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Meike Ziervogel – The Photographer + Podcast Link

Launched today: click here for The Worm Hole Podcast episode 1, with time-slip author Nicola Cornick. If you’d prefer to listen using a mobile app, SoundCloud is available on the Google Play store and the Apple App Store. Finally, if you have social media and would be willing to share the link, that would be awesome, and thank you.

And now for today’s blog post:

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The other side of the war.

Publisher: Salt
Pages: 169
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-784-63114-7
First Published: 15th May 2017
Date Reviewed: 27th October 2019
Rating: 4/5

Trude meets Albert when she and her friend are out together; Albert is a photographer for hire and Trude suggests he take a photo of her and her friend in exchange for a kiss. Thus begins their relationship. But Trude’s mother, Agatha, isn’t happy about this – Trude has always been a problem – and when she discovers something about the couple that will have an affect on Albert in the Nazi German regime, she makes a decision.

The Photographer is a story of the war in regards to those in Germany who had the chance to (mostly) get away.

In some ways, The Photographer is more of an easy read compared to Ziervogel’s past novellas. In contrast to those books, the narrative is relatively simple. There is less mental energy needed when assessing the characters as a reader. And the book is more generally literary than Magda and Kauthar in particular. However this only accounts for the accessibility of the novella – the issues involved are still just as hard-hitting as ever.

In Agatha’s awful, catastrophic, choice that she doesn’t seem to think through properly – or does she? The German people at the time did not know what we know since – there is a lot to take in and process. History shows us that snitching on someone you knew could have far-reaching consequences beyond that single person; Agatha never considers that the police could have also come for her as a close relative, nor that those she was under the impression her going to the police would protect could have been just as equally impacted as Albert, and so her choices hit you far more than they do her.

For all that happens – and thank god, Agatha, that Albert is lucky – once Agatha’s snitching becomes apparent, there is a relative lack of fallout. This is where reader subjectivity comes into play, strongly – you may find that Trude and Albert’s reactions are fine and appropriate given all contexts, but you may also wonder how Agatha manages not to end up in a very bad position. Both subjective thoughts are equally valid – how valid each one is to you personally depends on your interpretation of the book and what you bring to the novella. It is incredibly interesting that Ziervogel has written it in the way she has and begs a deeper study – if you have the time to read the book more slowly you may well appreciate it more. Certainly there is a lot to be said for both the desired and necessary codependency and the needs for survival between the characters as the book goes on; everyone needs each other, and Ziervogel’s melding of these two states is an interesting aspect of the book, with Trude ready to forgive her mother because she loves her, and Agatha needing her daughter.

Ziervogel’s descriptions and general placement of the characters as a sample of Nazi German people is brilliant. Again hindsight comes into play – you may never get used to the nonchalance displayed, by Trude in particular, but it’s crucial to learn. This is a family of very lucky people in general, with Ziervogel perhaps positioning them as she does in order to look at the country in a way we don’t often look at it – in relative terms the family do well for themselves, they get past the war fairly well, but around them, and in front and behind, is devastation.

So you get to see the regular everyday life – the shopping, the fashion, the going for coffees, the usual life. And you get to see the journey across the country, running from the Allies, who are rarely discussed, again allowing the focus to be on the family. And then the life that comes after. You get a superb feel for how Germany was and a sobering up from the result of displacement and taking refuge.

Albert’s time captive isn’t a main thread of the book but his memories, which he discusses with Trude, show brilliantly the extreme underside of an already-known bad aspect of history. Son Peter’s childhood and growth as a person provides a bit of general relativity as well as instances of the wars’ effects.

The Photographer deals with less-considered aspects of the Second World War in a way that brings both the horror and the living situation to the fore, leaving you with no doubt as to the affects. It is well worth your time.

I have met the author and attended a few of her events.

Related Books

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On Wanting Another Book As Awesome As The One You’ve Just Finished

A photograph of the Arabian room at Cardiff Castle

That slight feeling of sadness after you’ve finished a great book, it’s over. When that happens it’s tempting to want to find another book just like it; even when you’ve reading plans to continue you can still have that wish.

Sometimes it’s easy – pick up the sequel. There’s a chance – sometimes fairly big – that the sequel won’t live up to the book you’ve read, but it’s the best chance of reading more of the same that there is. Other times the author may have written another book with the same atmosphere. Lesser times but still significant enough, another author in the same genre or with books set at the same time (for example if it’s a historic novel) may provide a similar reading experience. Recommendations are great here, particularly as people tend to specify what is and isn’t the same.

