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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?

Reading Life: 7th December 2015

A photograph of Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird and Cheryl Strayed's Wild framed by gold tinsel

Thanks to a present-giving day I’ve the two books above, books I’ve wanted ever since bloggers first reviewed them. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I wasn’t sure Strayed’s would still be available in hardback and was so glad to find out it was; I quite like Reese Witherspoon but would prefer she sticks to our film collection. How envy-inducing is it that Oyeyemi’s published five books and is only 30? Anyway, I’m glad to have another fairy-tale retelling ready as well as what I know is a good, if rose-tinted, story of self-discovery.

Right now I’m reading Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year Of The Runaways, trying to get through the Young Writer Of The Year short-list before the winner’s announced. Sahota’s book is number three for me, I’ve only the Ferguson left, and I must admit I’m finding it difficult. It’s not a bad book, it’s that at almost half-way little has happened beyond going to work. There have been flashbacks to the characters’ last months in India but the writing hasn’t interested me enough to make me eager to keep reading.

I watched the film adaptation of The Book Thief last week. Perhaps it’s the amount of time since I read the book, but I loved the film. It was definitely different – considering so much of the success was down to the writing it was always going to be – but as adaptations go I found it fairly faithful. It’s one of those that can stand on their own without being constantly compared. I found myself picking up on lots of themes and thoughts I’d missed when reading and again, it was the absence of the writing – I was enthralled by Zusak’s writing to the point that was my main takeaway. Watching let me see the way Liesel’s burgeoning education and stealing habits conflicted against the idea that a lot of material was bad and shouldn’t be read, the irony of it, even if book censorship wasn’t a major part of the period. And of course there’s Max’s use (whether just in the film or the book, also, I can’t remember) of Hitler’s book, blanking it all out, so the binding could contain new words. I could’ve done without the Apple product placement at the end, though. It did a good job of letting you know exactly which era we’d moved into, but in case you didn’t know, Apple paid a lot of money towards the production of this film, multiple exclamation marks and capslock.

I’ve a couple of Christmas book ideas ready in case I finish the shortlist. One is Annie O’Neil’s The Surgeon’s Christmas Wish and I’m tempted to re-read A Christmas Carol. I suppose I could review The Jolly Christmas Postman – children’s present idea if you need one – but I’d have to pinch it from my nephew and he’d likely have something to say about that (quite rightly, too).

The tree is up and the decorations are about 40%; complete. There’s still tidying to be done and the inevitable hoovering of tree spines that reminds you you’ll have to get another tree before too long. We found last year’s half-full box of cards and it’s definitely a half-full situation – after fretting that we hadn’t bought enough a couple of weeks ago we now find we have the right amount. As much as it’s nice to be out around Christmas getting everything done early so you can just saunter about instead of worry is lovely. Presents don’t get wrapped until the last week, however – you’ve got to leave some of the fun for the festive period. In addition, I’ve been reading about Christmas traditions – did those of you who aren’t Kiwis know that in New Zealand advertising on television is banned on Christmas Day? It’s also banned at Easter. Awesome, isn’t it?

How are your reading, shopping, and decorating going?

Reading Life: 30th September 2015

A photograph of an autumn rose, salmon coloured

It’s an odd time, autumn but still warm, sunny, and few leaves have fallen. I’ve been thinking about October, Halloween and pumpkin spice lattes. They’ve made an appearance here in recent years – us Brits are no longer stuck trying to imagine them. Last year’s plan to try one went awry; I didn’t realise they’d be available for so short a time.

So everyone is talking about Elena Ferrante. When I first saw the cover I was uninterested – it looks like something from the 70s to me – but Alice thinks they’re good so I’ve put the first book on my list. I do like the mystery surrounding the author, no one knows who she is, and if it’s got literary appeal then I’m on it because I’m going through an extended literary fiction and general fiction stage.

A few days ago I opened my book database to add a couple more entries and mark off the books I’d read since the last edit. I decided to calculate the percentage of physical books I’ve read. The result was 70%. I liked that number… when I first saw it six months ago. My percentage hasn’t changed and whilst its going to happen when there are new books, I’m hoping I can make at least a tiny dent by the end of the year.

I’ve been trying to read more deliberately, not let myself be distracted, increase my attention span. I’m doing most of my reading away from electronics and have created a new place to sit where I can get that romantic idea of nature working for me – namely beside the window overlooking greenery. Part of this reading has included Anna Karenina which I’d put on hold in May. For now I’m doing well and really enjoying it. Hoping it will happen is a sure fire way to make it not happen so instead I’ll word it thus: If I read at my current pace I’ll have finished it within two weeks. Whenever I do finish I’ll be celebrating with the Keira Knightley adaptation. It’s the reason I started the book in the first place.

Reading the tome has led to Wikipedia browsing. I now know about Tolstoy’s marriage, religious views, and how Levin fits into it all. I’m enjoying Levin’s story a lot more for it. The ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ of Levin’s peasant life fantasy is interesting especially as he repeatedly realises it won’t work. I like the way Tolstoy shows it is fantasy in some respects, that some of Levin’s ideas wouldn’t fit and that to an extent he’s appropriating peasant life. From there I found myself reading about Gertrude Stein; I’d not heard of her until watching Midnight In Paris.

