Sunday, 31 January 2010

On the Bedside Table

Do you have several books on the go at once? I'm usually what you would consider a monogamous reader: a girl who is loyal to one book at a time; occasionally though I read a few books at once, especially longer classics and books that I am reading over an extended period of time. Books that I am slowly reading are kept on my bedside table (nightstand) as well as books that I plan to read next; my immediate to-be-read pile also lies in two stacks: one beside the bedside table and another in the living room, for ease of access wherever I happen to finish a book, depending on what I'm in the mood for reading.

Currently on my night-stand are two Japanese classics: I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume and The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, both of which are In Spring it is the Dawn read-alongs, one of which is coming to an end and the other about to commence. The other titles, To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski and Foe by J. M. Coetzee, are two that I am looking forward to reading and have placed within easy reach to pick up and read when the time is right.

Do you keep books by your bedside? If so, what do you have there at the moment?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Defined by Books

Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book tagged me in his ten books meme three weeks ago and I am only now getting around to posting; both another cookie crumbles and JoAnn of Lakeside Musings tagged me in the honest scrap "ten things" award so this is also a response to them with ten bookish things about me.

Simon's rules:

1.) Go to your bookshelves...
2.) Close your eyes. If you're feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or... basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself - where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc.....
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn't matter if you've read them or not - be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to...

Seeing as Simon fully sanctioned cheating ... I did. To be fair, I instinctively know where all of my books are so I couldn't have picked them unknowingly blind but I did choose them at random by looking at the bookshelves and quickly choosing ten books from ten different shelves, one or two of them as intentionally representative of something about me.

Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume: this title is self-explanatory and true. I could have shared one of my Judy Blume books but instead I thought this was far more revealing about me. I loved Judy Blume as a girl and still hold a soft spot for some of her books (Just as Long as We're Together, Here's to You Rachel Robinson, Tiger Eyes, Deenie ...)

Trumpet by Jackie Kay: there are several books that I could have used to tell you that I am from Glasgow but none quite as beautiful as this one, in which the 1960s sections are set in my home-city (Kay also grew up there).

The Collected Stories by Katherine Mansfield: I was first introduced to Katherine Mansfield by a beloved English teacher at school who gave us "The Doll House" to read, which remains one of my favourite short stories because of its apparent simplicity yet also inexplicable quality. This book reveals not only a cherished bookish memory from school but also that I own a replica Victorian dollhouse (I used to own two, but my sister now has my first one) and collect miniature furniture, including books, a Swan Lake screen, a tiny Tiffany lamp (post-dating Victoriana but too cute to resist). Furthermore, it reveals my obsession with silver Penguin Modern Classics, of which this one is a favourite.

Bold Girls by Rona Munro: another set text from school (for Higher English), Rona Munro is a Scottish playwright although this play concerns four women in war-torn Belfast. I loved this play when I studied it and a friend bought me my own copy and wrote a dedication inside likening me to one of the characters (whose part I had read in class). I am a huge fan of drama; I don't read or see as many plays any more as I used to but I have a full shelf on my bookcases dedicated to plays and that doesn't include my numerous books by and about Shakespeare. I forget that readers of my blog probably don't know that I am an English Literature graduate (I also have my Master's) but it is an intrinsic part of me.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter: I couldn't define myself using books and not include Angela Carter. Anyone who doesn't know that I am a Carter devotee hasn't been reading my posts closely enough! Nights at the Circus was the first book of hers that I read and hence meaningful.

Mog's Christmas by Judith Kerr: along with Dogger by Shirley Hughes this was my favourite picture book as a child. My much-loved and dog-eared copy was handed down to my sister and is still at home but my boyfriend bought me a lovely mini hardback copy a few Christmases ago.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose: another perfect gift choice by my boyfriend, this book is indispensable and I love close-reading a chapter at a time over and over. The subtitle is revealing as I am both of those people; the book sits on my writing shelf, where I have writing style handbooks, creative aids, and a number of short story volumes by writers included in the book.

The Brons Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson: I began to consciously collect the original green-spined Virago Modern Classics in April 2008 and very early on I coveted an elusive copy of this book. Shortly after looking at expensive copies online, I went into an Oxfam Books in Glasgow, purposefully seeking a copy; I instantly honed in on a green spine (a skill known by all that collect these editions) and it was the one I was looking for! Priced at a wonderful £2.49. Very surreal and quirky, this book bears re-reading but I know that I am never going to part with it, even if Bloomsbury have re-issued it in a particularly lovely ice-cream copy.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf: I adore this essay by Woolf and love to pick it up and luxuriate in her words and thoughts. As a feminist I love to read about Woolf walking on the lawn of Oxbridge and adore her creation of Judith, Shakespeare's sister. Although I am attached to this Penguin edition I am somewhat obsessed with the earlier purple and cream striped one; I own most of the Penguin merchandise that imitates the iconic edition: the bookbag, the notebook and poster and I covet the postcard and mug.

Love by Toni Morrison: this is the book I'd rescue from a burning building, not because of the book itself but the inscription inside; my boyfriend bought me this for our first Christmas together and wrote something beautiful to me. This is one of several books that have something meaningful written to me inside but this one, above the others, is incredibly special; if I shared it online, it would betray my boyfriend and I would never do that.

Did you learn anything new about me from this meme and did you notice that all of my books are written by women?

Friday, 29 January 2010

To the Lighthouse

I meant nothing by The Lighthouse. One has to have
a central line down the middle of the book to
hold the design together. I saw that all
sorts of feelings would accrue to this but I
refused to think them out, and trusted that people
would make it the deposit of their emotions - which they
have done, one thinking it means one thing another another.
I can't manage Symbolism except in this vague, generalized way.

So said Virginia Woolf of her novel To the Lighthouse. "[O]ne thinking it means one thing another another" is the essence of the Woolf in Winter read-alongs, where we read a Woolf novel (or two, or three, or all four) and "make it the deposit of [our] emotions". To say what Woolf means is reductive, I find, and I approach her emotionally; I savour her beautiful prose and I connect to the words, the representative -as opposed to symbolic- images and the tone. I don't read Woolf to understand but to appreciate; her books are not the type that are easy to review and I'm not going to attempt to but give my impressions instead.

