What are you currently reading?
This week’s Bookends post features an author whose books about a fictitious community in Quebec, Canada have become a favourite. I’m also giving you a challenge to name which author you would choose if you could read only one author for the rest of your life.
Book: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
I’ve posted multiple times in the last few years about Louise Penny and how much I enjoy her series featuring Armand Gamache, Head of Homicide at the Sûreté du Québec. There is another Gamache novel due out from Little Brown on November 27.
Kingdom of the Blind takes us back to the community of Three Pines, a village so small it barely features on a map. Gamache is called to an abandoned farmhouse outside the village where he discovers that an elderly woman, a stranger, has named him as an executor of her will. The bequests are so wildly unlikely that he suspects the woman must have been delusional – until a body is found, and the terms of the bizarre document suddenly seem far more menacing
But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing. In the last novel Glass Houses he was suspended from his role as Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, pending an investigation. That investigation has dragged on, and Armand is taking increasingly desperate measures to rectify previous actions.
One thing you can be sure of with Louise Penny is that this novel will have a strong plot. What interests me far more than that however is the way she has developed the character of her protagonist. He’s a very thoughtful man with a good understanding of human nature (how many other detectives do you find quoting Marcus Aurelius?). He makes mistakes but also has the humility to accept when he is wrong.
Blog Post: Which author could you read for the rest of your life
I wish I could get to the book club meetings that Anne at Cafe Society talks about on her blog because they have such interesting and thought-provoking discussions. In one recent meeting she says “someone asked whom we would choose if we could only read the works of one author for the rest of our lives.” Some choices were inevitable: Dickens and Trollope.
In her recent post, Anne reflected on the criteria for her own selection.
I’ve been thinking about this on and off since I saw her post. It’s not an easy question at all. I have many authors I consider favourites but if they were the only author I could read, would they be enough to sustain me? I’m coming around to putting Emile Zola as my choice – his novels are strong on plot but they are even stronger on ideas. There are 20 of them in his Rougon-Macquart series covering multiple aspects of life in 19th century France – from alcoholism, prostitution, industrial disputes and poverty to the birth of the department store. Plenty of variety to keep me engaged.
Now my challenge to you all – what would your choice be? And of course, why?
Article: Facing down a book Goliath
A couple of days ago I heard of a rumpus involving Abe Books which is an online book re-seller owned by Amazon. Apparently Abe decided it would no longer list booksellers from the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary and Russia. The company didn’t really explain its decision beyond the fact it was changing to a new payment service provider.
What they never anticipated was the reaction. Hundreds of secondhand booksellers around the world united in a flash strike against Amazon. More than 400 booksellers in 26 countries not affected by the decision retaliated by marking any of their stock listed on Abe as being “temporarily unavailable”.
Such was the strength of opposition that Abe has now backed down. I suspect that the senior management at Amazon stepped in when they saw what was happening.
What struck me about this scenario was that it was all completely unnecessary. The objectors didn’t question the right of Abe to make a commercial decision about how to operate its business. But they did object to the way this was implemented. Little warning given to the booksellers who would, as a consequence, see their business severely impacted. Little consideration given to the fact this would mean a loss of jobs.
If Abe had been less high-handed and insensitive they would not have faced a protest that has damaged their reputation.
It’s a lesson that all big companies need to understand. Treat your customers and business partners with respect and they will remain loyal. Disregard them at your peril.
And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?
On our return from an anniversary celebration we made a detour to Hay- on- Wye. It’s years since I had a good mooch around the place that labels itself the “Town of Books”. I don’t count the years when I’ve been to the literary festival since I spent almost all my time at the site rather than the town.
I knew Hay has seen a drop in the number of bookshops but I wasn’t expecting the decline to be quite so evident. Yes there are still more used book outlets than in any other place I’ve ever been but I’d say there are about half the number there were when I first visited about 15 years ago.
Richard Booth’s bookshop is still going strong as is the Hay Cinema Bookshop at the opposite end of town. Some of the specialists outlets like Mostly Maps (antiquarian items from around the world; the Poetry Bookshop and Murder and Mayhem are still in business.
