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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category
Posted in Books, Friends of the Blog, Reading, tagged Headline, Jacana Press, Nicola Doherty, Ninepins, Pierre van Rooyen, Rosy Thornton, Saturdays are Gold, The Out of Office Girl on June 1, 2012 | 5 Comments »
Three friends of the blog have recently published novels and I want to point you to them.
Pierre van Rooyen is in fact an IRL friend, but he counts as a friend of the blog as he has been known to turn up here and comment at length. His novel, Saturdays are Gold, was published last year as an ebook by Endaxi Press. It has just been published in print by South Africa’s Jacana Press with an ace cover, literally one of the best I have seen in a long time. And I can happily attest that the contents are even better than the cover. It’s a smashing read, full of murder, sorcery, snakes and two children whom you want to adopt, take home and feed.
Nicola Doherty is a true friend of the blog. We met in cyberspace, when she was still an editor. I followed her journey on her blog as she resigned from work to write fulltime – a good decision, as it turns out, as her novel The Out of Office Girl will be published by Headline next month. It’s a fun romantic comedy about a downtrodden editor who loses the plot when she works on a film star’s book. Nicola says it is only demi-semi-autobiographical. I got to read a preview copy of The Out of Office Girl a couple of months ago and I couldn’t put it down. I loved the insights into the publishing world and Alice’s desperate attempts to get the damn book finished. It’s a light and lovely read. Link to the Amazon page here.
Rosy Thornton is not a blogger, but she does visit here occasionally. We ‘met’ on Litopia, an online writers’ forum which serves as a combined water cooler and creative writing master’s degree for writers around the world. Rosy is the author of five novels, all of which I have read and all of which are very different. She is hard to pin down into any particular genre, but her website says she writes contemporary fiction. Rosy’s latest novel is Ninepins, a brooding novel set in the Cambridgeshire Fens, where landscape and action are inexorably linked. I picked it up when I was struggling to get through another novel, and was immediately swept up into the world of Laura, a single mother in the acutely difficult balancing act of trying to hold onto her twelve-year-old daughter and trusting her enough to start letting her go. I have spent time in the Fens, and Rosy renders them beautifully. Here is a guest post by Rosy on the drama of the Fens and how landscape meets theme in her novel.
Now you have your summer reading all lined up.
Homework assignment: read them all and come back to tell me what you think.
Posted in fiction, Non-fiction, Obama and Me, Reading, Reviews, tagged A Gate At The Foot of the Stairs, Jodi Kantor, Lorrie Moore, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, The Obamas on February 7, 2012 | 11 Comments »
I’ve been gobbling up The Hunger Games trilogy in tandem with my two daughters (they’re reading it in German) and while many of the scenes are incredibly moving, there were no parts of the books I needed to reread for the beauty of the words. Collins is brilliant at plot and she has a cast of memorable characters, led by the inimitable Katniss (such a superstar heroine compared to the dweeb who MC-ed Twilight, name utterly forgotten). I have images in my mind from the novels, whole scenes washing around in my head, but no words. Collins is a world-builder, a plotter and an ace at character, but perhaps not a poet.
The second book I’ve bounced through this week is the much-awaited (by me) The Obamas by Jodi Kantor. Longterm blog readers will know that I was an averred Obama fan. I howled big salty tears at his inauguration, had his poster up in my office and even stopped highlighting my hair in solidarity with his peppery side-burns. Like many, I grew disillusioned with his apparent inability to ring the changes and rise above the bipartisan US politics as he promised the world he would. When we moved house, his poster was relegated to the garage.
The Obamas is a very reasoned attempt to explain why this disillusionment happened for so many, how much it frustrated the first couple and how hard they are both still working to bring changes that will make differences in ordinary people’s lives. My respect for him was largely restored (though Guantanamo and the treatment of Bradley Manning are still blemishes), and my respect for Michelle Obama is hugely increased. I read The Obamas for facts and for the insight of Jodi Kantor, a journalist who followed them closely for years and interviewed hundreds of people for the book. It was engrossing, but dry.
Now I’m doing a third kind of reading. I’m late to the party with Lorrie Moore’s A Gate At The Stairs and I knew in advance that I was likely to enjoy it, given the many glowing reviews. But I had no idea how much. Moore is in love with language. She delights in great sentences and I am having to read some of them twice or three times just for the fun, the lightness, the poetry that they offer. Here is one where the main character describes the mosquitoes on her parents’ farm:
Mosquitoes with tiger-striped bodies and the feathery beards of an iris, their wings and legs the dun wisps of an unbarbered boy, their spindly legs the tendrils of an orchid, the blades of a gnome’s sleigh.
