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On Book Haul Posts

A photograph of a pile of books - the Wellcome Prize 2016 shortlist

…Or what I refer to here as Latest Acquisitions posts.

I haven’t written an acquisitions post recently. It isn’t because I’ve not received/bought/borrowed any books – I have had fewer books enter my home but enough to warrant a post. It’s because the knowledge that they are easy posts, and the considerations as to how and when to create them, got me thinking I should write less of them.

That ‘worry’… I’ve been about it in some shape or form for ages, then Holly posted her own thoughts which in turn were inspired by Ariel Bisett’s video. I thought I’d take a leaf from their book and write down the thoughts I’ve kept to myself. Primarily my thoughts concern the ‘why’ of book hauls, but also revolve around the form the posts take.

I create my latest acquisition posts because I like to highlight books I’ve received, knowing it’ll take me a while, sometimes forever, to get to them all. I do it because it gives me a chance to flag up a new release I’m not set to review until after the publishing date. I do it to share my excitement and my reasons for saying ‘yes’ to a request or buying a book. (In the second case – buying – it allows me to share my journey, if there was one, to buying it.) And I like posts that include lots of books.

On a less personal note, book haul posts are easy. Yes, they are easy (generally) for me to write (on occasions when I’ve accepted a book for review not knowing too much about it I feel the lack of good background information) but also easy to read. As much as long posts are great, sometimes people just don’t have the time to read them so a mix of long and short posts hopefully helps mean more time for both. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that short posts see more comments, and it’s entirely understandable. (Reviews are excluded of course – in my experience they are effected, comments wise, by whether or not the blog reader has read the book.)

Two of my considerations are length and time:

  • The balance between a short, easy, post, and something of value is something that in the case of hauls I’m still working on.
  • Time – how often to post; how many books in each post (which may affect post frequency); how many are too many.

And always lingering at the back of my mind – when dealing with review requests, does this constitute showing off?

I’ve acquired many books since my last haul post but due to pulling back a little on review copies for the time being, I’ve been reviewing them pretty swiftly… which is another thought – I don’t like posting about a new book twice in quick succession unless I’ve lots (and lots) to say about it.

Though I should probably write another acquisitions post soon, leaving out books I’ve since reviewed – that’s another factor. Wait too long and calling a book ‘new’ is no longer true.

The amount I’ve written here… I guess this post has been a long time coming!

What do you think about book hauls and their value?

 
Contemplating My Favourite Genre(s)

A photograph of two stacks of books on a table in the sun

I’ve the urge to read some books that have been on my backlist. Specifically I’ve been wanting to read historical fiction of the fantasy variety, mostly time travel and time slip; in the case of the books I’ve had on my shelves, it’s primarily time slip.

I’ve been wanting to do this since I briefly picked up The House On The Strand some time ago. It occurred to me earlier this week as I sat with Susanna Kearsley’s The Shadowy Horses, that I might have been wrong all this time that historical fiction and fantasy fiction are my favourite genres. It’s far simpler – I like both put together.

Historical fantasy is a genre I always feel comfortable with in that particular way of sitting down to read and feeling the need to relax back into the chair and not do anything else for a good few hours. Even if I don’t think the book’s great, as I ultimately found with the Kearsley, the feeling remains. Historical fantasy speaks to my passion for history and my longing to be back in time, the part of me that loves visiting castles and old houses. It’s like coming home.

And I think it’s more like coming home than reading a good classic can be. I’m surprised to find that my joy in reading classics is pipped to the post by historical fantasy.

I don’t mind a romance, but only when it works. Could The Shadowy Horses have done without the romance? I’d say so, yes. Could Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree? Yes. But I think Cornick’s previous, House Of Shadows, would have been a little less without the progression of a relationship.

Historical fantasy is a genre I don’t own many books in. It does take a bit to get it right and where it’s something I don’t read too often (and whenever I do read it I have to stop myself reading too much) I don’t often actively seek new books.

I should. I have only the Du Maurier, that I stopped reading because there were other books I had to read that I knew I’d abandon if I didn’t stop; Kearsley’s Season Of Storms and The Firebird; Barbara Erskine’s Sleeper’s Castle – my current read. Unless there is time travel/slip in a book that I do not know about, that’s my lot. Everything else – not much – has been read.

I think I need to get better at identifying what I like the most and making it more of a priority, both in terms of reading and when at the bookshop/library/when reading requests.

Has your favourite genre changed over the years?

 
Tove Jansson – Letters From Klara

Book Cover

To quote Moominland Midwinter: ‘One has to discover everything for oneself. And get over it all alone.’