But the days when you could walk out of one, and turn immediately into another in the adjacent premises, are no more. In their place have come boutiques and shops selling overpriced scarves, candles and knick-knacks for the home.
I appreciate why this has happened. Business rates in the UK have risen so steeply in the last couple of years that it’s put a huge strain on most small businesses. Coupled with that is the continuing growth of on line shopping. I heard a statement just this week that online shoppers in the UK spend more per household than consumers in any other country. Some of those big outlets (no names but you know who I mean) have ginormous premises yet don’t get burdened with the same business rate bill. No wonder the small shopkeeper can’t compete.
Some of them in Hay have decided that if you can’t beat them, you should join them. So they’ve closed the shop and now trade exclusively on-line. Good for them but not so good for people who like to browse before they buy. But maybe that was also part of the problem – too many browsers and not enough buyers?
Haye-on-Wye has become what is now apparently called a “destination town”; a place where visitors from far afield head for a leisurely afternoon with lunch and a stroll through picturesque streets or along the river. Hence the large number of cafes now in the town.
I understand the appeal. But if you are a book lover, then Hay-on-Wye no longer has the same appeal it once held. It was actually a very disappointing experience even apart from the reduced number of outlets.
Those that do remain were – with a few notable exceptions – jumbled to the say the least. It was hard to find anything because so often the books were shelved completely randomly or just stacked in piles on the floor (multiple trip hazards). I tried five shops but none of them could deliver up even a single title by Winifred Holtby or Penelope Lively; Olivia Manning I found in one place but it wasn’t in a good condition. And where were the Virago green spines? Nowhere to be seen…..
Added to this I thought the prices were pretty high. I know the owners have to make a living but £4.00 for a very slim novella in not very good condition didn’t feel reasonable given it’s original selling price of £7.99.
I didn’t come away completely empty handed but didn’t buy anything until the very last shop. I added two titles, both from the Library of Wales collection, rather than the armful I was anticipating bringing home. If you’ve never been to Hay-on-Wye it’s still worth a visit but I fear for me, this is a lady that is now past her best.
October already? What an odd Autumn this is turning out to be. Thursday afternoon I was able to sit in the garden soaking up the sun (yes it was that warm). Today I’ve been sitting wrapped in a thick sweater and waiting for the heating to kick in.
This week I bring you an article about the elements of a good story, a blog post about the importance of context in our reading and a book written by a woman who for eight years was hardly out of the media spotlight.
Book: Becoming by Michelle Obama
I rarely read autobiographies. Those by ‘celebrities’ are instant turn offs (they’re usually rushed out on the back of some recent success in a TV series or film and have little content of substance). I’d rather go for a memoir or an autobiography by someone who isn’t well known except outside their immediate circle of expertise and experience but who has an interesting story to tell.
Michelle Obama is of course extremely well known in the sense that for the eight years she was America’s First Lady she was hardly out of the public eye. I’ve always wondered how someone with her level of intelligence coped with the accepted wisdom that First Ladies are not meant to have opinions of their own. How does it feel to have every aspect of your appearance scrutinised and dissected?
Her forthcoming memoir Becoming will I hope answer some of those questions.
According to the blurb, Becoming is “a work of deep reflection and mesmerising storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her-from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it-in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.”
The book is due out in the UK in November.
Blog Post: Frame of reference for reading
Simon at Stuck In A Book wrote recently about the experience of reading a particular book is affected by lack of knowledge about the ‘rules’ for certain genres or of the historical and social context. His example relates to his own experience of reading a novel which uses magical realism and is set during the civil war in Mozambique.
This post chimed with my experience of reading some of the books I selected for my World of Literature project. I struggled for example with The Tree of Life by Maryse Conde because I knew little about the history of Guadeloupe. The same thing happened with The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (I gave up on that one because it was too confusing). I know I could get info easily enough from the Internet but I don’t like interrupting the experience of reading the book.
How does everyone else deal with this situation? Do you just plough on and hope things fall into place? Or do you press pause, do some background reading and then come back to the novel?
