parents, teachers and book snobs are in danger of killing off the joys of reading for young people. Contains the famous Ten Comandments of Reading (or the Rights of the Reader)

1. Le droit de ne pas lire. The right to not read.
2. Le droit de sauter des pages. The right to skip pages
3. Le droit de ne pas finir un livre. The right to not finish a book.
4. Le droit de relire. The right to reread.
5. Le droit de lire n’importe quoi. The right to read whatever you please.
6. Le droit au bovarysme (maladie textuellement transmissible). The right to Bovaryism (textually transmitted disease).
7. Le droit de lire n’importe o√Ļ. The right to read wherever you please.
8. Le droit de grappiller. The right to dip into books.
9. Le droit de lire à haute voix. The right to read out loud.
10. Le droit de se taire. The right to shut up.

The other books have all been from my existing shelves and most of them have been reviewed elsewhere:

  • Tana French: The Likeness – bought second-hand last year . My first, but certainly not my last Tana French book.¬†Although the plot did seem implausible in places, I really enjoyed the¬†engaging writing, poetic at times, and the genuine sadness of the failure of any idealistic community.
  • Lynn Shepherd: The Pierced Heart¬† – ebook sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review (having reviewed a previous book of hers). The vampire story for those who do not like vampire stories (which I don’t).
  • Jonas Karlsson: The Room¬†¬†–¬†Netgalley ebook sent by publisher way back in November. A perfect modern fable about corporate life and the death of the imagination.
  • Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train¬†– downloaded from Netgalley several months ago.¬†The life of others always seems more attractive when we are making a mess of our own… and when we see them from a distance. A psychological thriller full of unreliable narrators and domestic claustrophobia.
  • girlwhowasntFerdinand von Schirach: The Girl Who Wasn’t There¬†– copy sent by publisher for review on CFL. Not really a crime novel, more of a ‘coming of age’ story, plus a courtroom drama debating issues of justice, art, trial by media and much more – beautifully written.

The final book I read this month was¬†Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment,¬†which I bought in the last few weeks of 2014 following the review by Jacqui. I had previously read the reviews by Tony and Bibliobio, but kept putting it off as far too depressing a subject. Then Jacqui gave me the final nudge. A very emotional read, engaging all your senses – abandon all rationality ye who enter this maelstrom! Will review in more depth shortly.¬†¬†¬†

 

 

Changing My Reading Habits (Part 2)

Walk2This continues yesterday’s ruminations about reading: duty versus pleasure, and where blogging/reviewing fits into all of this. How can I hack/cut my own path through the jungle of publishing PR, excited recommendations and friendly requests? How can I bring quality and fun back into reading, rather than making it a race about quantity and deadlines?

I’ve got a list of New School Year Resolutions, but I’ll start with the most obvious remark. I am NOT a professional reviewer. I do not get paid to read, edit, market, hold a writer’s hand or write reviews – not even for the Crime Fiction Lover website. It’s all a labour of love. I may be a fast reader, but I am a slow reviewer. I want my review to be well-balanced, fair, taking into account that different people might find different aspects of the book appealing. I like to think about larger patterns or themes emerging from my reading. I like to compare writers or different cultures. But all of this takes time – at least a couple of hours per review (pure writing time, without counting the reading and researching).

It’s time I cannot afford to spend anymore on blogging. Much as I love reviewing books, participating in challenges, interacting with you all, reading your thoughts and blogs, responding to comments and commenting on your posts, I just cannot sustain this pace whilst also focusing on my family and my day-job. My writing, above all, has suffered in the process. Which is ironic, because the reason I started blogging in the first place was so I could write something everyday, improve my writing skills, track my progress. Call me a wimp, a wuss, a ‘beer glass of reduced volumic capacity’ (good old Romanian saying), but I have days when I am unable to write anything else after I’ve finished a book review. And, since my mission in life is to write poetry and crime fiction (rather than becoming the most revered or feared book reviewer or the blogger with the most followers and freshly pressed articles), it is clear that things need to change.

Walk1Resolutions:

1) Thou shalt not buy, beg or borrow any more books

… until I’ve finished everything I already own. Or give away the books that do not appeal to me. That means: tie up (or otherwise disable) my trigger-happy finger which keeps clicking the ‘buy’ button on online bookshops (and it’s not just Amazon that makes it very easy to order with one click), or the ‘request/send’ button on sites such as Netgalley.

I am very grateful to publishers who send me free books – even more grateful to those who ask me first which ones appeal to me rather than just randomly selecting some of their latest releases. But I also have to be able to say ‘No’, to be clearer about my reading preferences, and not feel obliged to review everything I’ve been sent (when it’s not been requested by me). I also need to give away those ‘scattergun’ books much, much sooner, and stop hoarding them on the ‘off-chance’ that someday I may change my mind. (It can happen, but far too infrequently and I don’t have the space.)

Walk32) Thou can live without all the books you have ever liked or been interested in

I’ve had to move abroad quite a few times and many of my favourite books got left behind in the process. I still have an attic full of books in the UK – and yes, sometimes I would like to re-read a passage which I am sure I have somewhere up there, but on the whole I can live without them or look them up elsewhere. I have to be more selective about keeping only non-negotiable favourites whom I consult all the time, or rare/unusual/hard to find editions. Even if they were expensive.

