I don’t care how many years it’s been since I was skipping around because my teacher had given me a gold star the warm glow you get when someone sends praise your way, never goes away. Thanks to two kind bloggers I therefore had a rather broad grin on my face this past few days. Stephanie at So Many Books and Ali at HeavenAli both nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. Thank you ladies!
The rules are:
- Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
- List the rules and display the award.
- Share seven facts about yourself.
- Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated
- Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you
7 Facts About Me
- My very first job involved decorating cakes in my parents’ bakery. If you need anyone to stick jam into doughnuts or cream into eclairs, just let me know.
- My first career was in journalism. Anyone who thinks that’s a glamorous job should think again. I reported on everything from crime to political corruption to industrial disputes. The worst job was having to write a weekly report about cricket in the summer and football in the winter. I knew zero about either sport and my teams never seemed to win – ever.
- I’ve met Anthony Hopkins and enjoyed a glass of wine with him. No Fava beans were involved fortunately – he’d only recently won the Oscar for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter so I think he was a bit tired of that diet.
- Nothing makes me more cross than broadcasters who pronounce ‘aitch’ as ‘hatch’. While we’re on the subject of pet peeves, all my colleagues know never to use the word ‘leverage’ in my hearing or sight.
- I love to travel – my favourite country so far is South Africa
- As a Welsh national, I am supposed to be able to sing (if you ever watch a film or tv programme about Wales they always feature people singing). I can’t. I absolutely cannot hold a note so if you want to stay my friend, make sure you never invite me for karaoke.
- According to the Kingdomality personality profile, in a medieval society I would be the discover – someone who is always looking for new experiences and thrives on change. If you have never done this, go to kingdomality.com - it’s far more fun than Myers Briggs and is uncannily accurate. Will you be a Black Knight or a merchant? A bishop or a merchant?
And now for the nominations
Many of the bloggers I follow regularly and interact with most have already been nominated so I thought I’d spread the wealth with my own nominations.
- Stu at Winstons Dad’s blog: for inspiring us all to read more works in translation
- DoveGreyReaders: an eclectic mixture of book reviews, gardening and local history from Devon
- wordsandpeace.com: Emma deserves an award from the French government for drawing so much attention to books about and from that country
- Literary Exploration Michael wasn’t much of a reader until 2009 but is now making up for lost time by working his way through the 1001 books to read before you die list. He’s making far better progress than I am with my projects
- Novel Readings Rohan’s reviews are always insightful and I love reading about the university courses she teaches. Plus she shares my love of Middlemarch
- Seeing the World Through Books Mary inspired her students to see the world outside their own locality when she was teaching English at Massachusetts college. Her blog is a rich resource of world literature books
- Tony’s Book World: another lover of world literature
- Nataallh: a writer from Gaza City who gives us an insight into life in this besieged city
- ArabicLiterature: M.Lynx is a writer based in Cairo who blogs every day about literature in English from the Arabic world.
- BookRhapsody: Angus was one of the first bloggers I ‘met’ and loved reading his reports about his book club in the Phillipines.
- The Literary Bunny: Christina had a break from the blog for a while but is back. I enjoy following her stories of about the books that her family buy for her as surprise gifts.
- StillUnfinishedBryan has a refreshingly honest take on life and books
- 101books Robert’s journey through Time Magazine’s list of greatest English language novels since 1923
- Some of the bloggers who inspired me and gave me practical as well as moral support when I took my first steps with this site are sadly not as active as they were. But I’m going to nominate them anyway in the hope it rekindles their interest.
Just one more day before we know which dozen books the judges have long listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize. It’s the first year in its 40 years plus history that the prize has been open to authors outside the Commonwealth. From this year onwards, the prize could be awarded to any author writing originally in English, irrespective of nationality, so long as their novel has been published in the UK this year. Which means that 2014 could be the year of the Americans with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch one of the front runners.
But the Booker is well known for springing a few surprises so while I expect she’ll be on the shortlist, the million dollar question is who will give her a run for her money? Anyone like to predict?
The Guardian is running its popular Not the Booker Prize where readers can nominate books that might not be on the official list. Nominations close at midnight (UK time) on 27 July 2014. A shortlist will be published the following day. You can join in the fun via this link. Some of the books with more than one nomination are:
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Wounding by Heidi James
Cairo by Louis Armand
With a Zero at its Heart by Charles Lambert
The official Man Booker shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 9 September 2014 and then the winner announced on Tuesday 14th October 2014.
It’s been months since I tackled one of the monthly questions posed by the Classics Club. I look at the question at the start of each month, decide it will take some thought – and then spend the rest of the month cogitating but never coming to any conclusions. Procrastination is definitely not helpful in this case.
I’ve only just seen this month’s question so let’s see if I can do better if I just answer it right away.
Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author’s writing? Why or why not? // Or, if you’ve never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not?
I don’t read many biographies but one that stands out for me is The Unequaled Self, Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys. I already knew something of Pepys’s life by reading some extracts from his diaries as part of my history studies at school, mainly the sections in which he wrote about the Great Fire of London and the plague. Being adolescents of course we went searching for some the more bawdy entries.