Article: What makes a good story –
Talking of ‘rules’ apparently Anton Chekhov had some clear views about the elements that needed to be in place for the story to work effectively.
I’m with him wholeheartedly on the first rule – I really don’t want to feel I am being given a lecture if I am reading fiction. Originality? Yes but not if this is just for the sake of being original and where the author is having more fun than the reader ( as in Will Self and his unpunctuated paragraphs).
But I’m not on board with his direction of extreme brevity. What about ideas that start off as a kernel but by allowing them space to blossom they end up with even deeper meaning? I don’t see a virtue in an author thinking how quickly they can get the scene or the episode wrapped up.
Here’s the article. See what you think….
And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?
For once I am not racing to get the Bookends post done before the weekend disappears. Maybe it’s the Indian summer we are currently experiencing in the UK that has stimulated my productivity?
This week I bring you an article about one woman’s bid to read 200 female writers by 2020, how to tackle the challenge of reading challenging books and a novel
Book: Ash by Alys Einin..
My book choice today comes from Honno, an independent women’s press based in Wales. This is the second novel by Alys Einon who somehow finds the time to write in between her work as an associate professor in midwifery and women’s health and a part-time lecturer for the Open University.
Ash is the story of a woman who runs away from an abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia with her four sons and infant daughter, Aisha. She finds sanctuary with a community of women at Blossom House but is always fearful that her husband will come looking for his children.
It’s a while since I read anything by Honno but this is a good opportunity to make up for lost time.
Blog Post: Unhappy experiences reading assigned books
CurlyGeek has been making good progress with a ReadHarder challenge this year but the latest requirement, to revisit a classic that she hated, has her thinking back to other unhappy experiences with classics. In her latest update she names Jane Eyre as her nemesis but also still bears scars from being made to read Crime and Punishment, The Grapes of Wrath and The Scarlet Letter.
I bet everyone has their own bête noires from their time in the education system.
Mine would be:
Comus by John Milton. Can you imagine anything more unlikely to interest a bunch of hormone-charged sixteen-year-olds than a 17th century masque in honour of chastity? I have no recollection about the plot or the characters – I simply remember it as being deadly dull.
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. This was something to do with a student and the gulf of understanding between him and his father. I had my usual difficulty with Russian novels – the way that characters seem to have more than one name, making it doubly hard to keep track of who each person is.
The Rover by Aphra Behn. This was a set text on an Open University literature course, selected I strongly suspect because it was felt there should be a recognition of women writers. Even seeing a production starring Daniel Craig (many many years before he became famous as James Bond) did nothing to increase my enjoyment of this text.
Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know that for some people, my inclusion of this novel is tantamount to heresy. Sorry everyone but I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. It’s ok but nothing more. I’ve read it three times and get the same reaction each time.
What would be on your list??
Article: 200 books by women writers
Sophie Baggott was shocked to learn that male authors account for two thirds of the translated fiction market. Three months ago she set out to change her own reading habits by embarking on a project to read 200 books by women authors from around the world by the year 2020.
Her starting point she says was ” a realisation that anglocentric and male-dominated reading habits were blinkering my worldview.”
She’s now 10% of the way to achieving her goal and has put a list together of books she has read so far, and the countries she has yet to visit. The Guardian article in which she explains her project is here. She has also created a blog where she lists the books she has read and the countries she has yet to visit. I’m going to watch this with interest because in my own world of literature project (one that is considerably more modest in scale than Sophie’s) I have struggled to find authors from some countries and I wasn’t giving myself the added hurdle of only reading female authors.
And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?
My Bookends post is where I share just three things that have sparked my interest from the multitude of news articles, blog posts and announcements that drop into my email box.
On a day when the incessant and torrential rain here in the UK reminds us that summer is no more, I hope that my three selections this week will lighten your mood a little,
This week brings an article about one author’s approach to the problem that besets many writers – the temptation to edit while still creating.
Book: Still waiting for inspiration…
I had chance for a good old mooch in a bookshop this week but wasn’t all that excited by what was on offer. The shop was pushing Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter (doesn’t interest me because I don’t much like her style) and of course the latest offering by Robert Galbraith.
