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Reading Life: 27th January 2017

A photograph of a pen resting on an open diary

It has been quite some time since I last wrote one of these posts. I think I got so caught up in ‘topic’ posts and using an editorial calendar that it got pushed to the wayside. Writing about your current reading doesn’t really fit the idea of planning ahead.

My reading so far this year has been minimal. I’m finding that January is a hit-or-miss month – some years I’ll read a lot, others not much at all (if I finish a few books it’s usually down to a last-week-before-February ‘rush’ wherein that last week is sufficiently far enough from the holidays to feel detached from them). Thinking back to years I read a lot in January, it was mostly down to Long-Awaited Reads Month. I considered doing it again this year, just me, but found I wasn’t in the mood.

So I’ve been in a slump but it’s coming to an end. It got to the stage where I had to read because of the books I’d taken on for review. The books have been good. The Stone Angel has a horrible heroine but the book otherwise has been a fair read. I identified with it, having known people like Hagar Shipley, and that made it easier to work out what was happening, what was really going on. The book I’m currently reading, Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree, was one I’d been looking forward to in that way of a reader who loved the author’s previous book and doesn’t care what the next will be, they just want to read it. It’s in a similar vein to House Of Shadows but different enough – there’s a lovely difference between the narrative voices in the two books wherein Cornick has stuck to her writing style whilst delivering a new voice. Hopefully that makes sense!

I’m also slowly getting through Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing. I’m not keen on it, mostly because there is no suggestion, other than name usage, as to when the narrative has moved back and forth in time. The effect is huge – what could have been an interesting, pacey, book, is rendered confusing because you often don’t know where you are until a couple of pages into each chapter. Wyld is, I believe, the fourth ‘Granta best novelist’ I have read and I’m finding it intriguing that three of the four authors have something confusing in their narratives, as though to be a Granta Best Novelist one must be very vague. Xiaolu Guo. Helen Oyeyemi. Evie Wyld. Even Zadie Smith, who isn’t confusing as such, can be rather experimental. I’m wondering if I should keep a look out for the Granta line on covers so that I’m prepared and can plan my reading accordingly; I wouldn’t want to give them up but they’re best left for those times you’re particularly motivated.

Lastly, I’ve encountered my first erroneous blank page in a book. I read about this happening and it feels almost like a rite of passage. It was an early print so I doubt many will find it, though I believe at least one of you will know which book it was…

How is your reading going, and have you ever encountered a blank page?

Reading Life: 4th May 2016

A photograph of the site of the Curious Arts Festival

As much as I like using flowers as the visual theme of these posts, I can’t say I’ve all that many photographs left so I welcomed the chance to change it up a bit this time. The photo above is of last year’s Curious Arts Festival which I’ll be speaking about in a moment.

I’m still reading Far From The Madding Crowd; about half-way through now. I have come to terms with the fact that it isn’t (wasn’t? considering I’m half-way) going to be the glorious revelation I’d hoped when I first decided to read it – whilst my fifteen year old self may not have enjoyed it due to it being classwork and something she couldn’t relate to at that age and not having yet studied the period enough, I didn’t expect I would feel a similar boredom, if caused by different factors, this time. I’d thought I would love it; I don’t know why – I suppose there was something in my subconscious that paired ‘classic’ with ‘older now’ and with my teacher’s stopping the video cassette of the old film and saying “look at his eyes, girls!” which continues to be one of the very few things I remember verbatim from those years. (I now realise she was speaking of Troy as I vaguely remember a dark-haired man in a red military jacket, all 70s or 80s hair and that screen distortion that came with pausing videos.)

I digress. I don’t hate it by any means – I love Hardy’s clever independent woman moments wherein an appearance from Destiny’s Child wouldn’t go amiss, and I like his use of gender stereotypes and even the way he feels a need to explain obvious things, but the endless description of the country and night sky I could do without. It’s not Dickens – it’s not wordy – it’s just a bit dull. Yes, Hardy, I get it – please move on. This said, as I near 65% (I stopped reading my physical version because seeing the number of pages put me off) it’s starting to look up. There’s potential in it, I think, to get really good.

So Hardy’s book is my long-term read; I’m reading a couple of chapters a day, sometimes more if they’re short, full of dialogue, and unaccented (not often, then) and in the meantime I’ve been getting through the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist and whatever takes my fancy. I’ve put A Little Life on the sidelines until I finish Hardy because two long reads, albeit I know Yanagihara is a more compelling read for me, is a bit much. I’ve still the Thackeray and Tender Is The Night unfinished on my 2016 list which is giving me enough of a false sense of having read a good number of books; I don’t need to up that count.