Starting in medias res, Mrs Ramsay tells her son, James, that they will go to the lighthouse tomorrow if it is fine; a page later Mr Ramsay says that it will not be fine and by the end of the first volume they do not go to the lighthouse; in the third volume, years later, James and his father and his sister take a boat trip to the lighthouse. A basic premise, the lighthouse itself signifies nothing but is representative of so much emotion and history; the first volume, 'The Window', is a glimpse into one day of the Ramsays' lives and those of their guests; the lighthouse is one single memory (of various people) acting as a cohesive idea holding it all together. With its occasional twenty-seven line sentences containing such resonant images of beauty, "so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again", the stream-of-consciousness 'The Window' volume was by far my favourite and a reminder of why I love Woolf.

To the Lighthouse is an elegy to Woolf's parents and contained in it is such a sense of palpable, heartrending grief and pain. At many points, I found rage in the tone, in the pounding of the waves (the recurrent water imagery of Woolf at play), and the bitterness of the characters. There is a violent potency to the masculinity presented in the novel, a hyper-sexed desire to produce and a fear of barrenness and failure, and the calming, maternal, female influence at its centre; To the Lighthouse is a precursor to Woolf's feminist polemic, A Room of One's Own and in it I see a man who is lost without the strength of his wife and the feminist Lily Briscoe who rails against Tansley's accusation that as a woman she cannot write or paint, both lost without Mrs Ramsay and one finding her way.

I read "The Fisherman and his Wife" by the Brothers Grimm, the story Mrs Ramsay read to James, in an attempt to find some illumination; I wonder if the tale of a bullying, greedy wife who railroads her husband was arbitrarily chosen or is another of Woolf's representations ... can it be reduced to the age-old phrase that behind every great man there is an equally great woman?

Structurally I found the first volume the strongest and I preferred its style; I would have enjoyed To the Lighthouse more -as opposed to enjoying the first volume and appreciating the second and third- if it had all been in the stream-of-consciousness style of the first but, as it was, the technical 'Time Passes' stunned me in its beauty and mastery and 'To the Lighthouse' resolved the novel for me. It wouldn't be Woolf though if it was a simply an enjoyable novel, something profound is always at work and I come away wowed. Of the Woolf in Winter choices, To the Lighthouse was the one of the four novels that I hadn't yet read and had always wanted to; I also intended to read it for my Bucket List and for the Women Unbound challenge. It has been some time since I have read any Virginia Woolf and I have missed her; I am now wondering where to now ... do I reread Orlando for the next volume of the Woolf read-along or do I attempt one of the three novels of hers I have not yet read, the early The Voyage Out and Night and Day or the later The Years? Alternatively I could read A Writer's Diary or the Hermione Lee biography, both of which I have only dipped in and out of so far.

The Woolf in Winter discussion for To the Lighthouse is being hosted by Emily today.

Some favourite passages:

For the great plateful of blue water was before her; the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right, as far as the eye could see, fading and falling, in soft low pleats, the green sand dunes with the wild flowing grasses on them, which always seemed to be running away into some moon country, uninhabited of men.

Never did anybody look so sad. Bitter and black, half-way down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waters swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad.

It was sympathy he wanted, to be assured of his genius, first of all, and then to be taken within the circle of life, warmed and soothed, to have his senses restored to him, his barrenness made fertile, and all the rooms of the house made full of life - the drawing-room; behind the drawing-room the kitchen; above the kitchen the bedrooms; and beyond them the nurseries; they must be furnished, they must be filled with life.

She praised herself in praising the light, without vanity, for she was stern, she was searching, she was beautiful like that light. It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to things, inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one's being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Flowers for Mrs Harris

Mrs Ada Harris (pronounced Mrs 'Arris by the lady herself) is a London charwoman and a widow; at the outset of the novella Mrs Harris is on her way to Paris to buy herself a Dior evening gown. Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico (who I have waxed lyrical about once before) is a charming read; Ada Harris is vivacious and determined to fulfill her dream of acquiring couture whilst brightening up the lives of those she meets in the city of Dior. A light, frothy book, Flowers for Mrs Harris is about achieving one's dreams, the dedication that requires and, ultimately, the things that matter in life above material possessions.

Flowers for Mrs Harris could have been overly saccharine but its sweetness is well-balanced; in essence it is a sweet novel but it also comments on snobbery, on appearances being deceiving and of the friendships that arise out of surprising situations between disparate people. Mrs Harris has gumption, says what she thinks and goes for what she wants; I was reminded somewhat of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winfred Watson although Gallico's Mrs Harris didn't enter my heart like Miss Pettigrew did. However, my heart did break for Mrs Harris towards the end of the novella and the sudden poignancy turns an otherwise comic -Flowers for Mrs Harris is at times very funny and dryly witty- tale into a heartwarming one.

Published as Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris in the US, it was the first in a series of four books; I was delighted to discover that Bloomsbury are publishing the first two, Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris AND Mrs 'Arris Goes to New York, as one of their forthcoming Bloomsbury Group novels this summer. I look forward to discovering what the antics of Mrs Harris are in the Big Apple and the impression she makes.

Favourite quotes:

[F]or she understood the fierce, wild, hungry craving of the girl to be something, to be somebody, to lift herself out of the rut of everyday struggle and acquire some of the good things in life for herself.

'Lady Dant 'as one of them in her 'er cupboard. She brought it up for the charity ball tonight. I've never seen anything like it in me life before except perhaps in a dream or in a book.' Her voice lowered for a moment as she became reflective. 'Why, even the Queen ain't got a dress like that, ' she said, and then loudly and firmly, 'and I mean to 'ave one.'

Mrs Harris's lip began to tremble and her little eyes screwed up as the implications of the disaster became clear. Here, in this apparently empty, hostile building, before cold hostile eyes, the unimaginable seemed about to happen. They didn't seem to want her, they didn't even appear to want her money. They were going to send her away and back to London without her Dior dress.