And here’s a great pair about the strangeness of coming home after having left for university:
At home in Dellacrosse my place in the world of college and Troy and incipient adulthood dissolved and I became an unseemly collection of jostling former selves. Snarkiness streaked through my voice, or sullenness drove me behind a closed door for hours at a time.
I’m only 63 pages in, so I have a lot of great sentences ahead of me. Sigh! What a lucky, lucky reader I am. I can tell that Lorrie Moore is about to be put on the list of favourites and her back-list hunted out.
To use my husband’s favourite software analogy, reading The Hunger Games is like eating popcorn (light, fluffy, but oddly compelling), reading The Obamas is like eating broccoli (healthy and enlightening), but reading A Gate At The Stairs is like eating the perfect meal at the perfect moment with the perfect person. It’s apt. It’s delicious. And it’s memorable.
Hallo January! Gosh, you’ve been a frisky little month, haven’t you? But I quite prefer you to December, which I am trying to extinguish permanently from my memory. December was flabby and exhausted, and quite, quite grumpy. Smelly also. But we won’t go there. We don’t need to remember it. January, on the other hand, you are fresh and full of promise. You are green. You are fragrant and exciting. You contain possibilities – potential new jobs, potential book deals, potential trips to faraway places that contain sun, beaches and disgustingly alcoholic cocktails. Your tail is twitching with the thrill of the new. And there is nothing I like more than new.
Here are some of the new things that January has brought me thus far:
1. A new handbag. A luscious, velvety object in peacock-feather blue.
2. A trip alone on a train.
3. A night alone in a hotel.
4. A walk around Munich on my own.
5. A large pile of non-fiction reading.*
6. Zumba - going tomorrow, will report back.
7. Pinterest - oh, the allure of this spectacular time-sucker. It is a revolting amount of fun. If you are a pinner, let me know and I will follow you.
8. Having a long-lost cousin from New Zealand find me on the Internet. Hello Amanda! *waves*
Have you done anything new this month?
* The Emperor of All Maladies, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Reading Women, soon to start the Charles Dickens biography.
Ms Musings is a style leader, both in terms of shoes and reading, so I’m grabbing her books meme and outing myself as a slavish follower of fashion. I hereby give you:
The Five Books Meme
1. The book I’m currently reading:
a. Paper book
The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. When I love a book, it’s usually because there’s a sentence that grabs me like a trout on a hook and I know I have to let the author’s mind reel me in. With most books, the hook sentence usually occurs somewhere in the first chapter. With The Marriage Plot it was the very first one: “To start with, look at all the books.” Done! Here’s my lip, please hook it! TMP makes me think of Freedom, but Eugenides is much warmer about his characters than Franzen is. He reveals their flaws and foibles, but with a generosity and warmth that is heartening. Also these are three characters who mediate their love lives through the books they are reading at the time – luckily, since I’m reading and writing crime, I no longer do this, but I do remember having Jean Rhys and Angela Carter days at university. I’m halfway in, but I’m taking it slowly because this is a book that I never want to end.
I’m also reading Before I Go To Sleep, the runaway crime success of 2011 by SJ Watson. It tells the story of a woman who loses her short-term memory while she sleeps, so every morning her husband, Ben, has to tell her who she is, who he is and remind her of the story of their marriage. In order to keep some sort of order, she keeps a diary that she hides from him (her psychiatrist phones her every morning to tell her where to look for it), and on the front page of the diary are the words ‘Don’t trust Ben.’ I’m heading into the final act, and it’s getting very exciting – when I can wrestle the iPad from the four Angry Birds addicts with whom I live.
2. The last book I finished
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo. I am a desperate and huge Nesbo fan, but this one let me down. I thought it was overly-long, far too gruesome and there were too many plot strands for the tension to remain high. However, I am more than a little in love with Harry Hole, so will continue to read the series. Note to Jo: your audience won’t be bored if something happy happens to Harry.
3. The next book I want to read
Well, it’s hidden in the Christmas drawer, but I doubt I will be able to wait that long: Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.
4. The last book I bought
I bought Germany’s Top Husband the Steve Jobs biography for his birthday, but I have a growing wish list on The Book Depository that contains these books.
5. The last book someone bought me
Germany’s Top Husband bought me The Marriage Plot. Did I mention that he was top?
What’s on your book list? Feel free to play along.
… my revisions and therefore I deserve a list. After I open a large bottle of wine, that is.
