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Reading Life: 12th February 2018

A photograph of flowers

I’m reading three books at the moment and they are all superbly written which is rather wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Americanah, Jessie Greengrass’ Sight, and Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence.

I’ve been surprised by the Wharton. I knew it would be good because I’ve heard as such before, but the slight humour and spot on commentary was a great discovery. I’m taking it slowly; with the handful of different characters and all the information proffered upfront there’s a fair amount to remember, particularly as I started the book during a lazy afternoon. I’m using my Kobo, which is almost a novelty; I put it away a while ago when I decided to concentrate on physical books (I’ve tried, but I can’t read ebooks one after the other), and found it when clearing up.

Having read the first several chapters I found myself wanting to read up about Wharton herself and spent a few hours doing so. Hers was an interesting life; she was part of the high society she wrote about and travelled extensively. When the war reached France she decided to remain there and help rather than return to America. The house in Massachusetts, that she designed, is now open to the public and in a manner that I recently found at Avebury Manor – you can sit on the furniture and interact with objects and so forth.

Americanah is less of a priority simply due to the length. I’ve a need for shorter books at the moment but don’t want to stop reading it entirely. I’m glad for my reluctance to make notes in books because if I wasn’t reluctant most of what I’ve read so far – a few chapters – would have been scribbled over.

When my Dad told me a few weeks ago that he was planning to watch Wild that evening, I remembered I hadn’t yet seen it. I bought and read Strayed’s memoir before the film’s release so that I could watch it in context but while I did read the book I forgot the second part of the plan. So I sat down to watch the film myself and got about 20 minutes in before calling it a day. It was the inner monologue that did it for me. I’ll try again at some point but I’m not sure I’ll get through it. I liked the book enough – it wasn’t great but it was far from bad – but the film’s execution of it could perhaps be better.

In non-book news I’m still knitting avidly, and finding it to be a good companion hobby to reading. I can’t listen to music when reading, for example, but I can when I’m knitting. I’m finding irony in the fact that knitting doesn’t feel anywhere near as productive as reading but there’s a lot of satisfaction in a finished piece. I’ve completed the jumper I was making for my nephew – with help at the end as trying to sew it all together was making me want to abandon it – and started something in a thicker yarn so that it’d be quicker to knit. I definitely prefer having finished to being in the midst of making.

What are you reading and, if you’ve seen Wild, what did you think of it (whether in context with the book or not)?

Reading Life: 24th November 2017

A promotional photograph for the 1953 film Roman Holiday

Reading has slowed down a bit as the preparations for Christmas have started but over all I’ve been reading quite a lot. I haven’t yet started the Young Writer books I took home from the event but once I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading it’ll be all systems go. Despite the looming award announcement date and the fact that before then there are a few things to be done, not least getting the decorations ready, I hope to have read a good amount of them, with ‘amount’ being the word rather than ‘number’ – I may well read a couple in tandem.

I also have Tony Peake’s North Facing still to read. I’m a bit late on the review for that one but I’m planning it for December.

At the moment I’m concentrating of J Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements; a good book if a bit too descriptive – lots of extraneous back story which explains why the book is over 500 pages. I have been wanting to read the author’s début, Maine, since its release date a few years ago but it’s proved difficult to find; the one and only time I found a copy it was very battered and whilst I did want to read it I didn’t want to pay full price. I liken the situation to that of Maile Meloy – they are likely different subjects and stories but the covers, at least in the US, are similar and both authors’ works are ridiculously difficult to find in Britain a month or so after publication. I do reckon I would prefer Maine but the one I’m reading is a fair enough substitute.

I’m holding off on the new Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen translation (Secret Passages In A Hillside Town) because a few pages in I recognised it as prime ‘certain mood/situation’ material. I very much want to read it and the few pages I read suggested it’ll be just as good as The Rabbit Back Literature Society but I want to be giving it all my attention.

I decided to start Mrs Dalloway but found it quite confusing; I’m not sure whether it’s a case of it being the wrong time or whether it needs longer or it’s just something that won’t work for me but as I was already reading it earlier than planned I’ve put it back on the December reading list. I was having trouble working out the time period and Clarissa’s age – had to resort to Wikipedia – and I knew carrying on at that point might make me uninterested. Perhaps it’s just not the right Woolf for me to be starting with.

Talking of a few pages, I’ve a mind to start ‘letting’ myself browse before committing to a read. I’ve always thought – at least in terms of my own reading – that reading a few pages to decide what to read next is unproductive, but I know it will help me to read the right book at the right time.