Two authors whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past both have new novels hitting the shops this month. William Boyd’s Love is Blind came out this week. I used to be a big fan of his (Brazzaville Beach was my favourite) but haven’t been that excited by what he’s produced in the last few years. i’m toying with getting this because it’s set partly in St Petersburg which is always a draw for me. The publishers blurb describes it as a “sweeping, heart-stopping new novel. Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows the fortunes of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish musician, about to embark on the story of his life.”
I’m also mildly interested in Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks, again whose early work seems stronger than the more recent output. According to the blurb this novel “brings together a city’s urgent present with its inescapable past. In this urgent and deeply moving novel, Faulks deals with questions of empire, grievance and identity, considering how, as individuals and societies – we learn to make peace with our history. With great originality and a dark humour, Paris Echo asks how much we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life.”
Blog Post: What is the most acclaimed yet unread novel?
When I saw this headline come through on my feed from the Paris Review blog feed. If the question had been phased a little differently and asked about acclaimed but unread books in general my answer would probably have been Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I’d love to know how many people bought this and never got past page 10…. But the question was about novels so I guessed War and Peace.
I was wrong.
The answer is a book I have never heard of by an author who also is completely unknown to me.
Marguerite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling is a twelve hundred page novel published in 1965 which is set in the American mid west. Neither the plot nor the structure are straightforward it seems. The length alone would be off-putting (any book would have to be absolutely stunning to keep my attention over that length) but one extract shows that the narrative style would also be a challenge.
And his night was his day, and his day was his night, for his twilight was his dawn, and his dawn was his twilight, and his moon was his sun, and his sun was his moon, and his beginning was his end, and his end was his beginning.
Maybe that makes more sense if you’ve had a few glasses of wine first.
Any other contenders for acclaimed but little read novels?
Article: Slaying the dragon of fiddling with your text
I have a lot of sympathy with the author Daniel Torday who describes himself as a “a tinkerer by temperament.” By that he means he finds it hard to resist the temptation to rework material he has already rewritten instead of making progress with new content.
I do that all the time.
It means it takes me forever to finish a piece of text; whether that’s an essay or a blog article or a piece of creative writing. I know the advice is to crash out a firs draft no matter how bad it is, and only then think about revision. I have tried that more than once. It does not work for me.
Daniel has however found a solution that works for him. He calls it bizarre. Read about his approach in this lithub article
I achieved something today that I have never before accomplished. I managed to sell some the books I no longer want.
I’ve tried in the past to sell them on e-bay and on Amazon but without even a sniff of interest. So I just got into the habit of taking them to the local library which has a regular book sale, or to a charity shop. Occasionally I took some to a BookCrossing zone but then would forget to fill in all the details on the website.
But this week when I had a bit of a clear out I realised that the majority of the titles I wanted to give away were either unread or looked like new. If I take them to the library they’ll sell them for just 20p each. I know this adds to their funds but I thought these books were worth more than than. So I lugged them to a second-hand store in one of the arcades in Cardiff, fully expecting to have had a wasted journey.
Surprisingly the shop owner took all of them and I walked away £15 richer. Ok, not a huge sum but it was still worth the effort.
I overheard the shop owner tell another customer that he was selective when customers approached him with books for sale; he didn’t want to end up with duplicate copies of the same titles. That was perfectly understandable when you see the multiple versions of popular crime fiction titles that fill the shelves of many a charity shop. Cardiff has three university colleges so I suspect, come end of the academic year, this shop — the only dedicated second-hand book shop in the city — is a prime target for students wanting to offload the likes of Tristram Shandy.\
This is what I sold today……
Two of them, Delirium by Laura Restrepo and The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, were books I had started but abandoned. Since this was about four years ago I decided I wasn’t ever going to go back to them and it was time they made way for titles more to my taste.
The Othello, Murder in the Cathedral and Peter Pan were remnants of various Open University modules from long ago.