I’ve been researching the famous painting of the Brontë sisters. The Internet has informed me that whoever told me Branwell removed himself because he wanted to emphasise the greatness of his sisters was not strictly correct – that’s more likely a personal conclusion. I thank the Internet.

I went further and discovered Charlotte was no fan of Emily’s work. Whilst I agree with her on the story I can’t say I don’t love Wuthering Heights as a literary work. It seems Charlotte didn’t like it at all and she hated Anne’s The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, also, though whether it was her true opinion or a pretend hatred to mitigate worries or complaints about mental health is unknown. Charlotte does appear to have been far more opinionated in this manner than I thought, however. I knew about her hatred of Catholicism but there’s a possibility she went as far as destroying Emily’s second novel. This page is a compelling read.

How is your reading life lately?

Reading Life: 31st August 2015

A photograph of flowers

I’ve read a lot this month; for now the slump is at bay and I’m going with the flow, taking breaks between books when it makes sense to (days out, for example) and any ‘must be reading’ thoughts are being acted on only if it’s because I want to read for leisure. I’m hoping this phase lasts.

It seems literary fiction might be more important to me than I thought. Of course I love themes and subjects that can be discussed, but I’ve found going along with my desire to read more of them and pushing away the inevitable anxiety that accompanies them – the ‘this review is going to be hard work’ anxiety – makes me a happy reader. I’ve been mixing literary Young Adult, bog standard literary fiction, and some general fiction and really loving it. And I’m just reading some awesome books.

Yesterday I started The Castle Of Otranto. It’s been on my list for ages and with just two days left of the month I want to see if I can fit another book in. (They may mostly be novellas but there is something satisfying about a high number.) It goes on a bit sometimes and certainly an editor would have a field day with it nowadays, but there’s enough suspense and a creepy feeling that means it’s still a good read. Reading it has made me remember that Catherine Morland recommends Ann Radcliffe. In researching Horace Walpole I discovered his house, Strawberry Hill, which has gone straight on my list of places I want to see. The Walpole is on my Classics Club list which means I will have crossed off another measly one entry. I think I probably should’ve thought more about modern classics when I typed it up as I’m reading up a storm when it comes to the early 1900s, but I’ll take this book released in 1760 and be proud of the minor progress.

I mentioned brieftly meeting Alice of OfBooks. we met earlier this month and Alice showed me round the markets and bookstores of Brighton. City Books, her favourite, is a place I’d recommend making a priority if you go to Brighton, it’s one of those bookstores wherein you just know the staff are thinking about their customers rather than what the publishers want to sell.

It was during this trip I bought The Reader. I may have been overcome at the end.

August has been quite a month. We’ve had mostly awful weather, constant rain, that makes me wonder if we’ll see another random day of hot sunshine in November as happened a few years ago. We welcomed my friend’s baby into the world. Our circle has expanded to include little people and it’s rather nice. I’ve visited a couple more castles and historic houses – the presence of Henry VIII looming large as usual – and took a mini holiday. I discovered country music to the happiness of a relative who said it’s time. I witnessed my young nephew flying a kite – the first of our family to do so successfully. It’s been quite a summer.

What have you been reading and, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, how was your summer?

Reading Life: 6th July 2015

A photograph of flowers

When I spoke of my reading slump last Wednesday, what I really meant was a reading block. I had no desire to read – I just wanted to play music. It was weird; it wasn’t that I didn’t want to read, it was that I just couldn’t. I couldn’t focus and there was little point. Strangely I got through The Tiger’s Wife during a harder part of that time and made it; I’m not really sure what happened. Now the desire is coming back and I’m glad.

I’ve read few epistolary novels; in fact I can only remember two, Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and a phone conversation novella from my teenage years. Something told me I didn’t enjoy them much but as you know, I loved The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. Whether it’s a feature of novels told in letters or just part and parcel of Shaffer’s work I don’t know, but the personality, the sheer vitality, in it is something else. I’m inclined to seek out others – do you have any recommendations?

Anna Karenina is on a sort of hold. I paused whilst reading the Obreht – I’m not sure I’d have finished it already if I hadn’t. (I do see why Obreht won the Orange Prize but so far prefer the Henderson.) I’m not going to repeat history now I’ve found the Tolstoy translation that works for me. Yes Levin bores me, but Anna is just so alluring. The way Tolstoy writes Anna… he almost compels you to fall in love with her too; it’s like he’s pushing you to be in awe of her.

To my reviews I’ve added the era (decade) of each book as a genre tag, in hopes it’ll remind me to read more older books. If it also helps others identify books then that’s a bonus, but I must admit selfishness this time. Adding Suite Française under 2000s was difficult and difficult, too, was the confirmation that I have indeed read many more books from this current decade than any other. My second avid reader ‘stage’ may have begun in 2009, but I really need to read more classics.

I’ve started The Late Monsieur Gallet and at the moment my views are mixed. I’m loving the simplicity of the text but feel it’s lacking. The seemingly irrelevant detailing was expected (older work, written in a time when people had longer attention spans) but it’s difficult to get through. I expect part of the issue is the translator and, whilst understandable given how many of them there are, the numerous translators employed to work on the series may take some getting used to. I do like that Simenon throws you straight into the case and doesn’t beat around the bush.

Have I noted I’ve Among Others on my list? I’m looking forward to it.

Which decade have you read the most books from? Have you ever found the need to seek a different translation?


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