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Latest Acquisitions (September – November 2019)

It’s been a busy few months for me and books; if I included books I’d already reviewed in these posts we’d be looking at a good few more, but this way is far more manageable and less repetitious. I’m really looking forward the books below, some will feature here shortly, others a little later; it’s a good mix of genres and types as well as reasons for reading.

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Deirdre Le Faye (ed.): Jane Austen’s Letters – It started in January; I wanted to write about Jane Austen but needed some primary sources. I needed her letters. Using the library would require many renewals. Having a book of Charlotte Brontë’s letters, I decided to research the theme from the later writer’s perspective. (I ended up writing about her sisters’ influence on her instead of the original topic, but it was still interesting.) Over the last several months I’ve had two further Jane Austen ideas that would require a copy of her letters so I finally added it to a year-round wishlist and thank my family very much.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – A family tries to work itself out when their restaurant suffers disaster. I’m a couple of chapters into this one; it’s on the back-burner and I hope to finish it within a few months. It was on the Women’s Prize longlist and I received it from the UK publisher.

Nancy Bilyeau: The Blue – This is Bilyeau’s fourth book over all and second effective story, her previous three being a trilogy. It’s set a couple of centuries later than her Joanna Stafford books and is about the porcelain industry in 1700s Europe and the construction of blue pigment, one woman’s journey to learn about it in order to be given the chance at becoming an artist.

Robert Galbraith: Lethal White – The continuing story of Comoran Strike, It’s true that I’m still to read the previous three books in this series; I’ve got this one early because I’m collecting the hardbacks, but I will get to them.

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Seishi Yokomizo: The Honjin Murders – From the publisher, this is a murder mystery first published in the 1940s set at the time of a village wedding. Yokomizo was a famous Japanese novelist so I do have this on my too-be-read.

Stein Riverton: The Iron Chariot – A Norwegian classic crime novel first published in 1909 about a murder at a holiday guesthouse where the narrator (the last person to see the victim) joins the investigation after having heard the noise of chains post-incident, a noise known to foreshadow death. From the publisher.

Susmita Bhattacharya: Table Manners – A short story collection that travels all around the globe, looking at love and loneliness in cities. Bhattacharya is a well-respected local writer; I’ve heard her read and her use of language and concepts for the poem performed was lovely.

What books have come into your life recently?

 
Do Adaptations Show Us Extra Meanings?

A screen shot from the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice showing Bingley, Jane, Darcy, and Elizabeth at the altar

Screen shot from Pride And Prejudice, copyright © 1995 BBC.

In an article about the art of adaptation, which focused on Brooklyn, writer Shastri Akella said that adaptations that are very different to their source material can make us look at other meanings that might be found in the text. This she wondered after having thought over the concept of bringing to visual life characters from literature.

I found this an interesting idea. My initial thought was to wonder how seeing other meanings in a book thanks to a visual production would work – is it possible? I was too caught up in the idea that films can never be as good as the book. Away from that, I think Akella is on to something, however today I’m going to look at adaptations as a whole rather than adaptations that are necessarily different – I’m not against differences, but I do gravitate towards adaptations that stay close to the books.

An adaptation is a single person’s (or multiple people depending on where the idea to adapt originates and goes) idea about a book. The film or television series (radio series as well?) is thus a detailed explanation and interpretation of someone’s reaction, their own visualisations of characters, location, and meanings that make up the book. It is as valid, in an objective, general, sense, as anyone else’s reactions and interpretations (supposing the director or whoever it is has read the book, of course), it’s just that putting it on screen for all to see is going to suggest, if unintentionally, that it’s a fairly definitive interpretation and a correct one, a valid one, an informed one. It is valid – in essence it’s an interpretation as good or clever, and so on, as any other, the difference is simply in the ability to put it on screen.

So, due to this, it gives the viewer (who I’m considering has read the book) an easily accessible way to discover another’s thoughts on the story, albeit that screen time is not always enough to provide the full picture. So is an adaptation that seems or is, objectively, very different to the source material useful? Unless there are reasons for the difference that move away from interpretation – say those times when directors modify aspects of the story for their own reasons (the recent Sanditon was sexed up) then the adaptation is going to fulfill Akella’s idea of this purpose of providing other meanings.