There are two Booker winners in this pile, both of which I had kept after reading on the basis that I had enjoyed them and might want to re-read them one day. But realistically, that day is never going to come, so I bid farewell to both The Sea by John Banville and Graham Swift’s Last Orders. Ditto, The Book of Gaza and another novel by Banville, Ancient Lights.
The final one to mention in this stack, Reflections on the Revolution in France, is a non fiction book that was the latest delivery from my subscription to The Random Book Club. As I said in a recent post, I’ve not been very happy with the books I’ve received through this subscription. They, just like this one, have all gone out of the house within a few days of them coming through the letterbox.
Based on this experience I’d be inclined to try and sell books this way in the future although sometime ago I saw a reference on another blog site about a company that will give you a quote online. They’ll even collect the books. It sounds goods. Unfortunately I’ve lost the name of that company – does it ring a bell with anyone? They are UK based.
I neglected my Bookends posts over the summer — not through lack of material to share, just a question of other things taking priority (like sitting in the garden). But with September comes that feeling of “summer is over, time to knuckle down to work/schools/study” so I’ve given myself a good talking too and promised to get back into a regular routine with Bookends, sharing just three things that have sparked my interest from the multitude of news articles, blog posts and announcements that drop into my email box.
This week brings an article about the supposed health benefits of reading, a new novel by a favourite writer from the past and
Book: Transcription by Kate Atkinson.
Atkinson has been a favourite of mine for several years , starting with Scenes Behind a Museum and continuing with her Jackson Bodie series. I fell out of love with her Costa-winning novel Life After Life and wasn’t excited by the idea of A God in Ruins.
But her latest novel Transcription which is published in the UK this month, sounds much more promising.
At the heart of the novel is a woman who gets a job in an obscure department of the British secret service during World War 2. Once the war ends she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel.
The reviewer in the Guardian suggests this novel sees Atkinson once again use an indirect structure (the novel apparently begins at the end) and play with questions of reality/unreality.
I’m hoping our local library system has put this on order…
Blog Post: Podcasts for every reader
As a devotee of podcasts I’m always on the look out for something new to listen to while in the gym or driving to the supermarket. I’ve tried dozens over the years. Some like the A Good Read stream from the BBC, I’ve stuck with but others I’ve abandoned after just one or two episodes because I find the style of presentation (far too many “awesomes”) or the presenters’ voices hugely irritating.
Buzzfeed has just published an article listing 31 podcasts all relating to books and reading (why 31 and not 30 is a mystery). Many of these I’ve not heard of before and some are definitely not to my taste but there are a few I think I’ll dip into. I’m intrigued by one podcast called Live by the Book where the two hosts take a self-help book and try to live by its ‘rules’ for two weeks. Self-help books vary enormously in quality I’ve found, the worst being from authors who came up with one idea that can be explained in a page or two but then gets spun out to more than 200 pages. Yes “Who Moved my Cheese?” I’m looking at you…..
Article: Readers tend to live longer?
Over the decades, I’ve seen many benefits claimed for the practice of regular reading, from improving your vocabulary, expanding your knowledge of other cultures and ways of living, to helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Today I came across a report from Yale University that claims reading books on a regular basis can help you live longer.
Apparently, Yale’s School of Public Health conducted research in 2016 with a group of 3,635 people, that looked at possible links between the number of hours each individual spent per day on reading and their life expectancy.
One of the conclusions was that the book readers in the study group who spent up to 3.5 hours a week engrossed in a book were 17 percent less likely to die over the 12-years following the study, while those who read more than the three hour-mark were 23 percent less likely to die.
I’m quite taken by the idea that even 30 minutes reading a day has a health benefit (do the longevity benefits increase if you read standing up??). What a great way to justify my habit of buying yet more books…….they’re an investment for the future in essence.
Unfortunately the researchers didn’t provide a detailed explanation of how this connection works other than to point to the known cognitive benefits associated with reading.
“Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage,” say the authors. “First, it promotes “deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented. Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.
I can understand how the process of reading stimulates the brain and helps mitigate against conditions like Alzheimer’s. But I’m still not clear how empathy, emotional intelligence necessarily translate into the ability of the body to withstand conditions such as cancer or heart disease.