She found herself in a curtained-off cubicle on a corridor that seemed to be a part of an endless maze of similar corridors and cubicles. Each cubicle held a woman like a queen bee in a cell, and through the corridors rushed the worker bees with the honey - armfuls of frilly, frothy garments in colours of plum, raspberry, tamarind, and peach, gentian-flower, cowslip, damask rose, and orchid, to present them where they had been ordered for trial and further inspection.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Meeting Jasper Fforde

Last week I attended the UK launch of Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde at Foyles bookshop. For two hours Jasper spoke to a packed gallery (it was standing-room only!) and regaled us with a humorous talk, interspersed with some short readings from his new novel, before opening it up to the audience for Q&A. Fforde comes across as a comedian doing stand-up, complete with opening gag to size up the room, which was an approach to a author event that I found worked exceptionally well. The talk was balanced between amusing and interesting and was engagingly entertaining enough for those attendees who were not already Fforde fans (i.e. my boyfriend, who is now even more interested in reading his books). Fforde was self-effacing, charming and exceedingly funny, of which I had no doubt considering the wittiness of his work. Moreover, he also provided insightful commentary into his new book whilst reading us extracts; it was clear that Fforde doesn't enjoy reading aloud and I think he has handled this aversion in the best possible way, by playing to his strengths. The Q&A ranged from his new work; existing work; future work; writing style, routine, influences; film adaptations; he answered all with humility and hilarity and a very fun evening was had.

Of the author events I have enjoyed so far, Fforde can be best compared to Neil Gaiman, who is also memorable; in contrast, Gaiman is an assured and eloquent orator but both writers are very enjoyable speakers and the most charismatic authors I have yet met. Each of these authors' events are successful, in my mind, because they both appear to enjoy them and fully engage with their fans; I have always had the utmost respect for Neil Gaiman's work ethic when it comes to signings and the way he repays his fans' support; I am pleased to discover that Jasper Fforde is of a similar mindset to one of my other favourite authors. If you are also a fan of Jasper Fforde then I would highly recommend attending any of his signings if you ever have the chance to do so; he is very friendly when signing and also provides promotional postcards and, in the instance of Shades of Grey, a special stamp (as seen above).

What do you enjoy about book signings? If you haven't had a chance to attend one, which writer would you love to meet in person and what would make a successful signing for you?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tuesday Teaser and Trivia

A few Christmases ago my boyfriend bought me the Book Lovers Edition of Trivial Pursuit and I thought I could virtually play with my fellow book lovers, or at least ask you a weekly literary question. So here goes (if you win then please treat yourself to a slice of pie/cake/pizza/delete where appropriate)...

From the Children's Literature section:
What milestone does a ghost at Hogwarts celebrate in lieu of a birthday?

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"In the days before a loaf of bread cost half a million dollars, he said, one hundred cents made one dollar. He took down an old tin and said as he opened it, 'We used the coins as recently as 2000'."
From the title story of An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah p. 32

Monday, 25 January 2010

The House-Keeper & the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a tender exploration of the relationship between a housekeeper, her client the maths Professor and her son, Root, who is so-called by the Professor because his flat head reminds him of a square root sign. The Professor suffered brain-damage in a car accident seventeen years previously and lives with only eighty minutes of short-term memory, which is both a problematic and poignant factor in their day-to-day lives together.

Translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder, The Housekeeper and the Professor is a lyrically touching novel. Very gently told, Ogawa uses maths to create heartfelt connections between the Housekeeper, her son and the Professor. I enjoyed the simplistic style to the story and how it broke down maths to connect these disparate people together; the Housekeeper becomes interested in maths, on working out problems and noticing patterns whilst the Professor sees the world through numbers. Using complex equations metaphorically throughout the novel was effective for me; I didn't think that it was simply a vehicle but was an interesting means of connection between an employer and employee in a subservient role who may have otherwise been unable to communicate. It has been a long time since I studied maths and I liked the refresher course and enjoyed seeing how Ogawa, through her characters, drew links between maths and life.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a gentle novel, simply rendered with only four nameless characters and an unseen baseball player. It is beautiful meditation on the nature and limitations of memory and also on what can make familial relationships and what they can teach us; it is subtly written and the sadness of the Professor's short-term memory is never overwhelmingly tragic or trite but resonates in its understated form. Culturally, the novel taught me the Japanese fascination with baseball; educationally it made me appreciate maths once more; emotionally it touched me.

Some favourite and/or key passages:

I happened to glance at some of the notes to his suit: " ... the failure of the analytic method...," "... the function of the elliptical curve...." Shuffled in among the fragments of obscure numbers and symbols and words was one scrap that even I could understand. From the stains and bent corners of the paper and the rusted edges of the binder clip, I could tell that this one had been attached to the Professor for a long time: "My memory lasts only eighty minutes," it read.

I don't know what the evening star meant to him, perhaps finding it in the sky soothed his nerves, or maybe it was simply a habit. And I don't know how he could see it so long before anyone else-he barely noticed the food I set right in front of him. For whatever reason, he would point his withered finger at a single spot in the vast sky-always the right place, as I eventually discovered-and that spot had significance for him and no one else.

Euler's formula shone like a shooting star in the night sky, or like a line of poetry carved on the wall of a dark cave. I slipped the Professor's note into my wallet, strangely moved by the beauty of those few symbols. As I headed down the library stairs, I turned back to look. The mathematics stacks were as silent and empty as ever-apparently no one suspected the riches hidden there.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Library Loot

I've been meaning to post my latest library loot for a while but erratic blogging and internet problems have prevented me until now. Furthermore, I realise that my last three posts have been stacks of books but 1) I know how much you like looking at books 2) I have a few reviews scheduled for this week and a few more in the bag.

My last Library Loot post was in 2009 and I suggested that it may be my last for a while as I resolved to read more from my TBR; that's still my intent but the lack of borrowing has fallen by the wayside a little as I looted for a few challenges and read-alongs that I am excited about (although ultimately I am reading more for myself and have been enjoying the freed0m to read books on a whim).

I still have a few outstanding library requests but on my last visit I came away with:

Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen: these two texts are for The Harlem Renaissance tour for The Classics Circuit in February; I'll be picking up Quicksand later today and I am really excited as I've been wanting to read both of these novellas for some time.

Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin-de-siècle ed. by Elaine Showalter: this collection of short stories -written by "new women" about "new women"- has been on my wish-list for the longest time, since I studied Modernism. Including one of my favourite short stories "The Yellow Wallpaper" as well as a couple by the wonderful Kate Chopin, I'm looking forward to reading this collection for the Women Unbound Challenge.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa: I borrowed this to read for the Japanese Literature book group at In Spring it is the Dawn and you can read my thoughts tomorrow.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: I requested this on a whim at the beginning of the month and now I can't really recall why ... perhaps to see what all the fuss is about? Now that I have it, I'm feeling less inspired to read it. A reviewer for The Guardian is quoted on Amazon as saying it is a mixture between I Capture the Castle (a beloved book of mine) and The Addam's Family; I'm going to love it, aren't I?

Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier: another book for Woman Unbound, I read about this on Eva of A Striped Armchair's blog and she completely sold me with this paragraph:

To say that I loved this book feels like a horrible understatement. I believe every single woman should read this book. If I were a billionaire, I would buy a copy for each woman who could read English, and press it into her hands with fervent good wishing.

High praise indeed (although to give credit where it is due, it was Nymeth who recommended the book to Eva); I've been awaiting a special inter-library loan request for this book since November and I hope it is worth the wait.

Have you read any of these or do they appeal?

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg encouraging library use and its promotion.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Purple Shelf

It's been a while since I featured a coloured bookshelf but with the acquisition of Inkdeath I finally accrued enough purple books in London to make s shelf of their own (some of these were on the pink shelf so I may recreate that at some point; I have a copy of 2666 by Roberto Bolaño that should easily replace them).

Reflective of my collection as a whole, this shelf contains the obligatory Angela Carter texts as well as some secondary material. Frances Hodgson Burnett appears in duplicate as does Colette (I adore Colette and I adore the Vintage editions of her books). Armistead Maupin is given a place as is another beautifully-written (and Scottish) LGBT book, Trumpet by Jackie Kay. For the first time, I think, in my bookshelves series we have a biographical work, Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland that lends its hue wonderfully well to the shelf. I shall leave you to browse the other titles but I will point out that the pale lilac of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie may be at the lighter shade of purple but for the title alone had to be included.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Recent Acquisitions

Here they are, the first books of 2010. I've even read one already and began another!

The Spare Room by Helen Garner: Canongate declared this "the decade's best unread book", I popped it on my wish-list and when Frances of Nonsuch Book was cleaning out some book, I took this one off her hands; Frances describes it as "Spare and dark and unsentimental treatment of caring for a cancer patient not viewing their illness with much realism. Quick and memorable read."

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski: As you know I acquired several Persephone Books recently when I visited the shop with Verity of The B Files but this is the one I purchased and that I am most excited about. I intend to read this soon not least of all because I know many of you are tempted by this one yourselves.

Life & Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee: Disgrace was one of my favourite reads last year and Coetzee an amazing new-to-me author discovery. I couldn't resist his other Booker winner when I found a new copy for £2 and I'm tempted to go on a bit of a Coetzee binge this quarter.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates: this is the book that I wish I had read last year. The film adaptation was sublime and I am excited to finally read this, more so as Rachel of Book Snob is hosting a Season of Yates and has some lovely things to say about him (but then she has lovely things to say generally).

Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos: Polly of Novel Insights chose this as our next Riverside Readers book group read and I purchased it immediately, I was so excited. This is a French classic that I have been wanting to read for some time, I have never seen the film (I intend to before we discuss the book) and I have started to read the book and I am enjoying it immensely.

The Passport by Herta
Müller: until Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year I knew nothing about her and this was something that I sought to rectify. The Passport is a slight novella by her, which seems to be touted everywhere as the book of hers to read, so I thought it was the one to go for; Simon of Savidge Reads implies that it is a challenging and unique reading experience, which makes it sound as if it could be inaccessible but I'm up for a challenge! Ultimately he enjoyed it though so that's all that matters.

Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett: a good friend wrote her Master's thesis on the works of Ivy Compton-Burnett when we were at University together and that was going on four years ago ... I have been reading to read Ivy since that time and Simon of Stuck In A Book has been another advocate. Simon recently reviewed Pastors and Masters and conveniently I had just won a copy to review from Hesperus Press (via LibraryThing). Simon classes it as "ICB-lite" so I'm thinking it is a good place to start.

Audition by Ryu Murakami: another writer that I've been wanting to read for some time and one I was discussing with Jackie of Farm Lane Books in relation to gritty Japanese thrillers last month. Ôdishon was a Japanese film released over a decade ago based on Ryu Murakami's novel; Bloomsbury released the novel in translation last year and kindly sent me a copy.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez: this novel was cited in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and I wanted to read it from then and when Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot reviewed it shortly after, I purchased it. I am trying not to plan my reading but it is all I can do not to score out a couple of days in my diary in early February so that I can curl up and devour this book.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde: I have already read and reviewed this acquisition (because I couldn't wait!) Many thanks to Steph of Steph & Tony Investigate for sending me a copy of this book when I won one of their generous bloggiversary give-aways. I loved this book and have no qualms in declaring it my favourite and most enjoyable read of 2010 so far.

Wild Child by T.C. Boyle: Bloomsbury also sent me the latest collection of short stories by T.C. Boyle, which I am looking forward to savouring. T.C. Boyle is a writer I admire a lot, whose works I plan on reading more of this year and that is thanks to JoAnn of Lakeside Musing and her enthusiasm for him. It's been a few years since I read any of his novels but read his short story "Chixiclub" recently and he can write short fiction along with the best of them.

Just as I was about to post this yesterday my internet died. We have an engineer coming to fix it tomorrow but until that time I will be offline.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tuesday Teaser and Trivia

Those readers who mark memes as unread in their Google Reader probably won't read this, which makes it somewhat pointless to ask, but do you enjoy my teaser and trivia Tuesdays? I added my own feature to Teaser Tuesdays as I wanted it to be original and also fun; I partake in this particular meme to give me one day where I can concentrate on reading and preparing other posts and I also occasionally -like today- use it to update you on me and/or my blog and use it like a salon in miniature. However, if its not working for my readership then I will happily re-evaluate. There is never a dip in my visitors on Tuesdays but I do enjoy feedback, so what do you think?

A few Christmases ago my boyfriend bought me the Book Lovers Edition of Trivial Pursuit and I thought I could virtually play with my fellow book lovers, or at least ask you a weekly literary question. So here goes (if you win then please treat yourself to a slice of pie/cake/pizza/delete where appropriate)...

From the Book Club section:

What Louisiana Creole term did Rebecca Wells redefine as "a person who is afraid and still drinks of life very deeply"?