In her forthcoming book about Darcy (disclaimer – I’m reading it for review), Gabrielle Malcolm notes the 1995 BBC production of Pride And Prejudice wherein Darcy narratives the letter he sends Elizabeth about his history with Wickham against a backdrop of visual flashbacks that enable the viewer to put visuals to the letter’s content. This, Malcolm notes, was done to better infer to viewers Darcy’s better side. Austen doesn’t include the background itself – the words are all there is; whilst the choice of the production team doesn’t move in a wholly different direction to the book, it does include things that aren’t in the book (the ‘wet shirt’ scene is, of course, another) that perhaps provide slightly different insights about Darcy that you don’t get from Austen, making Darcy more accessible to the 20th century viewers, watching the series almost 200 years after the book was published.

Staying on the subject of Austen’s book – it’s in my head at the moment – the 2005 film better showed me why debate surrounds the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet, the changes in dialogue and chance to see characters in reality making a difference. On one side of the debate are those who believe Mr Bennet treats, and has likely always treated, Mrs Bennet poorly, enough that she was always going to become a bit over the top. On the other side are those that see Mrs Bennet as the problem – over dramatic, overbearing – and Mr Bennet the product of having it in his life so many years as to be resigned to it. I’m not sure I have an outright opinion on this – Donald Sutherland’s acting leads me to ponder the second side but that’s his influence, not Austen’s, so I’m not inclined to draw a line in the sand. I’m also not sure that Austen had thoughts either way; I think she was thinking more about what would be funny. Mrs Bennet is only a little more dramatic than the characters she is thought to be inspired by – certainly Maria Edgeworth’s Lady Delacour from Belinda, who is less ‘nervous’ but actively neglectful and deceptive struck me, upon reading about her, as a likely influence for Austen, with Mrs Bennet being inspired by Lady Delacour but ultimately being a lot nicer and unaware rather than deliberately dramatic.

There are numerous other possible influences, too, with melodrama being ‘in’ around that time. Austen was responding to her culture, to the overblown stereotypes of those who wrote a little before her time. But add a couple of hundred years to her publications and understandably a changed society questions her characters. There are far fewer limitations on what we can say and who is ‘allowed’ to have an opinion.

I do think adaptations – the ‘right’ adaptations? – can help us understand the source material better. They can definitely make us appreciate it more and they create debate, discussion. They keep our love for the work alive. It can take some getting used to when it comes to changes made or, more often, it takes some time getting used to another reader’s imagination if it differs enough from yours, but they can be useful.

What are your thoughts on the values of adaptation?

 
What Is The Impact Of The Amount Of Time Between Your First And Second Read On The Latter Read?

A photograph of an open book with a watch laying on the page

Having continued to re-read, discovering more about the texts, I found myself wanting to look into this whole process further. The books I’ve been reading are on a shortish line – there are those I first read in the earlier years of my blogging (every book so far has been a ‘first read whilst blogging’ book), and those from only a year or two ago. On paper, it’s not much – the longest gap is 7 years – but when you read a lot that’s a fair amount of time. And in the context of being a reader, it’s more than enough time for changes to occur, specifically to your reader self.

I’ve pondered over whether the gap between first read and re-read has any particular merit in regards to amount of time, and in saying ‘gap’ I mean both the factual gap of time and the gap in relation to how many books have been read in the meantime; the more books you get through, the more you’re likely to forget ones further back, an understandable drawback of avid reading. (That, I think, is something that can be lived with.)

When it comes to the question of whether being able to remember less or more of the book makes for a better re-reading experience, I don’t think there’s a right answer. Not being able to remember – and this can, as noted, happen no matter how long ago (or not so) you first read the book – means simply that you’re going to enjoy your re-read in a different way. It might take a bit more time for you to ‘get back’ to where you might have been had you remembered, but that’s not a bad thing. Whilst being able to remember a lot means your further appreciation of the book – all those things you didn’t notice the first time – might happen sooner, not remembering the content doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And of course remembering the book – most likely the story, themes, and any impression the characters made on you – may well cause you to need a bit more time to get into the book again due to the chance you wonder why you’re re-reading it right then. (By this I mean you wonder in general – ‘why am I reading this again when I’ve already read it?’)