And I can also learn to wait before reading the ‘latest buzzes’ – which means I am more likely to find them at the library and need not feel guilty about abandoning them half-way through if they do not meet my expectations.

3) Thou shalt have fun with your reading

… and bring serendipity back into the game. Pick up a random title, author, genre on the bookshelf, something just a little beyond your usual line of sight. I want to read lesser known authors, re-read some of my old favourites from school and university, discover little quiet gems instead of the big brash brass-bands of new releases. Not so much for the sake of standing out from the crowd, but because you get to hear all of that hype anyway, in all kinds of media. Do you really need my take on ‘Gone Girl’ when you can read hundreds of reviews elsewhere? There are so many other good books out there deserving a mention, perhaps ones which have been published a while ago but got very little exposure, or authors who have fallen out of favour.

Walk44) Thou shalt be brave and honest

I won’t like all books that I’ve been sent, that I’ve borrowed or bought. A perfectly decent cover, blurb and opening paragraph may suddenly turn into the nightmare read from hell halfway through the book. I know some reviewers who make it a policy to not review a book unless they loved it and can recommend it to others. I can understand this all too¬†well: so much time and effort (blood, sweat, caffeine and tears) has gone into writing and publishing a book that anyone with a writer’s heart will feel uncomfortable criticising it. But if we were all to follow this rule, there would be no warning signs at all on books and we’d soon get very disappointed as a reader, feeling we’d been conned into buying books we simply cannot care about.

This is especially hard when you are reviewing books by people you consider friends (whether you’ve met them in person or only online). I have a huge sense of loyalty to anyone who’s ever been nice to me. When it’s a debut that I did not get on with, I’ve been known to email the author and say: ‘Would you rather I didn’t review it at all, because I can only give it 1-2 stars?’ Because I do believe that debut authors deserve some encouragement, a second chance. I’ve also been known to revert to what the French call the ‘wooden language’ of diplomacy. It’s useful to know perhaps that ‘fast-paced page-turner’ means ‘not much substance’, while ‘an assortment of quirky characters’ usually means ‘far too long cast list of flat stereotypes’.

From now on, I will be honest. Still fair and balanced, still bearing in mind that we are all different and like a huge variety of things, but no more beating around the bush if a book did not appeal to me. Although I may let any author friend know in private rather than posting a scathing review without informing them. And there will be no sarcasm for the sake of showing off my superior critical abilities – when I haven’t even finished writing my first novel!

Walk55) Thou shalt be guided by mood, the colour of the sky and the call of the wild

… but it will not be all aimless wandering. When you reach a certain age, it’s all too easy to turn into a curmudgeon and say ‘I know what I want and like, so that’s what I’ll read’. I want to continue to broaden my reading tastes, in a gentle rather than a forced way. I want to explore new countries, new authors.

So here are some concrete changes you will notice on my blog:

  • I won’t review everything I read, just the books which stand out for me, or which fit into a theme, and probably not more frequently than 1-2 review per week. And that includes the 1-2 books a month which I will be reviewing for other sites.
  • I won’t boast anymore about my latest bookhauls. Although I love hearing what other people are getting and reading, in far too many cases it turns out to be a sort of free book promotion for publishers and authors. I’d rather tweet about that, rather than dedicate a blog post to it.
  • I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon anymore with the latest releases. You may find I review things a couple of years later, after the hoopla has died down. Or talk about authors you’ve only vaguely heard of. Or introduce you to authors I’d like to see translated into English. But rules are made to be broken, so I can’t promise that I won’t fall for a bit of hype from time to time!
  • Post less frequently but more substantially (although I may still succumb to the temptation of pictures of libraries, bookshelves, writers’ studies and interior design). Write more poetry, prose and other posts about writing in general. And sorry, but I cannot stick to a set weekly routine of posts… It will be haphazard as ever, following the call of the wild…

 

Thank you all for your kind tweets and comments on Part 1 of this post yesterday, and for your patience for my long, self-indulgent rant today. It seems that this conundrum resonates with many of you, so please share your own strategies and coping mechanisms.

 

 

Global Reading Challenge 2013

Hello again, everyone, and thank you for not forgetting about me completely during my looooong absence, reinforced by lack of internet, laptop, place or time to call my own (writing time giving way to family time).

2013 is announcing itself as a very busy year professionally and personally, so finding the time to write will be even more of a challenge than usual. Yet, despite that, reading must and will happen.  And not just random reading РI do believe in challenging myself and going beyond my old comfort friends.  So I am signing up to the Global Reading Challenge as outlined by the avid reader and fantastic host Kerri of Mysteries in Paradise.

I am signing up for the Medium Challenge, which means reading two books from each of the continents, defined here as¬†Africa, Asia, Australasia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America and a Seventh Continent, which could be Antarctica, or an unfamiliar setting, such as¬†the sea, space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future etc. So fourteen books for the year – doesn’t sound like much, but when you add all the familiar reading, rereading, ARC for reviews and all that, it becomes a little less of a sure winner…

So that is my challenge, instead of New Year’s Resolutions.¬† What goals are you setting yourself, either for your reading or your writing?¬† Or personally? And what is your opinion of New Year resolutions?