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"Fermat and Descartes were only able to find one pair each. They're linked to each other by some divine scheme, and how incredible that your birthday and this number on my watch should be just such a pair."
From The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa p. 19

Monday, 18 January 2010

Shades of Grey

A future world, Chromatacia, after the "Something That Happened" is run by the Colourtocracy and the collective are ordered into chromatic hierarchies, based on the limited colour that they can see see. Eddie Russett, nineteen years old, is a Red and there is nothing that he can do to change that; the test, your Ishihara, doesn't lie and you can't cheat the Colourman. Reds are only one shade above Grey, the worker bees of the collective, and it is crucial to Eddie and his family's standing to marry up within his part of the colour spectrum; some people marry for love but more often marriages are arranged or auctioned and nobody ever marries a complementary colour. Eddie is on a "half-promise" to marry Constance Oxblood until he and his father, a Swatchman (medical man who heals using swatches of healing hues applied directly to the retina) are sent to East Carmine on the Outer Fringes, for Eddie to attain humility. In the Outer Fringes Eddie falls in love with a Grey named Jane, a tempestuous revolutionary who hates you mentioning her nose, and begins to question the Rulebook. Questioning the Rulebook could earn a Reboot in the Emerald City but exactly what does that involve and are inquisitiveness and applying logical theory to queueing systems so harmful to the chromatic collective? Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde opens with Eddie about to be eaten by a carnivorous plant, an attempt by Jane to kill him, and his narrative recounts the previous four days' events that brought him to the deserted village of High Saffron and this inconvenient state of impending death.

In essence, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a Dystopian novel that contains, well, shades of classic Dystopian literature such as the futuristic Nineteen Eighty-Four, the nightmarish The Wizard of Oz and shares its carnivorous plants with John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids; however, where Fforde's other series of books are rich in literary allusion, he relies for the most part on his own inventiveness. Fforde has boundless creativity and imagination and his chromatic dystopia is highly original and intelligent. To begin with the detailed intricacies of this futuristic world and its dictionary of terms and Rules are a little hard to follow but it is such a vividly rendered world and engaging plot that one begins to see things the bursts of synthetic color and realise that things are not simply black and white, that there is a sinister undercurrent to the Colourtocracy, especially when you do not conform and exhibit any curiosity. Despite the departure from Fforde's usual alternative realities, that are a little more fantastical, and its more serious tone, Shades of Grey is hilarious; I love Fforde's satirical humour and often think that I am missing some of his intelligent jokes.

As well as immensely absorbing storyline and many laughs, Shades of Grey also contains moments of intense pathos; the last few chapters of the novel left me feeling unsettled yet also excited for the sequels and the last page had my heart in my mouth. For those who enjoy their Dystopias with a heart (think The Hunger Games) then read Shades of Grey; I also recommend it unreservedly to those who may not have been impressed by The Eyre Affair (I wasn't blown away by the debut but adored the remainder of the series), new to Fforde readers who enjoy witty original fiction and those readers who think they don't enjoy sci-fi.

But all doubts came to nought on the morning of your Ishihara. No one could cheat the Colourman and the colour test. What you got was what you were, forever. Your life, career and social standing decided right there and then, and all worrisome life uncertainties eradicated forever. You knew who you were, what you would do, where you would go and what was expected of you. In return, you simply accepted your position within the Colourtocracy, and assiduously followed the Rulebook. Your life was mapped. And all in the time it takes to bake a tray of scones.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

On the Other Side...

... It is always greener, or so they say.

Are you ever green with book envy? Do you sometimes think that people are reading better books than you? Not in a sense of the book being high-brow but that it sounds more exciting that what you yourself are reading? With freedom of choice over books I am usually very happy with what I'm reading and this month I've read some great books but every so often I see a book on somebody's blog where I think "Oh, I wish I had the time just now to read that" or "I covet that book" or "so-and-so is going to read Fingersmith and I wish I could have the first experience of that book over again".

I've been jealous of my boyfriend's reading material (um, maybe because I bought them all...) lately and some days I wish we could swap; I'll read on the commute alternating with playing with my iPhone and he can read the disparate texts and blog about them. Perhaps those thoughts mainly occurred earlier in the month whilst I was in a book slump and sought a comfort read and/or a gripping one but now I'm very happy to read my own choices, thank you very much; sometimes though the thought still lingers and I wish he'd hurry up with a book so I can read it too.

My boyfriend is an avid reader, not a voracious one, but he does love to read. A busy new job with long hours hasn't allowed him to read as much as he would like recently as he is either too busy on business calls to read whilst commuting or too tired to read in bed at night but he still reads when he can. In 2009 he read around fifty books, not that he counted. He reread all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, read a lot of the Marvel Civil War graphic novels he is collecting and then the Penguin Sherlock Holmes boxset. Over Christmas he read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll on his iPhone and now he is about to venture into both the Fables series of graphic novels by Bill Willingham and the Mary Russell mysteries (featuring Sherlock Holmes) by Laurie R. King; these are both series of books that I would love to read and will more than likely pick them up after he does. Our reading tastes overlap here and there and he would like to read my Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde and John Wyndham books, all of which I know he will enjoy (he's a big fan of Gaiman's Sandman, so much so that he carried hugely heavy leather-bound volumes of the graphic novels to be signed, at a Neil reading). This year he also has new books by favourite authors to look forward to: Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Trudi Canavan (writer of "wizards in woods" type of books - a phrase coined by Jackie that I love!)

Does it sound as if I'm planning away my boyfriend's reading? I seem to be living vicariously through his choices by making them myself! No, seriously, I simply pick out books that I have read myself or have read about that he would like rather than impose books onto him although if I can read them myself then more's the better!

Do you have a loved one whose reading excites you or that you influence?

Thursday, 14 January 2010


The above book arrived (thanks, Steph!) and I'm hibernating today until it's finished. Do you do that too? Count down the days until a book is released and then drop everything else until you have read it? I am often incommunicado for a book and I wouldn't have it any other way.
See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


When I read The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi a couple of years ago, I found it illuminating and a good access point into the form of graphic novels but I didn't fully enjoy it and found parts dry. However, this didn't discourage me from seeking out Embroideries when I learned that it was also a memoir about women's issues; as my graphic novel experience is still slight, I was excited to read one that dealt with a subject that I am most interested in as well as making a non-fiction contribution towards my Women Unbound challenge reading.