Publisher: Sort Of Books
Pages: 129
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-908-74561-3
First Published: 1991; 1st June 2017 in English
Date Reviewed: 19th July 2017
Rating: 4/5

Original language: Swedish
Original title: Brev Från Klara Och Andra Berättelser (Letters From Klara And Other Stories)
Translated by: Thomas Teal

Letters From Klara is a collection of short stories that are very subtle in their points. The creator of Moomins, Jansson is quoted as saying, “I love the short story concentrated and united around a single idea. There must be nothing unnecessary in it. One must be able to hold the tale enclosed in one’s hand”, and she stays true to form in this collection. What this means is that some of the stories may strike the reader as missing something – Jansson holding on so much to minimalism that it can be difficult to see exactly what she wants to say, but there are others that are profound. Those more average in their storytelling still make for a good read.

There are thirteen stories here and most are confined to a handful of pages. Standouts include the title story, entirely epistolary, in which a person’s first letter (so far as the story is concerned) sets out how someone else should become less critical and then goes on to show that perhaps it’s the letter writer’s own traits, projected; another is The Train Trip, wherein a man who very much admired an old classmate meets him and discovers his admiration pails in comparison; and Party Games in which a group of what we might now call ‘frenemies’ in school meet up again as adults, having changed little. A variety of themes, as subtle, often, as the overall reasons for the stories, rounds it off well – who one is, one’s place in the family (often too burdensome!) and other groups and communities, how one relates to others.

Something not covered in the stories listed above is the oft-used theme of art. An artist herself – in fact Jansson saw the art as more important – a few of the stories look at different types of artist, and the different reasons, ways, and places for drawing and painting. An isolated, prison-like place where a young adult nevertheless cannot escape the idea of home; a classroom of budding artists where one person stands out for seeming to misunderstand the concept of friendship and closeness, later revealed to be part of something else about him.

As a translation the book reads well, in fact it’s difficult to note anything particular about it simply because Teal has done such a good job. He’s kept it steeped in time and place and the tone and word choices, feels very right, an echo of many English-language counterparts, if you will, dialect from a few decades ago and matching the phrasing of an older generation.

This is a book to read at a pace that feels comfortable to you – there’s the feeling that Jansson, whilst of course having a reason to write and a desire for you to know certain things, has left the reading experience itself open to choice.

Letters From Klara shows off Jansson’s ability beyond children’s literature, just as deserving of accolades.

I received this book for review.

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Hay Festival 2017: Samanta Schweblin, Hari Kunzri, And Ann Goldstein

A photograph of Samanta Schweblin and Hari Kunzri at the Hay Festival

On the afternoon of the first Saturday, Hari Kunzri and Samanta Schweblin, together with a translator for the latter, gathered on stage with Claire Armistead.

I’d read Schweblin’s book but Kunzri was new to me; his book is about collectors and cultural appropriation, quite different to Schweblin’s look at chemical agriculture but perhaps with a similarity in the way both books care about countries.

Schweblin said that the ‘rescue distance’ of her book (which is the Argentinian title of it) was something she invented rather than anything she knew of people doing. (She likes the English title, Fever Dream, but believes it’s disadvantaged by the suggestion that the dream is more prominent than the worries of the mother for her child. Of the ‘dream’, she said, “I think it’s real… it could be a dream… I would like to play with both up to the end of the book, about the ties that bind us”.)

Armistead asked about the worms in the book. “I was playing with the idea of chemicals,” said Schwebin, “because she [the main character] gets poisoned… the point of your fingers start to feel like worms.” She said the physical effects of the chemicals are very real. The author later said that the novel has not changed anything in the country.

Schweblin likes to put words in the reader’s head that aren’t on the page, words one must figure out and that make you want to asked questions. “I feel I’m a short story teller. Tension is so important.”

Kunzri became interested in the idea of the haunting quality of music. Haunting is both a metaphor and not, he said. It’s an experience and you can never forget the distance in time – static, for example. He spoke of the early days of recording when audio was physical – vibrations created discs. His story is partly about how white people used black music. “I’m interested in who gets forgotten and who gets remembered.”

A photograph of Ann Goldstein taken at the Hay Festival

Photo © 2017, Sam J Peat.

There was much for Elena Ferrante’s translator, Ann Goldstein, to talk about with Daniel Hahn. To use a common phrase the stage was a full, if small, house.

Goldstein recently quit her job as a copywriter after 45 years; though it was not stated, one can assume this was in part due to Ferrante’s success overseas. She did not learn Italian until her mid 30s; her speaking skills are not as good as her written skills. She goes to Italy a couple of times a year and is always translating something. The job role itself was an accident; a book had been sent to her newspaper editor and she read the book and liked the idea of working on it. The finished result was published in the New Yorker.