The thing that interests me in a literary way, though, is those times it isn’t easy to find another book that’s similar, which includes times when you can find one similar but it takes time and during that time you’ve ‘recovered’ from the ‘need’ (though that is a fair alternative in itself). I find it interesting that the process of reading a great book and being unable to replicate the experience for whatever reason can lead to a slump. Perhaps it’s because I’m not as avid a film watcher as I am a reader, but I don’t find the same process in the context of films as powerful. Nor music, although I love music and the right song can be a stunning experience.

Sometimes TV series can produce a similar feeling, which makes me wonder how much is down to length and time invested. In books, a book can be shorter than, well, a tome, and still produce the same result because of how much relative time and attention it uses. It’s generally easier to watch a TV series than to read a book no matter the genre of the book as it requires less attention; all the imagination has been done for you. A short book might not cause the same feeling as a longer one due to time invested, but I’d say it’s more likely to cause it than a film.

I think it’s fascinating that a good book and the resulting wish to read more – which a re-read won’t do – can cause a slump. We talk about good books being the pinnacle. We talk about average books causing a slump, burnout causing a slump, and the daunting nature of the anticipation of a good book causing a slump. But the aftermath of a great book can be a slump. (Of cause a great book can also put off a slump, but that’s not the topic here.)

Looking at the times I’ve had this problem in the past, it relates most often to times when I’ve been able to give the great book not only the literal attention but the physical space, that is to say when I’ve set myself up for an evening of reading, for example, rather than just happening to have reading time. This often leads to associations which, I suppose, play their own role – ‘when I’m at the beach I’m going to get my book out and read’, ‘I’m making a cup of tea on this particularly bright February afternoon and am going to read this book because it’s getting great and I want to enjoy it’. That second one is something I’m still musing on, 9 months later.

How do you handle this situation?

10 Years Tracking My Reading (22nd September 2009 – 22nd September 2019)

A photo of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep laying on an open envelope

The 22nd September marked 10 years of me keeping exact records of my reading – dates, and formats and so on. Before September 2009 I had been reading avidly (I begun at the start of that year) but I hadn’t begun taking any notes of what I’d read. The list for the first several months of 2009 was made retrospectively.

I decided to have a look at all the data to see what they showed about my journey as a reader. This journey is 90% combined with my journey as a book blogger, too, as I started blogging early 2010. I already look at each year, and in 2017 I amalgamated various data from 8 years, so I won’t be repeating any of that, instead it’ll be simpler. I read 12 books that were re-reads but only 3 had been first read during my blogging years. I’m counting re-reads as separate books.

Total number of books: 553
Opening book: A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Closing book: You Then, Me Now by Nick Alexander

Centuries & Decades

My reading era, so to speak, spans just over 500 years. The oldest book I’ve read is Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). And, because classics and famous books are most often older, I’ll say here that I’ve read 67 of them. I’ve read a big 0 books from the 1600s. My plan to read Aphra Behn should (start to) rectify this. I feel I should add some books from 1900-1907, too. (If anyone has recommendations do let me know.)

I read more books in 2013 than any other – 76. My ‘least books’ year was year 1, 2009, which is to be expected – 27. Likely due to everything being new and exciting, my second year, 2010, ended with 60. The numbers are consistent with being given review copies.

Publication year most read: 2013 (58 books)

1500s: 1 (1516)

1700s: 3 (1752; 1764; 1788)

1800s: 29

  • 1800s: 1
  • 1810s: 8
  • 1830s: 1
  • 1840s: 4
  • 1850s: 4
  • 1860s: 4
  • 1870s: 3
  • 1890s: 4

1900s: 80

  • 1900s: 2
  • 1910s: 5
  • 1920s: 7
  • 1930s: 7
  • 1940s: 2
  • 1950s: 10
  • 1960s: 4
  • 1970s: 1
  • 1980s: 15
  • 1990s: 27

2000s: 439

  • 2000s: 82
  • 2010s: 357
Translations From…
  • Danish: 2
  • Dutch: 1
  • Finnish: 3
  • French: 13
  • German: 6
  • Hebrew: 1
  • Japanese: 1
  • Latin: 1
  • Mandarin: 1
  • Norwegian: 3
  • Portuguese: 2
  • Russian: 2
  • Spanish: 3
  • Swedish: 2
  • Turkish: 1

In my first year I labelled some books not applicable to be rated – I gave N/A to books I didn’t review. I discussed this in a separate post. In 2018 I assigned N/A to Twelve Years A Slave – if considered numerically it would be a 5 and I have considered this for the below.