1. Philip Larkin - yes
2. George Orwell - yes
3. William Golding - yes
4. Ted Hughes - yes
5. Doris Lessing - yes
6. J. R. R. Tolkien – yes
7. V. S. Naipaul - started, got bored, put down
8. Muriel Spark - yes
9. Kingsley Amis - yes
10. Angela Carter - yes
11. C. S. Lewis - yes
12. Iris Murdoch - yes! big favourite here and long overdue for a re-read
13. Salman Rushdie - yes
14. Ian Fleming - nope
15. Jan Morris - nope
16. Roald Dahl - yes
17. Anthony Burgess - no
18. Mervyn Peake - yes
19. Martin Amis - yes
20. Anthony Powell - no
21. Alan Sillitoe - no, not even heard of
22. John Le Carré - yes
23. Penelope Fitzgerald - no
24. Philippa Pearce - no, not heard of her either
25. Barbara Pym - yes
26. Beryl Bainbridge -no, but I want to
27. J. G. Ballard - no
28. Alan Garner - no. Who he?
29. Alasdair Gray - no
30. John Fowles - yes
31. Derek Walcott - yes
32. Kazuo Ishiguro - yes
33. Anita Brookner - yes
34. A. S. Byatt - yes
35. Ian McEwan - yes
36. Geoffrey Hill - no
37. Hanif Kureishi - yes
38. Iain Banks - yes
39. George Mackay Brown - no
40. A. J. P. Taylor - yes
41. Isaiah Berlin - no
42. J. K. Rowling - yes
43. Philip Pullman - yes, but only part of, aloud to a child
44. Julian Barnes - yes
45. Colin Thubron - no
46. Bruce Chatwin - yes
47. Alice Oswald - no
48. Benjamin Zephaniah - yes, but how does he get on the list and Zadie Smith doesn’t?
49. Rosemary Sutcliff - no
50. Michael Moorcock - no
Out of my ‘nos’ are there any I should chase down and fling onto my TBR pile? Unmissable books that I’ve missed and without which my reading education is poorer and sadder?
May is turning out to be quite the month chez moi, which means my presence here at Charlotte’s Web will continue to be vague, scattered and somewhat erratic. Here, in order of importance, are three of the many things happening to me:
1. Complete novel revisions. It turns out that my main revisions are plot-related and plotting is my weakness, which is something I’m going to have to address if I plan to be a professional crime writer. That aside, I’m done with cogitating and have committed to completing and handing them in by the end of the month. I’ve said it! Feel free to stop me in the street and question me in depth about my progress, even if I look evasive and try to distract you with cheesecake.
2. Give creative writing workshop. At the end of the month, I’m giving a weekend workshop to undergrads at Heidelberg University. I’m looking forward to it very much. I visited them last week and asked what they want from their workshop and now have a clear idea how to structure it.
3. Run marathon. For an ex-asthmatic and renowned non-sportler this is the most intimidating, though I am slightly exaggerating the extent of the run. It’s a team event and four of us run a marathon as a relay. My leg is just over eight kilometres: short for some, very long and daunting for me.
I’m also attending to an admin list as long as my arm, one that includes passport refreshing for certain members of my family and other unspeakable horrors. If I’m ever rich/successful/clever enough to have an admin assistant, it is this kind of thing I will gladly hand over. Ticking boxes and filling out forms is not my forte. Give me character motivations and new plot strands any day.
However, I’m finding comfort in reading and have read some excellent books, which I will detail in another post. Right now, Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer Without Men is glowing all buttercup-yellow and tempting next to my bed.
And in other news, today is the last day for voting for Expatica Germany’s best blog 2010/2011, so if you feel moved to support me, here’s the link.
One of the most appealing things about Germany is its cafe society; places where you can nurse a coffee, read a book and watch the world go by. You are never hassled to move on, they serve breakfast all day long and usually have an array of freshed baked cakes. German cafes tend to have a handy stash of magazines and newspapers, so if you happen to leave your book at home, there’s always something to read.
Writing at home is fraught with booby-traps: the laundry, the phone, members of my family, so I have spent large chunks of the last three years writing in Heidelberg cafes where I have no alternative but to knuckle down. I thought that over the next few weeks, I’d introduce you to some of my favourites.
The first candidate is my newest find, the Literature Cafe. On arriving in Heidelberg, the first thing we did was join the library, a lovely glass building overlooking a small park in the centre of town. It is light-filled, groaning with books and scattered with cushions for readers to lounge on. My family and I felt immediately at home.
Attached to the library is the Literature Cafe and yesterday, without my small attendants and in need of a quiet hour to face my novel revisions, I went there. The cafe is glass-walled, like the library, so even on a gloomy, rain-bespattered day, it was light. There is a terrace that will come into its own in a couple of months time.