A photograph of the Curious Arts Festival

Moving away from books themselves I’m contemplating the Curious Arts Festival. It’s a smaller festival, less known, hosted at Pylewell Park in the New Forest. This year it’s from 22-24th July and if you go for the whole weekend you can take a tent and pitch it in the grounds; you’re right there, no need to travel during the festival itself. Pitching is free once you’ve a ticket but you can rent a more luxury tent if you wish. It promises to be a weekend of literature, music, theatre, and good food, and there are plenty activities for children, too.

Given it’s not for a few months yet, the list of people confirmed is still growing; at present highlights include Carol Ann Duffy, Deborah Moggach, S J Parris, Renée Knight, Meg Rosoff, Joanna Cannon, and S J Watson.

Part of the selling point for it is surely the location – to paraphrase Marks And Spencer’s adverts (“this is not just chocolate, this is Marks And Spencer’s chocolate”, repeat for any other number of items) this is not just the New Forest, this is an estate in the New Forest, and beautiful, too.

I’ve been watching TV recently; this happens rarely at the moment – there are too many books to read. I pulled a muscle which caused me pain for a good while and for a few days could do nothing but sit still. A few years ago – well, 2010, I suppose, when it was first shown – I’d earmarked The Indian Doctor as something I wanted to watch and then went and missed it. Anyway, it was repeated on iplayer. I liked it but it was a bit cringey at times and the Indian drumming used as incidental music was a bit too, ‘don’t forget, there are Indians in Wales’, making the situation be a bit too exotic. Other than that I watched Maigret and Being The Brontës. The latter was fair, the former I thought very good. A lot of people have said Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret isn’t sprightly enough, not humorous enough, but be that as it may I thought it was a good programme and dealt with the source material well.

No Star Wars comment from me today; I’m sure you’ve heard it enough.

How is your reading going?

Reading Life: 25th March 2016

A photograph of branch on a tree in the sunshine

The slump has gone; I’m now in that mood colloquially known as ‘read all the books’ and trying my best not to succumb to the notion that I make up for lost time because it could easily lead to another slump. My enthusiasm for blogging has also returned with a force; I knew 2 weeks at Christmas wasn’t enough and that I was heading for burnout. I managed to keep blogging throughout the time but if it happens again I think I’ll just take a break.

A couple of weekends ago I finally finished The Spring Of Kasper Meier and read Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun. The latter is a book in the same vein as Elizabeth Is Missing – it’s about a 75-year-old Nigerian woman who is starting to loose her independence. It’s also a book about books; I’m looking forward to sharing an extract with you when I review it.

After finishing the Manyika I tried to read City Of Wisdom And Blood, the second book in a series that begun with The Brethren – a book overwhelmed by bosoms. You’ll remember I spoke highly of the opening line of the second book and I was excited to get back to the series; now the characters are away from home I expected less lust and more of the good historical fiction. But no, within the first ten pages were four references and as the saying goes, I just can’t even. I will be giving it another go but not just yet; I might have to make it a long-term read.

Putting it down, I knew I wasn’t ready to return to Tender Is The Night or Cranford (Helen’s description of ‘frothy’ is correct on that second one, it is so and I’m craving studies) so I decided I’d have a read of the first pages of the books I want to read soon. Thinking I’d start with A Little Life I opened it… and that was it, Yanagihara had me hooked by the end of the first half-page. I’d been wanting to leave the book until later due to its length but I have to read it now. Already I can see why it’s been nominated for so many awards. I’m guessing it’s 600-odd pages but refraining from actually checking.

This said, in regards to the Gaskell, I have gone back to it, and Helen’s apt description has made me think of the contrast between it and North And South. I think it’s interesting how Gaskell’s work could be read by different people owing to its variety. Whereas Jane Austen, for example, deals with the same sort of atmosphere in every book, and it’s more a case of whether you like the characters and plot each time, with Gaskell you get totally different worlds. Speaking of what I’ve read so far, you’ve a book about personal religious changes and the industrial revolution with its social studies and economics, and you’ve a book that’s rather like a soap opera in the way there are lots of mini stories and episodes and nothing is particularly noteworthy. I’m assuming that Gaskell’s other works may, at least one of them, fall somewhere in between the two as they are quite far apart on the scale but either way I am liking the difference.

One of my reading goals this year is to even out the ratio of male to female authors, as well as read more Asian fiction – pre-blogging my balance was better and I read much more diversely. I don’t know why it changed but I didn’t like it and I also don’t like it because diversity is a major factor in my musical and film interests. Already I’m doing well, better than I’d planned, in fact, which I believe has likely helped keep me on track since the slump went away.

