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Reading Life: 27th July 2020 + Podcast

A photograph of a stalked flower bed at Hever Castle

Reading is going well at the moment; I’m aiming to have a good few books finished by this month, to try and get back to that ‘lots of books in July’… thing I used to have going on. And it’s thanks to some really excellent novels.

Inevitably I’m reading for interview; I’ve read and re-read both Sofie Laguna’s and Tracy Rees’ backlist (in the latter case it’s the present tense re-reading) and it’s been a ball. Laguna’s work is brilliant but difficult at times, in terms of the content. Her three current books (one more on the way in October) all look at formative childhood years and positives and negatives of those times; most cases include some level of abuse and neglect in a very caring way and the children are the narrators which allows for what is a balance of informed and uninformed look at what’s happening. Laguna has a superb talent for characterisation and realistic characters and she also looks at various learning difficulties and disabilities.

Tracy Rees’ books are far from Laguna’s in terms of genre, historical fiction with a tiny bit of contemporary plot thread – I say tiny bit because it’s a part of one book. I’m guessing most of you who read this will have heard of her and a good number of you will have read her books, they are often tomes, very high on the bestseller lists and with good reason. I’m currently reading her fourth book, which is very different to the rest of them. The first and second books, Amy Snow and Florence Grace, are set in the 1800s, and as noted in my review, the third, The Hourglass, is set in the 1950s and present day. However, despite the big differences in time it’s actually the fourth book, Darling Blue, set in the 1920s, that breaks the mould. The characterisation differs, the narrative structure looks at more people, and the storytelling, too, is new. I quite like it – I absolutely loved the first three books but the difference in Darling Blue is like reading a book by a different author and I rather like it when that happens without the book foregoing anything in particular.

I’m getting a lot out of the historical content; one of the things I love about Amy Snow is the detailing of what the average person’s day might be like, those people who are perhaps most like ourselves today; working in what we’d now call retail, visiting pubs and coffee shops. There’s only one scene in a coffee shop and only a very brief scene in a bookshop but when then added to Florence Grace’s visit to a cheese shop (Rees’ second book) it adds up to some interesting context. To be sure, there’s a lot of this kind of stuff in TV shows and films, but in a book, where everything’s slower and there’s more detail to help you imagine what the places look like, it’s just… better.

On my list to read next are Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Savior Of Sixth Street and Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, both out in August. It’s going to be another diversion in genre, two in fact as they will be very different, and I love that idea. I know the basics of both of them but am otherwise keeping away from information. I’m also hoping to return to Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes which I started at the very beginning of June and had to leave for a while; it’s a time-slip set, so far, in Britain and Sweden, and involves a present-day character who finds an exact match for the ring she always wears in a museum display cabinet for early history; in short, it’s right up my street.


Today’s podcast is with Sofie Laguna. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Sofie Laguna (One Foot Wrong; The Eye of the Sheep; The Choke; the forthcoming Infinite Splendours) discuss beginning with acting, writing from a child’s perspective and not labelling those who are different, bad fictional parents, not liking John Wayne… and we have the inaugural reading of Sofie’s October release.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
On Reading For Interviews Versus Reading For Reviews

A photograph of an open notepad with a big question mark drawn on it and a pen lying on top

Something I didn’t expect or, rather, didn’t know to expect, is that reading a book primarily with an eye to interviewing would be so at odds with reading for review and/or study, or indeed enjoyment. Granted, if I read purely for enjoyment – in other words I’m not taking many or any notes – it can be hard to write a thorough review later, but it can definitely still be done. Likewise reading for study purposes – it’s sufficiently similar.

Reading for interview is very different; perhaps not for everyone but I certainly find that regardless of the long list of questions and topics I have compiled ready for a podcast, it can be incredibly hard to continue on to a review. All talking points are there, and in theory those talking points should be able to inform a review but they become very literal – talking points, not review points.

I thought it would be as ‘easy’ as remembering that I’m reading for both interview and review (when I plan to review as well) but it’s not. This has made me aware that the two are in fact pretty different types of reading and that to combine them is a lot of work. It’s actually a bit like walking into a strong wind – not impossible but still hard.

I find in the two types different variations of close reading. I’ve wondered whether a book requires two reads for the two purposes – certainly that would make it easier to keep track. You could say they require different skills. It’s the reason there haven’t been many reviews here lately. It underlines the need to write the review soon after finishing the book; when working on a podcast the book’s ‘review’ details fade far fastest than they would normally, which makes sense given focuses.

It’s something I want to figure out a best practice for so I’ll be thinking about it in future.

Have you any experience in reading the same book(s) for different purposes?

 
First Half Of 2020 Film Round Up

I originally wrote a long tract for this paragraph; in sum, thank you Amazon for enabling easy, affordable, and constant, access to films from all over the world. You may be problematic but you (and Netflix most likely – I don’t have that) are doing what other companies and cinemas over here rarely if ever bothered with. On the more usual topic, the list below is a bit patchy, as might be expected at this time, but it also contains more than a usual number of long-awaited films, so for that I’m happy.

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Booksmart (USA, 2019) – Two US college near-graduates realise that by way of working hard they’ve missed out on the social experience and decide to spend the night before graduation at various parties. When I saw this advertised on the Underground, my quickly-get-on-the-train brain may have taken the title literally and considered a film about literature students; never mind, it’s a good film anyway.

Emma (UK, 2020) – Based on the book. Not perfect but a heck of a lot of fun. The way it diverts from the original story had obviously been much considered.