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My present experience of this pertains to Samantha Sotto’s Before Ever After, which I started a couple of days ago. I remembered I loved it; I had the benefit of having reviewed it (though my review, in 2012, seems to me now incredibly amateur and lacking in literary context); and I remembered the basic plot and my liking of Sotto’s hero. But I didn’t remember that the author started her book in the present, and I didn’t remember the character of Paulo, the young man who arrives at 26-year-old Shelley’s front door to tell her that her husband, who died a couple of years previously in his early 30s, is his grandfather and managing a restaurant on the other side of the world. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.)

And – to my shame, right now – I have had this book on my favourites list ever since I read it.

My re-read of Montgomery’s The Blue Castle gave me a completely different feeling for the book, enough that I wondered if I shouldn’t write a new review. (I opted for a Reading Life post.) In brief, my first read had me me laughing, my re-read had me looking at the poignancy and dysfunction. I laughed very little.

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This moves us to the way we can change as readers. We change as a whole – our reading preferences change, we read differently, we’ve got a lot more reading behind us to inform new reads – but I’m thinking specifically on a per-book basis: we often change in the context of being a reader of that book, whichever book is currently in question. My second read of The Barrowfields showed me the progress I’d made by the way of reading more classics and in general knowledge of other classics. My time in-between first and second read – a year and several months, not long really – allowed me during the second read to understand and often be simply able to note more literary references than I had that first time, and, in so doing, I was more aware of the idea that the best way (for me) to read the book that second time was to look up anything I came across that I didn’t know, no matter whether it struck me as important or not.

This, then, is why ‘amount of time’ is and has to be a malleable concept when it comes to re-reads. It’s the amount of time in the context of you, of your self as a reader, your reading background, and so on. It’s also not always related to how much you enjoyed the book that first time, in fact I’d argue that loving a book so completely can make you forget the details sooner. It’s all too easy to think that because you loved a book so much, you’re never going to forget it. The only definite, I reckon, is that you’re unlikely to forget the experience of reading it and your feelings at that time.

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I don’t know if I ‘need’ to read The Blue Castle again – I probably will but it’ll be for the same reason I re-read it earlier this year: the simple enjoyment of it. I’ve identified a likelihood of ‘needing’ to read The Barrowfields again, in a few years time, perhaps, to see how much more I might enjoy it, to see how much newly accessible content there is for me to take away. This of course circles back to the idea of there possibly being a limited amount to take.

There is obviously no real way – one might use the buzzword ‘organic’ – to measure the effect of the passage of time between reads. You’d have to erase the book from your memory, and selectively at that, keeping some of it back, but it is something I’d like to keep in mind as I continue what has become a real pleasure – re-reading what I’ve loved.

I’ve always worried about the fact that a re-read necessarily means one less new read in your time, but when done right – and again, that’s subjective – it’s incredibly valuable.

What are your thoughts as to time on this subject?

 
The 2019 Young Writer Of The Year Shortlist

A photograph of the shortlist

To me, now, it wouldn’t feel like November without this. The shortlist was announced yesterday following a record number of submissions – over 100 books were sent in this year. Awarded to a writer under the age of 35, the prize was won last year by Adam Weymouth for Kings Of The Yukon, a non-fiction narrative. He was joined on the shortlist by Imogen Hermes Gowar, Fiona Mozley, and Laura Freeman. The award was won in 2017 by Sally Rooney, 2016 by Max Porter, and 2015 by Sara Howe.

This year’s authors are Raymond Antrobus for the poetry collection The Perseverance, which won the Rathbones Folio Prize earlier this year; Julia Armfield for short story collection Salt Slow (one of her stories won The White Review Short Story Prize last year); Yara Rodrigues Fowler for the novel Stubborn Archivist, a Desmond Elliott Prize longlister; and Kim Sherwood for the novel Testament which has won the Bath Novel Award. This year’s winner will be announced on 5th December.

Due to the number of submissions this year, there are five judges – alongside The Sunday Times’ Andrew Holgate are Kate Clanchy, Victoria Hislop, Gonzalo C Garcia, and Nick Rennison.