One of the things that I did enjoy about Persepolis was Satrapi's art and that is continued in Embroideries so I felt that it was almost one continuous story set in the same policed world albeit with a far less dry installment. I thoroughly enjoyed Embroideries and its insights into the lives of multi-generational women in Iran. Marjane and her family members gather with friends and neighbours for an afternoon samovar, the function of which was discussion; although the afternoon of tea and chat is translated as "discussion" I think it is more literally "gossip", or as Marjane's grandmother describes it, "To speak behind others' backs is the ventilator of the heart." I love that image and it is one continued later, where one of the neighbours is crying and another says "let her air out her heart. There's nothing better than talking". I respond well to female company, to good chats over tea or coffee and find it often immeasurably cathartic, illuminating or plain entertaining and Embroideries is all of these things. The discussions often involve sex and the experiences of the women discussing it; some have had horrible experiences with marriage and men and others entertaining ones or the women are recounting stories of women they know. From the childhood friend who razor-bladed her husband's testicle on their wedding night in an attempt to recreate the loss of her virginity (already lost) to the married woman who had never seen a penis or knew what the "white stuff" was that another story referred to, the discussions that take place around tea are highly amusing. Not all the stories are entertainingly shocking or amusing, however, but all deal with women's issues and the positions of women being forced to married the wrong man, the lengths they will go to keep a man, the steps taken to leave a man, in a culture that value men over these courageous, intelligent, witty women.

Some of the women who surround Marjane are strong and subversive, resilient and positive role models for a young woman and I am not surprised that Satrapi chose to write about them. I was entertained whilst being given insight into a cultural tradition that, albeit not very different in nature from Western women meeting up for coffee, is conducted behind closed doors. The stories recounted are rich in humour and experience and my only complaint is that Embroideries was so slight as I could happily have read something longer and more substantial, rather than barely a glimpse.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tuesday Teaser and Trivia

A few Christmases ago my boyfriend bought me the Book Lovers Edition of Trivial Pursuit and I thought I could virtually play with my fellow book lovers, or at least ask you a weekly literary question. So here goes (if you win then please treat yourself to a slice of pie/cake/pizza/delete where appropriate)...

From the Non-Fiction section:

What straightforward title did New York Times science writer Natalie Angier give to her best-selling "intimate geography" of the female body?

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"I had no sense of foreboding, when we sat talking together that last evening, before Ambrose set out on his final journey. No premonition that we would never be together again."
From My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier p. 8

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Tin-Kin

I read The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom at the tail-end of 2009 and it squeezed into my Best of 2009 post. An accomplished and resonant début, The Tin-Kin is set in 1990s Northern Scotland. Dawn, a single mother of a young daughter, Maeve, returns to her stifling home-town upon the death of her aunt. Dawn hasn't been home for years, leaving her violent ex-husband before Maeve was born; she has barely been in contact with her family until news of her aunt Shirley's death. Dawn lived with Shirley from a young age, was close to her and inherited her flat (apartment), in which she is presented with the cupboard that Shirley kept locked and told inquisitive child Dawn that in it were all of her aunt's secrets; now Dawn has inherited those secrets and in the revelation of these, her family history is re-written.

And somewhere she would find the key to the cupboard. If there was a secret, maybe it was supposed to be discovered like this, only after Shirley was gone.

Alternating with the modern-day narrative are first-person narratives from the 1950s; these narratives are told from the perspectives of three members of the one indigenous Scottish Travelling (tinkers) family: Jock, Auld Betsy and Wee Betsy. The shifts in time are never disorientating nor is the Scottish dialect, although being a Scot I probably have less trouble with it than most.

Pity, whit the settlin's done. It maks fowk bitter. Ye dinnae see wan another. It sits fine wi some, an others tak tae the drink. It's nae a lie.

Thom uses her own family history to tell an imaginative tale that she thought should be told; in the second chapter we learn that Jock is left to die on the floor of a cell, after being arrested for apparently being drunk and disorderly and the basis of that tragedy is that of Thom's grandfather whilst Uncle Jock the character is based on her great-grandfather.

This is a moving story and I was fully immersed in the lives of the family of settled Travellers; Wee Betsy's voice was particularly resonant and emotive. I was less engaged with the main character of Dawn but I suspect that she was intentionally two-dimensional to evoke her own sense of not belonging. Although the story -not a mystery as it is rather predictable- of the photographs from the 1950s that Dawn finds in Shirley's cupboard and the connection they have with the Travellers, is central to the modern premise, it is the 1950s story that had me enthralled; I would have preferred less balance and more focus on the crux of the novel. The story of the settled Travellers fascinated me; I knew little about the history of indigenous Scottish Travellers but now I am intrigued. Whilst reading, I remembered some experiences of Travellers from my own childhood, when "tinkers" came along the streets in pony-and-traps singing for "any old rags or iron" or older women who came to the door offering fortunes; I am now interested in learning more about this forgotten history and agree that Eleanor Thom told a story that had to be told.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Persephone Review and Additions

I shared with you here that the Persephone book I received from my Secret Santa, Jodie, was Every Eye by Isobel English (the end-paper for which, a 1956 'Iberia' fabric, is pictured above), and I read it at the close of the festive period. This novella opens with the arresting first words, "I heard today that Cynthia died" and alternately tells the story of Hatty on her honeymoon with her younger hustband on a train through Europe to the Spanish island of Ibiza and a younger Hatty who had an older lover, a friend of her Uncle Otway and his wife, Cynthia. From the opening page the reader knows that Cynthia was an influence in Hatty's life, our attention is focused on her from the outset and we know that Hatty will reveal the details of the deterioration of their friendship:

... It is six years since I last saw Cynthia, six years since I cut myself free from the inquisitive disapproval; the light unfriendly laugh that always accompanied her sharpest barbs - the honey and the gall mixed to such a smooth consistency that were inseparable. And yet I should have known the reason for this; I am alwaus talking about a true sense of vocation - the time when I was going to become a pianist - and now once more when I am trying to put together the bits and pieces of my life to start off with a husband who is so many years younger than I.