The cafe has a small menu of hot and cold drinks, breakfast items, sandwiches and cakes, which are apparently baked by the owner herself. There is a short daily specials menu, and since I was there at lunch-time, I ordered the spicy vegetable coconut soup, which was delicious and an extremely reasonable €3.50. Along with a large Milchkaffee and a mineral water, my bill came in at €7.50. The service was polite and efficient, and in the German manner to which I have grown happily accustomed, not over-friendly. On Sunday, the Literature Cafe does a brunch for €6.50 per person, which is a bargain. There is a selection of 50 newspapers from around the world, which customers are welcome to pick up and read with their coffee.
For me, the Literature Cafe’s biggest selling point is its proximity to the library. You can get your books and head straight for the cafe to start reading. The clientele yesterday were mainly people on their own, either reading or writing. Those in couples or groups spoke quietly, as if in deference to the library next door, and the only person who broke the quiet was a four-year-old who had a spectacular melt-down but was quickly removed by his mother. I could still hear his screams of ’Mean Mummy! Mean Mummy!’ going down the road as I smugly returned to my personal oasis of coffee and words.
Heidelberg’s Literature Cafe can be found at Poststrasse 15. It is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am till 8pm, Saturdays from 10am till 5pm and Sundays from 10am till 3pm.
‘Tis the season to be unbelievably busy and my attention span for reading is like that of a fruit bat in an apple orchard. I’m swooping from one thing to the next, discarded books in my wake (first 20 pages of The Finkler Question, opening paragraph of C, first half of a Phillip Kerr) and a strong sense of dissatisfaction. It’s a bit like being faced down by a plate of Christmas cookies: everything looks delicious but nothing I eat can placate my appetite.
Until my 10-year-old handed me a book. ‘Here, Mummy,’ she said. ‘Please read this. I think you’ll enjoy it.’
My history with German books is not good. I have read the first couple of pages of Der Vorleser and the first chapter of a Charlotte Link novel, but I gave up through sheer laziness. Reading in German is work and I like my reading to be pleasurable. However, when a book comes with L’s strong recommendation – it being one she selected and bought with her pocket money and during the reading of which she made happy noises – I had to give it a go.
Luckily, Als die Steine noch Vögel waren is a slender book, coming in at 122 pages. Marjaleena Lembcke tells the story of growing up in Finland, as one of seven children in a household that struggled to make ends meet. One of the children is Pekka, who loves everything: his bed, the moon, the smell of his mother and all the birds of the world. Pekka believes that all stones were once birds and could one day fly again so he spends much of his time throwing them, hoping to encourage them to fly once more.
Pekka was born mentally and physically disabled and spent the first two years of his life in hospital, having multiple operations. When he finally joins his family, he has to learn how to walk and speak. When he does, however, the family find a joyous soul bursting with love.
But Pekka didn’t just love us, he loved everyone and everything. When people came to visit us, Pekka would sit opposite the visitor and watch him carefully for a while. Then he would say, ‘I love you.’ Our guests would either be embarrassed or would feel as if they were melting. They couldn’t know that Pekka loved everything. He loved the chair on which he sat. He loved his bed, his socks, the carpet and Grandmother’s apron. He loved Mother’s smell and Father’s beard. (My translation)
Pekka’s joy infects his family and sister’s story. He views the world differently and his alternative philosophy helps the family keep their spirits up when money is tight and Father considers emigrating to Canada. He is also a survivor, who emerges unscathed from a choking incident, being knocked out several times and having a bout of leukamia, which turns out to be wrongly diagnosed anaemia.
This is a lovely, gentle, sweetly written book which I enjoyed immensely. It was a light and satisfying read and a perfect antidote to my reading troubles. A cucumber soup, perhaps, to those heavy and overly sweet Christmas confections.
So, I’ve read a whole novel in German! And in October, I read my first e-book. I have yet to devise an e-book strategy, but I thought for my first experience, I had better select a page-turner to ensure that I actually read the thing. I choose Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands, a much-acclaimed crime debut, and while it was a great read, I now feel a sense of sadness that I don’t own the physical book. I feel cheated.
Despite the instant gratification of selecting an e-book and downloading it on the spot, at the moment I have no great desire to read another one. I have friends who travel frequently and download books for their journeys, and I can see the logic and convenience in that, but right now my life doesn’t require huge travel (though I live in hope). Some of my Litopia pals have published e-books and I plan to read them over the holidays, but let’s just say that for now, I’m not convinced.
Do you have an e-book reading strategy? Are there books you need to see on your bookshelves and others you are happy to have as digital copies only?