Something I can’t not talk about that isn’t book related – a couple of days ago I saw Roman Holiday for the first time. I’m going through an Audrey Hepburn film phase rather like my Marilyn Monroe phase a few years ago, and have got a box set of films. Well, I absolutely loved it and found it to be one of those media items that’s in a league of its own, akin to that idea that a book can be absolutely stellar but then there’s a category beyond that for which there are no words. I liked that the plot wasn’t bog standard and deviated a bit from the stereotypical royal-gets-away-and-or-meets-a-member-of-the-public theme and the ending was incredibly clever. Next up is a re-watch of Breakfast At Tiffanys; can’t wait, though in literal terms I’ll have to.

A question about Mrs Dalloway, then:

Does the story come into its own pretty quickly, and did you find yourself confused in the way I did? (If you can answer without spoilers, that’d be great.)

Reading Life: 18th September 2017

A photograph the Breacon Beacons, taken from a few metres from the edge of a mountain

Firstly, thank you all for your messages about Tabby. I’m not able to respond individually at the moment but I did read them all. Thank you.

My reading life has been different lately; I’m still figuring out reading times in regards to my job – I’ve been doing some content marketing for the SO: To Speak festival of Southampton and it’s been a lot of fun, finding out connections between Jane Austen and the city, and Southampton composers and Charles Dickens.

I am a bit behind on my reviews so I’ll be scaling back during November and December. The biggest thing will be reading for my event with A J Waines. Waines is a psychological thriller writer with two interesting stories. One is fair – she is a hybrid author, self-published in Britain and traditionally published in Europe. The second is pretty awesome – in 2013 she published a book called Girl On A Train. You can probably guess the rest – two years later sales of her book increased and, a fact we’re using verbatim in the promotional material, The Wall Street Journal said that she started getting lots of reviews saying it wasn’t what people expected.

Many readers have said they liked it a lot more than the other one.

I’ve retitled the event this time; instead of ‘in conversation with’, we’re calling the evening The Original Girl On A Train, neatly sidestepping any issues over using Hawkins’ title but being obvious about what we’re talking about. I’m looking forward to it, it’s in conjunction with the festival so there’s more support and advertising opportunities.

But, and admittedly more to the point in the context of these posts, Waines’ has quite a backlist, so I’ve lots of reading ahead of me.

In terms of other titles, I’m in the midst of Nicholas Royle’s Ornithology, a short story collection based around the theme of birds that has similarities to other books – Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, for one. More importantly, in terms of similarities, you may remember a few months ago I reviewed An English Guide To Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle. Excellent book – only it wasn’t written by the Nicholas Royle whose short story collection I’m reading now. However, An English Guide To Birdwatching references the short story collection – I believe it is in part why the title of the novel includes birds. The two authors met a few years ago – they didn’t know about each other until they both submitted work to the same literary magazine and the editor of that magazine sent the replies to both stories to a solo Nicholas.

It’s confusing, yes. But having first read In Camera (‘Salt’ Nicholas, as I’ll likely refer to him from now on – he works at Salt Publishing), and then Birdwatching, reading Ornithology is a particular experience I’d never have had in another situation. It’s this weird situation wherein there’s added context to the book that in a way shouldn’t be there.

I’ll stop there.

Moving on, I’ve just finished Fanny Blake’s Our Summer Together – a contemporary romance about a 60-something British women who has a relationship with a younger Bosnian immigrant. Not bad, just a bit repetitive and with two highly different characters. I’m a fair way through Lesley Glaister’s The Squeeze – a difficult read but well written. Next up is Chitra Ramaswathy’s Expecting – a memoir that’s up for the Polari Prize – and after that I may read a bit of Dorthe Nors. I’m going for shorter books at the moment.

I’m considering making a start on Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre before Christmas but we’ll see – previously I didn’t know much about her and so was surprised not to find her books on Project Gutenberg. I now know a lot more, including the new fact that I want to go and visit Monk’s House, and so will work on the idea that if I get all the reading that needs to be done before Christmas… done… I’ll go purchase Orlando.

What are you reading at the moment, what did you read previously, and what will you read next?