Jawaani Jaaneman (Youthful Lover) (India, 2020) – A 40-something-year-old man who still enjoys a party (understatement) meets a very attractive young woman in a club; it turns out she’s his daughter and he’s soon to become a grandfather. A pretty fun film; goes down a few ‘filler’ avenues and certainly isn’t Saif Ali Khan’s best, but it was a good few hours.

Little Women (USA, 2019) – Covering both part one and part two of the original. I think this is the best adaptation I have ever seen. I’m planning a review of it at some point but in sum, the production team have taken the autobiographical basis and applied it to perfect effect – it’s full of background context and studies of the various ‘controversial’ aspects.

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Oklahoma! (USA, 1955) – A young man invites a woman to a dance but he doesn’t do it in the specific way she wanted so she says no and the rest of the film is spent getting them back together. Wanted to see this one since childhood; didn’t like it.

South Pacific (USA, 1958) – A lieutenant on an island army base is roped into a sudden relationship, and a nurse falls in love with a Frenchman who has taken up residence on the island, but then doesn’t want to be with him because he has children who are mixed race. Absolutely hated this one; I’ve since read that the idea is it explores issues of racism but I didn’t see that myself – the racism is there, certainly, but the commentary…

The Wedding Party (Nigeria, 2016) – Two people from wealthy families become engaged to be married; multiple clashes between the two sets of parents and the interference of an ex-girlfriend lead to many problems but the couple are determined. Until the sequel was released, this was the biggest Nigerian blockbuster and it’s not hard to see why; the characters are fantastic and it is often absolutely hilarious.

The Wedding Party 2 (Nigeria, 2017) – The English bridesmaid and the brother of the groom from the previous film have continued their relationship; owing to a misunderstanding they become engaged after a few short months and plans are afoot for a destination wedding. Even better than the first – you know most of the characters by now so the humour starts early on and the additional jokes work well.

What have you been watching in these strange times?

 
June 2020 Reading Round Up

The rabbits are almost there. We had to go through what I can only describe as emotional flashbacks but there have been no more fights, only two minor arguments (both decide to hog the litter tray at various times). Taking a blogging break was a good idea, though I’m happy to be back.

I read a good amount in June; I only finished three books but I had a couple on the go, so that July currently stands at two. Here’s what I read and finished.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: Season Of Crimson Blossoms – When Reza breaks in to Binta’s house the woman finds a desire for him under her terror and when he returns in peace they begin an affair. This was a re-read; a very good book about a relationship between a young gang leader and an elder of the community that looks at society as well as the self.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: The Whispering Trees – A collection of short stories full of folklore and magical realism. This has to be one of the best collections I’ve ever read; I reviewed Susmita Bhattacharya’s Table Manners earlier this year and the quality of it; Ibrahim’s collection is of similar calibre though very different in content, and the shocks and surprises get bigger and bigger as the stories continue.

Roselle Lim: Natalie Tan’s Book Of Luck And Fortune – After her mother dies, a woman travels back to her childhood home in San Francisco’s Chinatown where the locals are being pressured to move out; Natalie’s grandmother was a highly-regarded cook and restaurant owner and as Natalie gets used to being home she starts to consider the choices she made, her relationship with her mother, and the role she can play in breathing life back into the area. A great story that looks at a variety of cultural, personal, and economic discussions with a strong helping of magical realism.

I enjoyed this month’s reading a lot, and I think that enjoyment is what I’m going to remember over any specific story. I read some of each outside in the good weather, which was lovely (the temperature’s since dropped) and really helped the continuing bit of frustration I have over the pandemic.

In July I’m going to be doing more re-reading and have a couple of review copies to get to, which is quite novel at this time. I’ve Roselle Lim’s and Orlando Ortega-Medina’s August releases and very much looking forward to.

How are you getting on in this ongoing new normal, and what have you been reading?

 
Podcast Episode 17: Roselle Lim

Charlie and Roselle Lim (Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune; Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop) discuss weaving culture, mental illness, and magic into your fiction, an aid for your eyes when chopping onions, and children you excitedly take to tourist attractions who wonder what you see in them.

Fresh Fiction’s review of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, as quoted

Release details: recorded 9th June 2020; published 22nd June 2020

Roselle’s social media: Twitter || Instagram || Website

Go back to the list of episodes

Show notes:

Question Index
Book Purchasing Links
Photo Credit Line

Question Index

02:03 Tell us about your writing background
03:45 Is Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune one big metaphor?
05:27 You have a particular love of words?…
06:09 Was Natalie always planned to be unsure of herself?
06:53 How did your relationship with your own mother influence the novel?
07:51 What’s your favourite meal to make?
08:55 Have you had experience yourself of food solving, or helping to solve, a problem?
11:16 What was behind the decision to incorporate recipes into the narrative?
12:37 Does chewing mint gum help when chopping onions?
13:14 Was the thread about outsiders, trying to disrupt for their own gain, based on a particular event?
14:09 Introduce us to San Francisco’s Chinatown
15:24 Do you love classical music?
16:12 Was the romance between Natalie and Daniel always in the book?
17:26 How much was filial piety in your mind when writing?
18:53 Is Vanessa Yu Miss Yu from Natalie Tan?
19:20 (We discuss Paris and London – Roselle went there to research Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop)
25:28 Did you ever wonder about using a different name to Natalie, given that that is your daughter’s name?
32:25 Vanessa Yu – is it fair to say this is a very different book to Natalie Tan?
33:09 Are you writing your next book?
33:35 Natalie Tan has been optioned for a TV show…

Purchasing Links
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Photograph used with permission from the author. Credit: Shelley Smith

 

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