I’m pretty happy with the ratings. It surprised me that there were a good fewer less 4.5 ratings than 4s and 5s but its a tricky one to assign sometimes; it always feels better when something’s a definite 4 or 5.

540 ratings

  • 0/5: 1
  • 0.5/5: 4
  • 1/5: 7
  • 1.5/5: 3
  • 2/5: 13
  • 2.5/5: 30
  • 3/5: 68
  • 3.5/5: 82
  • 4/5: 127
  • 4.5/5: 89
  • 5/5: 116

The first book I read for review was Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. It was a ‘sign up for a challenge’ read. My first review request was for Molly Roe’s Call Me Kate, in September 2010. This book was also my first ebook.

Books for review, various reasons: 222

Concluding Statements

The biggest change in my reading happened in 2010-2011, when blogging opened my reading world to many different types of books and pushed me to try classics. In 2009 the idea of reading a book for adults was a scary thing; this is a big reason why I never reviewed the first I read that year (when I started blogging in 2010 I slowly started reviewing previously read books). I remember trying to review non-fiction but I was aware that – whilst it was on a subject I knew a lot about – I probably needed a bit more experience to do so.

My book stats are obviously a reflection of where I was at that moment (well, year) in time, and although I can’t remember every circumstance I can remember enough to see why the patterns are what they are. I struggled to finish Station Eleven and thus it was my last book of that year; I found reading easy in 2013 because I’d changed the way I blogged, and I’d also chosen a few more shorter books; 2017 saw a slow down due to a new job; 2018 further still as I added rabbit care to my schedule. I’m on track to reach approximately 40 books this year.

How long have you been tracking your reading and what does the information you note down show about your journey?

Incoming Podcast!

A photo of a microphone

This photograph was taken by Chris Engelsma.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been contacting authors, re-reading books, and creating questions. I had been wanting to start a podcast for a long time but put it off because of silly worries. I finally got myself in gear, said enough was enough and it was time to get it done.

I’m excited to announce that episode one of The Worm Hole podcast will be uploaded next Monday, 28th October. The guest is Nicola Cornick. We recorded the episode on the 16th and it was a lot of fun.

It will initially go out via SoundCloud (there’s a mobile app for it as well as the web browser version) and be shared on iTunes as soon as possible following that. I’m also looking at TuneIn as a future possibility. The link will be available as part of that day’s blog post, so those of you who are on my mailing list will get it, too, and I’ll be posting it on Twitter. New episodes will go out on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as I (we!) enjoyed making it.

Updated – first author finalised.

(Very Subjective) Thoughts On Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

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I’ve chosen to eschew my regular review/discussion format – I don’t feel I can do Mrs Dalloway justice, and I’m not sure I ‘got’ it.

I appreciated a lot about the book. So much of it was poetic – poetry in prose. The language was sometimes difficult to read – I don’t mind long sentences but my word! – but the choices made, and the rhythms, were lovely.

The portrayal of PTSD – then ‘shell shock’ – at the time when it wasn’t fully understood was very careful and caring. If Woolf’s book, albeit published several years after the war (1925), played a role in helping people to help veterans further and later, I wouldn’t be surprised. Woolf shows the symptoms well, creating a balance of flashbacks and other mental health issues that came as a result. She shows the effect of misdiagnosis and the beginnings of understanding.

I appreciated the look at love, unrequited, and same-sex.

The inclusion of suicidal thoughts and an actual suicide is interesting in its context. I wasn’t sure whether it’s ‘right’ to see anything here in items of hindsight, Woolf’s mental health and her later choices – I wonder if, perhaps, the book reflects a few of her thoughts pertaining to herself. Certainly if nothing else, she explores it all in its social context.

All these things I ‘got’ but I was left feeling that I was still missing something, hence my choice to bypass a review. All opinions are valid, but I felt too strongly about missing something – can I really evaluate something with which I struggled so much?

I struggled with the stream of consciousness. When I was able to keep my attention on the words – try as I might this was a continual problem – the moment the perspective changed I was right back at the beginning.

I didn’t ‘get’ the sudden changes in perspective. Had the book been solely from Clarissa’s point of view it would’ve been easier. I realised these extra characters might turn up at the party but still their inclusion seemed irrelevant.

I suppose I’m not sure what it was, exactly, that Woolf was trying to say overall – I’ve not a clue. Society at the time? Relationships – problems in love? Attitudes to each other, two-facedness? I did like how everything revolved around Clarissa whether the characters intended it to or not, whether they liked her or not.

Can you enlighten me? Was I somewhat right about the book or completely wrong? And how have you found Virginia Woolf yourself?


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