The closing line of the novella -written in French and crucial to translate- is revelatory and refers to something that Hatty reads, which illuminates her perception of the past and the perception of the reader; I wanted to reread the novella upon hindsight to seek out possible hints. It is a cleverly-crafted work that is beautifully written. Isobel English (a pseudonym for June Braybrooke) was friends with a number of other talented writers one of whom was Muriel Spark; Spark wrote, "The late Isobel English was an exceptionally talented young novelist of the mid-1950s. Every Eye is one of her most successful and sensitively written books, a romantic yet unsentimental story of a young woman's intricate relationships of family and love, intensely evocative of the period, remarkable in its observations of place and character". The stunning prose of Every Eye impressed me and I found it a wonderful book to lose oneself in the descriptions of the Iberian landscape, the observations that Hatty makes of the social position of women and to study the hold Cynthia retains on Hatty even in death. Thank you, Jodie, for your lovely gift as it may not have been one that I would have purchased for myself for some time.

Some favourite passages:

So, it is Wednesday and the first for Cynthia below the ground - the cold raw earth lined with evergreens. 'Six feet of semi-detached will do me nicely, dear,' I had heard her say often enough when she was looking for another smaller flat when their lease had expired. At last this had been realised as a permanency.

The words carried right into the soft part of my brain and stuck there like three neutral stones. I suppose that I must have stood there with my mouth open, my bad eye focusing all over the place in an effort to materialise him again in the gap which he had left. This was the first time that anyone had ever said these words to me; the first time, and they were no more active that fizzy lemonade. I wanted to reach out and extricate them from the smutty stucco frontages of the ugly houses, save them from the smell of petrol and the dust-thick sun of two o'clock of that September afternoon.

I remember her now as she had been when I first saw her. The picture that had been taken with the unclouded lenses of a fourteen-year-old's eyes had gained in the intervening years another dimension; I could see now the might-have-been: the little touches of English chintz and pottery that she must have added to her hotel bedroom to make it like home; the warm nest of spinsterly living into which she would eventually wind herself. So often this is the way with solitary Englishwomen of character who retire abroad: they harden like the autumnal beads at their throat into hard little wax pellets that no heat will ever melt again, they turn into a self-supporting wholesome substance that can never take anything in, nor be taken in, again.

At that time, already the clouds were beginning to build up behind Cynthia. I saw her as an all-powerful magician who could produce black evil and despair at the flick of her wrist. Her small white voice creaked on, in and out of the teacups as she sat smiling at me behind the tray; these were no longer objects of domestic comfort, but stark receptacles for surgical performance, something in which to catch the sly tear, or conceal for second, with the raising of a hand, the buttoned-down anguish of her mouth.

With another Persephone book read and reviewed I look to the recent additions to my collection -bringing it to thirty five and the need for a longer shelf- acquired at the shop yesterday. Again, I would like to say how generous the shop are and I feel greedy and guilty looking at my Persephone loot. I purchased the copy of To Bed With Grand Music as I have been coveting a copy since October and Santa didn't me one (he brought other exciting and surprising things instead) and will most probably read that first swiftly followed by The Home-Maker, which I bought for my Santee, Thomas, and which he loved.

My new Persephones:

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
The Village by Marghanita Laski
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting by Peneople Mortimer
Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
Amours de Voyage by Hugh Clough
Consequences by E.M. Delafield
How to Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw
Making Conversation by Christine Longford
Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malle

Thursday, 7 January 2010

More Tea and Chat

Verity and I had our long-anticipated tea and cakes at Persephone Books today to celebrate the success of Persephone Reading Week. We had such a lovely afternoon chatting with Nicola, Lydia and Fiona. I had a delicious passion-fruit cupcake with buttercream frosting from Bea's of Bloomsbury and we made a trip to the remainder shelf in the basement where we liberated some Persephones that will be much warmer and well-loved on our Persephone shelves now; I shall share the titles that have been added to my collection at a later date and probably gush some more about the generosity of Persephone and Nicola.

Earlier in the day Verity and I also made a visit to another bookshop (I was on my best behaviour) and afterwards met with Book Snob and Bloomsbury Bell where they preempted our tea and cake (well, my tea and cake as poor Verity is currently on an exclusion diet to cure her ills).

Following our visit to the shop I had a great discussion about The Wind-up Bird Chronicle at the first Riverside Readers book group of 2010 then took my sniffly self home where I proceeded to slip on the ice outside my flat and bruise myself. Sore end to an otherwise idyllic day and now I am taking my aching body to bed. Woe is me!

Tomorrow I shall be reviewing the latest Persephone book read.

Artist's reproduction of the shop is by David Gentleman.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Secret Santas!

Officially it may be January but my heart is still with Christmas. I was surrounded by a blanket of white whilst I was home for the holidays and returned to normality when I arrived back to London ... until today when I woke to white flurries once again. I was sad to take down my Christmas tree but consoled myself with the snow outside and now with sharing some of my Secret Santa gifts this year! One arrived at the same time as my Persephone Secret Santa and the other just missed by departure for home but was waiting for me at the Royal Mail depot.

My Holiday Swap blogging Santa was Brooke from Brooke Reviews who sent me -all the way from Florida- the wonderful colour-coordinated contents above. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke is a book from my wishlist; the third in the Inkheart trilogy, which I have greatly enjoyed, I have been lusting after the final installment since its release last winter. Brooke was very generous and also sent me two very cool bookmarks and a notebook; I am a crazy collector of both so these were perfect gifts for me! Also in the package was some promotional material -including sampler- for the book, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I've been aware of some of the hype surrounding this book so look forward to the teaser and coincidentally Brooke reviewed the book today! Thank you for your generosity, Brooke, and for being so worried that it had been lost. I have really enjoyed the Holiday Swap this year and you can view my Santee's post here.

My other Secret Santa, photographed above (beautifully wrapped by Amazon) was arranged through the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, which I partook in Christmas 2008 and in 2009. This time around my lovely Santa sent me Virago copies of My Cousin Rachel and The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my all-time favourite years and yet in the fourteen years since first reading it I have never attempted another Du Maurier novel in case it didn't live up to my expectations; last year I decided that I would love to read more of her work -especially after hearing great things from blogging friends- and my Santa treated me to two that I can now indulge in. I am particularly excited about reading My Cousin Rachel after reading that another cookie crumbles preferred it to Rebecca! I intend to pick it up soon as it should make perfect reading during a dark, bleak winter.

I shall be sharing some more acquisitions over the weekend, including some that Santa also dropped off at home for me.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tuesday Teaser and Trivia

A few Christmases ago my boyfriend bought me the Book Lovers Edition of Trivial Pursuit and I thought I could virtually play with my fellow book lovers, or at least ask you a weekly literary question. So here goes (if you win then please treat yourself to a slice of pie/cake/pizza/delete where appropriate)...