However it’s an interesting question and one I was hoping Yale had continued to research – particularly since in their report they mention the potential for looking at differences between reading physical books and e-readers or listening to audio versions. But I’ve not found anything more recent to indicate their work is on going.
If anyone finds a more recent article, do let me know
Until this year I’d never experienced any of the subscription packages run by publishers or book shops. But somehow in 2018 I’ve ended up as a customer for three of these with mixed experiences.
At the end of last year a blogger (wish I could remember who you are) talked about a second hand book shop in Scotland that had decided to start a subscription service as a new way of generating much needed income. It was called The Random Book Club and promised a hand-picked book each month in return for £59.
Here’s how they described the service
Sign up and we’ll send you a hand-picked book once a month from our shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. And with an element of surprise. You won’t have any idea what it’s going to be until it arrives.
Of the twelve books, roughly half will be fiction, half non-fiction. Every book you receive will be hand-picked from our shop; there will be no Book Club, Readers Union or Reader’s Digest reprints and all books will be in good condition. And you get to keep the books.
The serendipity aspect was what really appealed to me.
I wish I could say this has been worth doing but sadly it’s not the case. The books I’ve received haven’t really been of interest. The first was a biography of Richard Burton that I’d already read. Then came a little dictionary of the origin of words in the English language. I can’t remember the ones in the middle but the most recent was about the migration West in the United States. All of them have gone unread to the charity shop. Not one has been fiction so, since I have a few months left to go, I’ve asked if the remaining books can be fiction.
I think it was Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write that first put me on to the Asymptote Book Club. They promised to give me “fiction which will inspire and challenge” via “exciting new works by emerging voices and beloved authors … from all over the globe” My own attempts to read from a broader range of countries had stalled a little so this seemed like the perfect way to get back on track.
Ok full disclosure here.
I’ve managed to read only one of the books they’ve sent so far.
This was a book from a Chines author, by Yan Ge. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan was enjoyable and suited my mood at the time. Others that are waiting for my attention do look appealing and are exactly what Asymptote promised in terms of coming from many different parts of the world.
We’ve had, for example, Aranyak, which is from a Bengali author and I Didn’t Talk by the Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher. In between we’ve been taken to to a small village in northern Norway during an Arctic winter, and a Naples apartment filled with haunting memories of the past.
There are different packages available: a three months’ subscription for people who just want a taste of what’s on offer before, possibly, committing fully. I went for the year thinking I needed that time to fully appreciate whether this is for me. At the moment, even though I haven’t actually read the books, I’m thinking I’ll continue into next year.
My subscription to Bookishly came as a birthday gift from my sister. This is a company that started up in 2009 under a different name and sells various book-related items like prints and stationery. They have different book subscription packages. The one I have is their Tea and Book Club package where each month I receive a little bundle containing some stationery, a speciality tea, a bookmark and a vintage book (ie used).
The package is beautifully packed. I like the way they wrap the book separately so you get an additional surprise. This is the most recent delivery: two sheets of very high quality wrapping paper (almost too nice to use!); a bookmark, 4 tea bags containing Egyptian Camomile tea.
Inside the package is a Penguin Edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I’ve read the book three times already but still like the idea of having a Penguin edition. Last month’s package was also a Penguin edition – of The Fall by Albert Camus, which is one I’ve not read.
Overall I’ve enjoyed getting these little surprises through the letterbox though my gift subscription is now at an end. I’m unlikely to continue, not because I don’t rate the service, but there are only so many books I can read in one year and I don’t want my reading choices too heavily dictated by what other people select on my behalf.
And my overall verdict on book subscriptions?
A mixed reaction really.
On the positive side, there’s an element of fun in receiving books that you haven’t personally selected.
The downside is that you could end up with a lot of books which are not to your taste and which you would never have selected for yourself. No matter how good the price of the package sounds, if you end up giving away half of them then it’s money wasted that you could have spent on books you really do want. I may buy another subscription at some point in the future but I’ll know then to be a lot more particular in choosing the service.
What’s been your experience with subscription services? Have you actually read the books you received? Any companies or service providers you would recommend particularly?