Reading Life: 7th August 2017

A photograph of the church section of Netley Abbey

I’ve been struggling with overwhelm recently. I received a lot of books for purposes other than review that I hadn’t expected; I’m making progress but together with other happenings it’s been difficult. I’m making an effort to clean up my list of currently reading books, finishing those I’m nearing the end of and making a decision on those I’d not got too far through that have been languishing on the list for months. A Brief History Of Seven Killings is off for now; I only got about 50 pages in and the amount left… I know it’d just languish longer. Twelve Years A Slave has been removed because I think by removing it I might actually get back to it; I was enjoying it a lot (as much as it can be enjoyed; as a historical document). There is definitely something to be said for not having a number of books currently on the go. I think three’s the limit for me – any more and it doesn’t feel as though I’m making any progress. It’s also, I’m starting to realise, a reading slump creator.

I finished Erskine’s Sleeper’s Castle last week. As it continued it seemed to me that it’s two stories put together, a plot thread of time slip and a plot thread heading in the direction of Gone Girl; both threads petered out in the end. I may give Lady Of Hay a go but it isn’t something I’m going to prioritise at the moment.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been making a big effort to read in the tiny moments available; I’m trying out the idea of reading in queues, when waiting for people to be ready to leave, that sort of thing. At the moment it’s an ebook I’m carrying via a tablet so there has been some start up time factored into it, but I’ve read a fair number of pages this way, particularly when considering my slow reading speed. Whether I’m actively retaining the information, in terms of whether the ‘quality’ of such reading will result in a fair opinion at the end of the book I’m not yet sure – I think in this case it will be fine because the book is an easy read.

I’m determined to have finished more currently-reading books by the end of this month for a better reflection of what or, rather, how much I’ve read, which is more than it seems at present. A reading list with many finished books means a clearer head for future reading.

What are you currently reading, and do you read in those spare moments?

Reading Life: 9th June 2017

A photograph of flowers

Earlier this week I made the decision to get back to books I haven’t finished and the almost unheard of (for me) decision to allow myself to abandon, for now, books that I’ve started but have made little progress in. I’ve several books on my list now that are unfinished and it’s becoming a bit of a reading burden as well as just a bit silly, effectively creating an inflated number of books read. Subsequently I finished a book I’ve been reading since last month – I’m not setting any limits on how long the book has to have been on the list.

This has led to another effort to finish Tender Is The Night. I didn’t really feel like picking up a ‘current’ read yesterday, so I opted to try once again to read Fitzgerald’s higgledy-piggledy novel and, pun intended, I have turned a page. I’ve reached that point I’d heard about wherein the narrative becomes clearer and more active, the plot is a lot more linear and thought through, and I read a good number of chapters. On book two of the novel it’s turned into something akin to the term people have been using to refer to Tom Malmquist’s book, ‘autobiographical fiction’, wherein a diagnosis of schizophrenia had been given to a main character prior to the start of the book, whilst she was in hospital.

The book I finished before that was Joanna Hickson’s The Agincourt Bride. I’d been steadily continuing it alongside others, but decided it was time to complete it (I’d paused because I’d started reading it for a planned event that was then cancelled). It’s a different sort of book to others on similar subjects/tones in that the person of honour, so to speak, is being talked about by a third party and that third party is fictional, but it’s been a very interesting reading experience – the cover and general expectations pointing to more of a historical romance but the reality being more about the politics with lots of details about battles and the French-England conflicts. The book’s title is the part to base your expectations on.

Despite my prior dislike of Madeleine Thien’s work, albeit that it was a while ago, I have bought her latest, award shortlister. Her event at the Hay Festival was absolutely brilliant, I was completely won over to the point of getting the book there and then. I’m hoping to start it shortly. I also got a copy of a book I regretted not getting last year – I had found a hardback of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane but unwisely chose to mull it over a bit, losing it to someone else. I was particularly interested in a hardback which at this point is difficult to find but I found another this year and didn’t hesitate.

In terms of current reads, Christina Stead’s Letty Fox: Her Luck is a priority, however as I’ve said before it’s a long book and when I opened it I discovered small text and small margins so it’s going to take longer than I’d thought. It’s looking a bit like an updated Vanity Fair at the moment, in terms of heroine personality, and a bit prone to extensive detailing. Still the plan is to finish it sooner rather than later.

In the near future I’m looking at Meike Ziervogel’s The Photographer and the book she commissioned for Peirene Press, The Cut. The former is inspired by the lives of Meike’s grandparents in war-torn Germany and the latter was commissioned last year – a book about the divisions in the UK in regards to Brexit.

How is your reading life?


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