From the Beloved Children's Books section:

What book begins when a compassionate elephant in the jungle of Nool hears "a small noise"?

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"Popularly they are known as 'Fuck-me bracelets'. It is a mark of a girl's daring to fashion such a bracelet for herself from the aqua seal of a Coca-Cola bottle neck, for whoever breaks the bracelet, however accidentally, thereby enters into a contract with the wearer."
From The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton p. 50

Both Kim from Chapter Chit Chat and Kals from At Pemberley awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award. Thank you!

I appreciate my readers and am so grateful that you think I have something original to say about books. In the coming months I have big plans for my blog and I hope you will all help me in ensuring it becomes even lovelier!

Monday, 4 January 2010

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld is a very accomplished début that I savoured slowly towards the end of 2009. I knew from early on that it would become a favourite book from the year; I also thought that it had a beautiful cover. Set in Australia, the novel tells the stories of two men, Frank and Leon, with no apparent connection, separated by some decades. Frank has moved to coast-line country following the deterioration of his current relationship to live in a shack-like house in New South Wales that once belonged to his parents; his narrative charts settling into that stark landscape whilst flash-backing to his turbulent relationships with both his ex and his father. Leon's story recalls growing up in Sydney in a bakery run by his European-immigrant parents, his father's enlistment in the Korean War and his own conscription to Vietnam, his subsequent time there and acclimatisation upon his return.

I enjoyed the alternate narratives; the key to a working structure of this kind is when both compel you so much that when one ends you want it to continue but then are fully engaged in the other as soon as it switches. Where the structure was strong, the richness of description was astonishing. I found the evocation of Australia striking; the starkness of the landscape and organic wildness seemed to capture the rawness of the emotions, the violence and rage that permeates the text. There is an intensity to After the Fire, a Still Small Voice and a resounding savagery but ultimately this story about violence is also one about communication. This section of the dust-jacket's blurb is one of the most appealing and succinct descriptions that I must quote it:

[T]his beautifully realised debut tells a story of fathers and sons, their wars and the things they will never know about each other. It is about the things men cannot say out loud and the taut silence that fills up the empty space.

"The taut silence that fills up the empty space"- isn't that an elegant description? It is true; Wyld achieves a credible fictional study of masculinity and how the male psyches communicate in a world where violence is often the means to articulate themselves. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is an original novel and one that I thoroughly enjoyed and thought deserving of its John Llewellyn Rhys Prize win. From Frank's awkward yet touching friendship with seven year old Sal to his rage at his father and girlfriend and Leon's sculpting of sugar dolls for cakes to his role as machine-gun runner in Vietnam, there is a balance and contrast between gentleness and violence that is well-realised. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is an impressive début with two complex and tormented male leads and beautiful prose; I predict that it will receive more accolades and that there will be promising things to read from Evie Wyld in the future.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Bookish Resolutions

Happy 2010! I am back in London and feeling slightly better. Today will be a PJs and book day, I think, as I attempt to finish my first book of the year (yesterday I didn't manage to read a word as I don't find reading in the car conducive to my physical well-being). I didn't read as much as I had hoped for over the festive period but it was more important to be enjoying quality time with my loved ones, which I did in abundance. This intentional placing of less pressure upon myself to read a set amount of books (normally in an impractical amount of time) ties in with the bookish resolutions that I have set myself for the coming year; these are simple, relaxed rules that I hope will ultimately enrich my reading experience rather than constrain it.

1. Enjoy reading - it's not that I didn't enjoy reading in 2009 but there were occasions, especially in late November/early December, where I felt thoroughly overwhelmed with reading deadlines that I had set myself (or that were dictated by library due dates or book group meetings). I had enough of reading as a chore when I was at University and I need to return to the days of reading purely for pleasure and not with a sense of obligation or pressure.

2. Read freely - part of my stifled feelings at the end of the year were due to having far too many books on my TBR list that weren't there solely out of choice and whimsy but because of challenge commitments or themed reading that I set myself. I will still dabble in these but as and when I feel the freedom to do so. There are so many exciting and interesting reading challenges across the blogosphere and I am not banning them but I need to read for me this year. I miss the freedom of choice in my reading so in 2010 expect more randomness in my reading and more of an insight into my preferred reading material. I'll still challenge myself but on my own terms. I fully intend to complete the two challenges that I have already committed to for the year ahead and some exciting read-alongs but I won't be stressing myself to meet deadlines and missing out on other wonderful books along the way.

3. Acquire less books - I am not imposing any book-buying ban on myself but I am simply going to try to buy and borrow (from the library and friends) less books and obtain review copies until I have made a significant dent in the books that I already have. I already have an immense TBR list and acquired a lot of wonderful-sounding books last year and it saddens me that there were some that I didn't get around to reading. This year I am not making any written reading plans but plan to let my own senses and circumstances guide me in my reading choices on a book-to-book basis as I used to do successfully; for the latter half of last year I had a half dozen books at a time lined up and I don't read well under that pressure. A reduction in the amount of incoming books is required to realistically get on top of the ones already waiting for me.

Three fundamental, unconstrained, achievable resolutions that I won't feel pressured to achieve as they should come naturally. Reading is my favourite pastime; I have read prolifically and eclectically from an early age and I don't want that to change; blogging has enriched my reading experience through blogger recommendations but I want to strike a balance between my own personal reading freedom and participating in the blogging community. Here's to a 2010 full of wonderful books!

Saturday, 2 January 2010


The new year has brought me an awful cold, which is not an auspicious start. I am also on my way back from my Christmas break at home so will be sniffling and shivering the entire journey.

I shall return hopefully in full health...

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Here's to a wonderful 2010 full of wonderful books.

At the time of scheduling this post I am looking forward to a lovely quiet Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) with my boyfriend involving pizza, wine and DVDs. We are travelling back to London at the end of the week and will be enjoying our last few days at home. I also have a New Year's tradition, which I will hopefully have completed by the time you are reading this. Before "the bells", I like to have finished the book that I am currently reading and, at the time of writing, I am almost finished a novella so imagine I will be picking up another one before the year is out. I like to bring in the new year with a fresh start and that includes my book. A couple of years ago my boyfriend and I celebrated at a very fancy hotel and even then I finished my book -The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald- in a bubble bath in a marble bath. Do you have any bookish traditions at New Year?