Time for another Six Degrees of Separation. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and the idea is to link it to six other books to form a chain. The links can take any form: similarity of themes or setting; written by the same author or winners of the same prize. The basis of the link is really limited by nothing more than our imagination.
This month we begin with a favourite novel of mine, Atonement by Ian McEwan.
It’s set in a large country house in England between the two World Wars. Events are triggered by the actions of thirteen-year-old Briony who has a vivid imagination. Her accusation about an event she witnesses one hot summer evening has life-changing consequences for her elder sister and the boy with whom she is in love. For the rest of her life she regrets her actions.
I’ve read the book twice and seen the film multiple times and still can’t make up my mind whether Briony is a minx who deliberately misconstrues the event.
For another minx who likes to meddle in other people’s lives let’s turn to Emma by Jane Austen. Though many in her village think she is charming, Emma is a girl who has been indulged throughout her life and ends up thinking she knows best for herself and everyone around her. She loves nothing more than a little matchmaking, thinking she is doing this for the best of the parties concerned but ends up causing more harm than good.
In the league of schemers however Emma is small fry compared to the most wonderful character in the next book in my chain. Obadiah Slope in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers is a master manipulator, a man who hides his monstrous ambition for wealth and prestige under a cloak of piety.
Lest you think that devious behaviour and trickery are confined to England, the third book in my chain should convince you otherwise.
John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row gives us a lovable bunch of rogues, chief of whom is Mack. Steinbeck describes him as “the elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.
It’s Mack who comes up with a way to say thanks to their friend Doc, who has been good to them without asking for reward. The entire community quickly gets behind his idea of a thank-you party. Unfortunately things get out of hand and Doc’s home and his lab where he studies and collects sea creatures from the Californian coast are ruined.
The novel is shot through with nostalgia and sadness (there are three suicides) but also has its humorous moments. By far the funniest episode in the book is when Mack and the boys embark on an expedition to collect frogs for the Doc. Of course it all goes horribly wrong.
Collections of sea creatures reminds me of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I wasn’t all that enamoured by it but it was highly rated when it came out a few years ago . I seem to remember it was one that the then President Obama took on his summer holiday.
It’s the tale of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France during World War II. Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, take refuge from the war in St Malo. There the girl’s imagination is fired by the marine life described in her Braille edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and she becomes a collector and expert on molluscs.
Most of her collectables don’t sound edible although the principal character in my next chain, The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery, would probably disagree.
Pierre Arthens is the greatest food critic in France. He relishes dishes like “Pan roasted breast of Peking duck rubbed with berbère; grapefruit crumble à la Jamaïque with shallot confit … ”
Now before I turned vegetarian about a quarter of a century ago I was quite partial to duck. But I disliked the sweet sauces in which it was often served. Remember duck a l’orange or duck with blackberry sauce? I’ve no idea what you’d get if you ordered any menu item “à la Jamaïque” – even a Google search can’t provide an answer (it appears to be the title of a French musical). But I can’t begin to imagine that grapefruit and duck are meant to be companions.
But then I am decidedly not a gourmand. Nor would I want to be if it involves the kinds of concoctions beloved by the central character in my sixth and final book: Iris Murdoch’s Booker-prize winning novel The Sea, The Sea.
Charles Arrowby, retires to the country after highly successful career as a London stage director. In his tumbledown seaside cottage he swims, writes his memoirs and concocts some rather bizarre meals.
For lunch, I may say, I ate and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil. (Really good olive oil is essential, the kind with a taste, I have brought a supply from London)
The kidney beans/tomatoes/celery/oil and lemon juice combination sounds interesting and I might even be tempted to try that one day. But what they are doing on the same plate as baked beans is completely beyond my comprehension.
All this talk of food is making me feel peckish. Time to wrap up the chain and head for the kitchen. The supermarket was completely out of edible molluscs on account of the fears about post-Brexit catastrophe amongs the bivalve community. So it will have to be beans on toast again. Oh wait a second, bread is in short supply because everyone is stocking up for the inevitable shortage in December.
Right well it’s just cup a soup then…..