To talk of writing about books, I’ve returned to Rebecca – I’m writing about themes again. I’ve two posts completed, a sort of round up post in mind, and one other one in pre-production so to speak. (I’ll not post them one after another.) I’m also looking at Margaret Forster’s biography though I know it’s a bit romanticised – have you read it? I’d like some opinions. I’m finding I can’t get enough of the author’s most famous work and whilst I’d love to return to The House On The Strand which I started and then forgot to keep reading, the nameless heroine is too alluring a character to leave. With all the comparisons to Jane Eyre I kind of want to do a mash-up post, blending the Du Maurier, Brontë, and the Samantha Sotto I loved a few years ago (whose hero I see as a mix of Max De Winter and Mr Rochester, so it’d be a post about a book that’s about a book that’s about a book).

How’s your reading life?

Reading Life: 22nd February 2016

A photograph of a white and pink flower

I’m still suffering the slump. So many books are just not keeping my attention at the moment and my tolerance for poor development and errors has lowered as a result; it’s getting quite silly really. At this point I’m looking to older books to help get me back in the swing of things. Tender Is The Night is my current choice; Rosemary’s not Jay or Daisy but I’ll give it several more pages before I make the final decision on whether or not to continue at this time. I’m also mulling over the idea of Cranford – I may not have enjoyed North And South but it didn’t put me off wanting to try another Gaskell and I’m wondering if now’s the time.

Thanks to gift cards I’ve a copy of The Ballroom by Anna Hope. I’d say it’s 95% likely I’ll love it so if all else fails on the classics front of this slump battle I’ll be turning to the early 1900s. I’m kind of banking on the promise in her surname!

I recently talked to my dad about Edgar Allan Poe. One of my favourite musicians has written songs inspired by his work and the sheer weirdness of them made me want to ask Dad if he’d read any Poe (after a short inquiry I discovered Dad’s where my interest in the classics comes from). Well he promptly got out a 1970s collection and lent it to me. I’m pretty worried, to be honest – this paperback is in excellent condition and the pages are still white! I’ve got to get myself some doors for my bookcases to emulate the darkness he’s kept this book in. We’ve agreed that once I’ve read a few of the stories we’ll have a chinwag (is that a British expression?) and compare notes.

I may be having trouble but my nephew isn’t; his reading is coming along splendidly and the beautiful Narnia edition I’ve had ready for him since he was born looks a possibility this year. He won’t be able to read all of it but hopefully enough that it’d make a nice dual-reader bedtime story series. I’ve learned that, contradictory to my expectations, the books I read when I was his age are still being published; a lovely discovery. I suppose they were more popular than I thought.

How is your reading life?

Reading Life: 25th January 2016

My reading has been going quite well the last couple of weeks. As the three-in-a-row reviews showed, I’ve read a good amount. I’ve been enjoying it and making time for it – I think that was part of the problem. There wasn’t as much time as I’d hoped during Christmas so I needed to get back into it again.

I’ve been reading one star reviews of The Girl On The Train. I like to read others’ reviews once I’ve written mine and tend to opt for those who felt differently than I did. I’ve found there’s a big disparity in the way people feel about Rachel – people who feel that she’s depressed and for good reason, that yes she may be annoying but understandably, and people who think she’s pathetic. I think the disparity shows we need to speak about these issues more, make more of the signs that can slip under the radar.

I’m now reading Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China, a book I’ve had since it was released and looked forward to reading. I may actually give up on it soon – I know the political, historical, content is going to be excellent but the book itself is a ‘fail’ for me. Plot-device ‘characters’, no reason to care, distance. It’s been interesting to compare this to Anchee Min’s Wild Ginger which is set in the same period; Min’s book is shorter but very hard-hitting and does the job well.

Considering the Guo isn’t working too well for me but I want to finish it, I’ve picked up Northern Lights in the meantime. It’s a sort of readalong choice – I’ve read it twice already, once in my single figure years and again a few years ago, but I had the chance to read it with someone in real life and jumped at it – who doesn’t want to have a good book conversation when they’re at the same point in the book as the other person? In this case it’s a reread for both of us so there will be few ‘I wonder what will happen’ conversations, but it might result in a deeper consideration of the themes. I’ve decided to sum up my reading on Twitter so you might see me attempting to be witty about it every so often.

Lastly, I’m still reading The Spring Of Kasper Meier and things are looking up. It isn’t that it’s been a bad book up to this point, there’s just been a distinct lack of action; Fergusson’s now getting to the heart of what he wants to talk about and it seems there may be a few themes up for discussion – sexuality and the re-building of lives after war. I think what I like most about this book as a concept, is the backdrop, the way it’s a bit further forward in history to Zusak’s The Book Thief. Where that book ends, rubble, isn’t too far from where Fergusson begins and whilst they may be different genres and targeted to different age groups they keep an important story going.

How is your new year reading?


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