On the subjects of problems when translating Italian to English, Goldstein noted gender; the syntax is more flexible in Italian. Her feeling is that Italian is a musical language and hard to capture. Sometimes English has to fill in, she said, and Italian has suffixes that can change a whole meaning so you have to be careful. You can never find a word that will have all the same nuances, or syllables. You have to decide what is most important. Hahn summed it up: it’s never as simple as changing words for other words, and different people privilege different things.

“If I haven’t read the book [prior to translating]… I’m typing and reading at the same time and that is exciting,” Goldstein said later. The first time round you miss things. When Hahn pointed out, in regards to translation decisions, that a person may have no idea what might happen in later books, Goldstein replied that that is true in her case. She couldn’t get ahead of herself in the story. The later books hadn’t yet been published – in any language – for her to be able to know what would happen.

The translator had to go through editors to get information about Ferrante’s translations. She still does, even now. Hahn noted that Ferrante has said she trusts Goldstein and Goldstein said she had read a translation of one book but not the Neapolitan novels. ‘I thought it was important for [Ferrante] to have a voice, a public voice, in English. So many people liked her books, even if I couldn’t speak for her, I could speak as someone who knew them.’ This is why she goes to festivals.

In the USA, 30% of published books are translations; that hasn’t changed. But that lack of change is good when there are more books being published overall. In the last 15 years, the UK sold 5.5 million books and a very good percentage were translations.

 
Zoë Duncan – The Shifting Pools

Book Cover

What you see will be.

Publisher: Lightning Books (Eye Books)
Pages: 346
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-785-63036-1
First Published: 6th July 2017
Date Reviewed: 14th July 2017
Rating: 4.5/5

Eve’s family lived in a country that was torn by war; in childhood Eve lost them all and suffered further trauma. She moved to England where her well-meaning aunt never stopped trying to cover up any news of the war and never referred to the family. Now in her adult years, Eve is yet to confront her memories and her grief continues as strongly as ever. Her dreams are nightmares and she’s not living anywhere near her potential, but her imagination believes it’s time to heal.

The Shifting Pools is an incredibly moving novel about grief and learning to live despite it. Using many different styles of storytelling, referencing, and ideas, Duncan has created something very different and very special.

This is a slow-moving book. The pace echoes the way utter loss, grief, can take over a life, and Duncan never moves the narrative away from it. Every detail is examined, every thought spoken, in the way it naturally occurs in life, Duncan doing away with the very notion that being repetitive in fiction is bad – she shows well how it is important to delve into grief and give it the time it needs.

One of the first things of note is Duncan’s writing – it’s wonderful. It keeps the pacing constant, it stays steady during tense changes, and it brings something very beautiful to the work. It’s not difficult to fly through this book, despite the subject, and the writing and Duncan’s overall handling of the situation is why. And there is a lot of wisdom here that anyone who has lost someone or been in an awful situation will be able to relate to.

The style of the text as a whole is intriguing. Sections about Eve’s childhood are narrated in the third person. The first person is used for everything else: the ‘present’ as Eve lives through her days and details her thoughts; the vignettes of dreams dotted throughout the book, that explore Eve’s mental state in various imagined situations; the sections in war-torn Enanti, the fantasy world that may or may not be real. And then there are several well-known and not so well-known poems, generally a single verse of each, spread throughout, included in the text as vignettes in their own right. It’s almost of collage, a multi-media project, full of different ideas and voices, and works very well. The term ‘fractured narrative’ comes to mind.

The Shifting Pools uses nature, drawing comparisons between it and the themes of the story, and using its beauty as a way to help Eve. Of note is the character’s name, which, after you have spotted potential influences of other texts and concepts (including Narnia and The NeverEnding Story) does bring forth the question of Eve’s faith. Is there a comparison to be drawn between Eve and the Eden of the Bible? Of Heaven? Quite possibly.

Eve is always at war with herself; as much is said in one of the sections. Her dreams concern various war or battle or prison situations. Of the war that tore apart her family, little is said. Duncan never tells you which war – if any, in reality – she refers to, though there are glimpses of a couple of possibilities; it’s more the basic idea of war that is important.

Reading this book is something of a honour, and a surreal experience. It feels fantastical from the very first page and the amount of research, knowledge, and detail Duncan has included is excellent. She unapologetically runs straight past the border between what we are told is the ‘right’ amount of time and energy to spend grieving to show that the idea of a ‘right’ time never works. This said you can see the thought that’s gone in to getting it right in terms of the reading experience, empathy, and not repeating what has been said unless to view it differently – something that wouldn’t work in many cases but does here.

The only thing that may work against the book is the amount of time spent on the journey in Enanti. It depends on your enjoyment of the fantasy world being included alongside the real world, how much you’re invested in that genre, and how much you personally feels it all relates.

The Shifting Pools is a fantastic reading experience, full of care, love, and, ultimately, hope.

I received this book for review.

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