What I hadn’t realised until reading Tomalin’s book was just how powerful a figure he was in the seventeenth century, becoming Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently his brother King James II. It was Pepys apparently who laid the foundations of professional standards in the Royal Navy. Not bad for a tailor’s son who at various times was accused of bribery and of secretly following the Catholic faith.
As you would expect, Tomalin includes many extracts from the diaries to illustrate some of her themes. Some of them deal with his time at the Navy, others with the many women with him he has liaisons. But what Tomalin shows, and what interested me most, was the side of Pepys as a cultivated man, an avid theatre- goer who could compose music and play several instruments and wo enjoyed a few glasses of wine (well rather more than a few it seems). Oh, and this was the clincher for me; he was an avid collector of books. He’s someone I want to get to know better. We may have a few things in common…
See my review of The Unequalled Self
A weekly round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed (and often I missed them too)
The BBC is trying to demonstrate it isn’t downgrading its focus on the arts with the announcement of a new book portal on its website. The number of arts programmes has been decreasing in recent years and the announcement in March that its flagship programme The Review Show was being axed after 20 years was greeted with criticism all round.
In response, the Beeb has launched Books at the BBC, which brings together all its radio and tv coverage under one virtual roof – until now, they were listed only on the web pages for each individual station and program. Books at the BBC is going to be in test mode throughout the summer and finalised this autumn. The current pages have some really good programmes and resources. Apart from quick links to the Book of the Week episodes and the latest episodes of The World Book Club and Open Book, there is a collection of material about the work of Laurie Lee who would have been 100 last month, including his last recorded interview. I was fascinated by an interview with Jung Chang (author of the award-winning Wild Swans) talks about her latest book Empress Dowager Cixi and was just getting ready to listen to the serialisation when the server crashed. I think they’re having some technical issues. But when they get fixed this is going to be a site I’m sure I’ll be coming back to often.
Around the world the short way
You all know how much I love reading fiction from different parts of the world. This week I came across an app that takes me on a world literary odyssey in small steps and without having to pack a bag. I’d been reading the Book of Gaza short stories published by Comma Press and went to their website to find out what else they had to offer. And thats where I came upon LitNav. It’s an app you can download from ITunes (free of charge) that gives you access to dozens of short stories set in different parts of the world, all written by authors from those locations.
There was no question which I would read first. Here in the UK we’ve been getting warnings of an imminent megastorm so it seemed entirely fortuitous to find a story called Waiting for the Rain which is set in Barcelona which turned out to be a nicely observed story about an encounter on a tram between age and youth. Then it was off to Asia for a story with the odd title Squatting set in somewhere called Shenyang that turned out to be a funny tale off a bunch of intellectuals with ideas on how to solve their city’s crime problem.
The most inventive aspect of this site however is that if you download the audio version, it opens a map of the streets and districts featured in the story, with info about the location itself. So you can follow your characters around their city. I haven’t seen any of the big publishers do this (if I’m wrong do let me know) but I thought it was remarkable that this had been created by a small, not for profit group. Kudos to Comma Press for bringing this new platform to life.
Now I just have to decide which collection of stories in book form I want next. Tokyo is favourite at the moment….
The voice coming through the PA system spoke of freedom. But for one of the speakers scheduled to appear at the Hay Literary Festival last month, there was no such freedom. Instead of sitting on stage to discuss what it means to be a writer in an occupied land, Abjallah Taych was trapped behind the locked down borders of Gaza, unable to get the required permits to leave the country. There could not have been a more powerful symbol of the constraints facing writers from this part of the world. Taych’s voice was quiet but his message was clear and simple and it came with such a feeling of intense longing that the auditorium at Hay fell silent for minutes:
I have lived all my life in restrictions but I have never lost hope of being able to live free…. to live in an independent state, to travel when I want and to have my family live in freedom.
It was left to fellow writer Atef Abu Saif, to speak on his behalf, to describe the tradition of the short story format and the tension felt by writers from Gaza between their desire to use their pen to give hope to their people and yet to reflect the reality of a life played out on a political battlefield. Atef is the editor of The Book of Gaza, the first collection in English of short stories by these writers.
Now Atef and Taych are under siege as the Israeli government launches air strikes on Gaza in an operation against Palestinian militants. More than 175 people have been killed since the offensive began last week. Thousands of troops are massed on the border with Israel amid speculation of a possible a ground invasion.
His UK publishers CommaPress received just one text message from him last Thursday in which he described the dangers confronting his family.
We are ok so far. bombing is everywhere, u cannot walk safe in the street, or even stay calm in ur bedroom. sometimes you feel you live by chance, you could die suddenly with no alert. how many chances are in one’s life.
the other night the F16 bombarded 30 meters away from my place. we all were sleeping in the corridor in the middle of the flat. we beleive that it is the safest place, the broken glass flowded over our bodies. fortunately no one was injured. the kids canot sleep waiting the next bomb. always you have to think of a better moment in the future’
As I read this I can’t help but remember and to think about these two mild mannered men who spoke so movingly about the power of literature to give hope and how in their writing they try to show us a different side of this troubled land.
People just hear about the drones and the intafadas. You can’t escape the reality you are living in but we want to give hope that something good could happen. Are we are not supposed to dream, or to travel or to have affairs?