This year’s shadow panel of bloggers are Anne Cater, David Harris, Linda Hill, Clare Reynolds, and Phoebe Williams. Each year’s shadow panel have so far awarded a different author than the one who won officially so it’ll be interesting to see if this year’s group do the same. Perhaps I’m biased – okay, I am – but I do look forward most to the bloggers’ choices.

I’m particularly happy to see Antrobus on the shortlist; whilst I’m yet to read his collection in full I’ve read examples from it and read a fair amount about the poet’s work and background, which I mentioned in the post linked above about his Rathbones Folio win.

Have you read any of the books? What’s your opinion on the shortlist?

 
October 2019 Reading Round Up

Breakthrough – I’ve read more this month than I have in a relatively long time. Adding to the month’s list one by one has been an excellent motivation and the fact that there was re-reading to do helped.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Jane Austen: Sanditon – When a carriage accident befalls the Parkers, they are taken in by the Heywoods and when better, they return to their seaside resort of Sanditon with the eldest Heywood daughter, Charlotte. I’ve read this twice now and it was just as good the second time, the promise of what could have been both wonderful to read and understandably a little sad as well.

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Meike Ziervogel: The Photographer – To Agatha’s dismay, daughter Trude falls in love with a local photographer; when Agatha finds out the couple are listening to an anti-Nazi radio station she sees her chance to save her daughter by going to the police about Albert. A very well-written tale of the German experience of the war and its aftermath.

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Naomi Hamill: How To Be A Kosovan Bride – Two young women prepare to marry as Kosovo looks to the future; one will find herself in a traditional marriage, the other, believed to not have been a virgin is returned to her parent’s house but finds freedom in her new status. A stunning look Kosovo post-war, its birth as a new nation, and the mixing of tradition, culture, and outside influences.

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Nicola Cornick: House Of Shadows – Receiving a phone call from her frightened niece, Holly leaves home for the holiday house she owns with her brother, and when Ben doesn’t just turn up as everyone says he will, Holly takes up a meeting he had scheduled with an antiques expert who has the mirror that matches Ben’s reputed pearl. A timeslip novel that goes back to the 1600s and 1800s, this book is super – always compelling, well-paced, and just a joy to read.

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Orlando Ortega-Medina: Jerusalem Ablaze – A boy sees a homeless man and envy takes him from onlooker to problem; a woman discovers a dead body following a storm and feels a sense of possession over it; a priest in training follows a prostitute to a bedroom not knowing the darkness that lies in front of him. The book is a collection of short stories, dark, sinister, and exquisite.

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Samantha Sotto: A Dream Of Trees – As Aiden waits to die he is joined in his hotel room by a stranger, a lady who wants to help him by taking him to his ‘rooms’ in the period between life and death. It’s incredibly hard to sum up this book in one sentence, not least because there is so much mystery involved – it is an incredible and very moving fantasy/magical realism story of souls and unfinished business told with an immense amount of heart.

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Sara Ramsey: Heiress Without A Cause – Lady Madeleine is a spinster and, bored of her role in society, has taken to acting in a theatre in a low-class area of London; when Ferguson, the owner of the area in which the theatre stands, recognises her he suggests she pretends to be his mistress to lessen any scandal that would occur if she were found out. The basic premise of this book is good and the characters are fairly well developed but the story is pretty thin which means there’s a lot of manufactured threads, repetition, and overuse of the idea that Ferguson is going to end up like his father.

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Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway – On the day it is to happen, Clarissa plans the finishing touches to her dinner party, musing about her life as she goes; the book also looks at the life of her old friend Peter and a couple whose day will make an impression on Clarissa later. I appreciated this but didn’t feel I ‘got’ it. A good book, just not for me.

Of the new books, my favourite was A Dream Of Trees. It’ll be on my best of list for the year, quite possibly along with a re-read or two – I’ll have to see where re-reads fit in the year round up.

November will involve a few more re-reads and potentially the completion of The Secret Commonwealth – I must admit I put it aside after 80-odd pages as this young woman just doesn’t seem like Lyra to me and I’m disappointed with the direction Pullman’s taken with this sequel as it just doesn’t line up with what Lyra was to do when she came back to Oxford at the end of The Amber Spyglass. So we’ll see. If I get to all the other books on my list, I’ll go back to it.

How was your reading October? (And I know a few of you are taking part in R.I.P – how is that going?

 

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