Reading Horizons: 20 March 2019
What are you currently reading?
The Kill (La Curée) by Émile Zola
Since today is Valentine’s Day what better opportunity can there be to talk about how fiction represents romance and love? St Valentine is traditionally associated with courtly and romantic love but authors through the ages have shown different facets of the emotion. So today I’ve picked ten fictional couples whose relationships represent different dimensions of love.
Since the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly, let’s start with a few examples of troubled relationships.
Pip and Estella
We begin with an example of unrequited love via Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pip, the humble blacksmith who gains wealth from a mysterious benefactor, falls in love with the glamorous Estella though she is aloof and hostile towards him. Dickens’s ending makes it ambiguous whether the two ever marry.
The Butler and the Housekeeper
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker prize winning novel The Remains of the Day, gives us an example of love that is never declared. Stevens the butler at Darlington Hall has practiced restraint for so long that he cannot ever allow himself to relax enough to show his true feelings. His relationship with the young housekeeper Miss Kenton at times comes close to blossoming into romance but even when Miss Kenton tries to draw closer to him, his stunted emotional life holds him back.
Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder
Love of a different nature is shown in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, where two young men meet as students at Oxford. Charles Ryder, who comes from a sterile, loveless home, is mesmerised by the glamorous and wealthy Flyte family and their stately home at Brideshead. He spends idyllic summers with Sebastian but is powerless when his friend descends into depression and alcoholism. Bruised by the experience, Charles falls into a loveless marriage and then finds temporary solace with Sebastian’s sister Julia. The question readers have to decide for themselves is whether Sebastian was simply the appetiser for the real deal of Charles’ love for Julia or is she second best to Sebastian?
Elizabeth Bennett and Lord Darcy
Sometimes love happens between the most unlikely of individuals. The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth Bennett and the proud Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is one that has delighted readers since Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813. Jane Austen gets them off to a rocky start however. In their first encounter Darcy thinks Jane”…tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
Frank Doel and Helene Hanff
You could argue that isn’t strictly a romantic relationship since the author Helene Hanff and the antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel never meet. But I’d challenge anyone to read the letters that fly from New York to London in Hanff’s memoir, 84 Charing Cross Road, and not come to the conclusion that there is something more going on than just a mutual affection for books.
Gabriel Oak and Bathseba Everdene
In Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows love can endure despite many challenges. Gabriel Oak (his name is a big clue as to his nature) doesn’t give up when the uppity Miss Everdene rejects his marriage proposal. He becomes a servant on her farm while she embarks on a disastrous relationship with a solider. But when she needs him most, he is ready to forgive…. Hardy is careful to show that the love that Gabriel and Bathsheba share is not the passion of a first love but a sadder and wiser connection born out of trials and tribulations.
Sapper Kip and Hana the nurse
I can’t talk about love without mentioning my favourite Booker prize winner, The English Patient by Michael Ondatjee. It shows that sometimes love flourishes in the most unlikely of situations. In this case, in a bomb-damaged Italian villa during the Italian Campaign of World War II, where four people are thrown together unexpectedly. Hana, a troubled young Canadian Army nurse, is caring for a man severely burned in a flying accident. The death of her lover causes her to believe that she is cursed and that all those around her are doomed to die. The arrival at the villa of a Sikh British Army sapper, reawakens her emotions. But their affair is shortlived. Kip is horrified when he learns about the Hiroshima bombing, leaving the villa to return to his native India. He never sees Hana again though he never stops recalling the effect she had on his life.
Dexter and Emma
How long can you be in love with someone and yet never realise it? For the couple in David Nicholls novel One Day, it takes almost 20 years for them to get together after they spend the night together on their graduation from Edinburgh university. The novel visits their lives and their relationship on that date – 15 July – in successive years in each chapter, for 20 years. Does it all end happily? Not quite. But you’ll have to read the book to discover why not.
Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson
I can’t end without an example of what many people would consider to be the ultimate romantic gesture. In The Graduate, Benjamin, a new college graduate with no idea what to do with the rest of his life, is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson. But then realises it’s her daughter Elaine that he loves. Slight problem: she is about to marry another boy. Queue a desperate race to get to the church before Elaine says I do. If you’ve watched the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, you’ll know there is a dramatic ending involving a bride and a bus. I’m not cheating here by the way – the film is in fact based on a novel of the same name written by Charles Webb and published in 1963.
So there you have 10 couples who each, in one way or another, reflect love in many forms. Are there any couples you think of instantly when the subject of love crops up?
Now I’ve managed to close the lid on 2018 (see my wrap up post here), its time to turn my attention to 2019.
I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether to join some of the many challenges that are available. But on balance I decided that last year’s experiment with “Reading Naked” (by which I mean picking my next book randomly) was liberating so I plan to continue using that approach this year.
That doesn’t mean my year will be entirely without structure. But I’ll focus on projects rather than challenges. Challenges usually involve meeting a specific goal – reading a targeted number of books for example, or specified categories of books by a set date. I prefer the more open-ended nature of a project that I create for myself, where I get to decide on the scope and parameters. I want the flexibility to go wherever my mood takes me.
Here’s how the year ahead could pan out.
I’m going for simplicity; largely avoiding specific goals in favour of general directions. Most of these are continuations of existing projects and activities but – just to ring the changes – I’m going to start two new activities.
Booker Talk Team Expands
Booker Talk is approaching its 7th anniversary. I’m marking this milestone by expanding the team. Two new faces will be making an appearance on this site shortly, contributing reviews and articles on reading, authors and books.
Cerian Fishlock is currently studying for an MA in Publishing. She’s an Agatha Christie fan who’s desperate to find a modern author that can match the Queen of Crime . She loves novels with a psychological edge and “if that can be combined with defeating the patriarchy, even better.”
Edward Colley is a retired newspaper editor and graphic designer with an eclectic taste in books. He counts Thomas Hardy among his favourite authors. In between reading fiction he enjoys biographies and travel writing .
Connecting with Welsh authors/publishers
For the past year I’ve been trying to support and promote literature from my home country of Wales, through reviews and the odd feature article on this site. Now I’m going a step further by creating a new series where we get to know some of the authors based in Wales.
I’m calling this new series Cwtch Corner. The idea is to get into a conversation with an author about their favourite authors and books, how and where they get their inspiration and what readers can expect from their own novel/s. This is a spot where authors could pitch their work to potential readers.
Never seen that word Cwtch before? It’s a word used in the Welsh language to describe a physical place – a small cubbyhole for example or a small room in a pub. But it also denotes a form of affection, love and caring. Think of it like a cuddle or a hug. So authors taking part in Cwtch Corner are hopefully going to find the experience a bit like being wrapped in a warm embrace.
I’m reaching out to authors to participate at the moment but if you know someone you think might be interested just ask them to contact me via Twitter using @bookertalk. Please note however that I am not intending to feature self-published authors.
According to Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog it’s time once more to play A Year in First Lines.
The idea is to:
Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.
Let’s recap on the year…
Jan 2018: Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indridason
Sometimes the brain just craves crime.
Feb 2018: Snapshot February 2018
Throughout 2017 I was making a note on the first day of the month of what I was reading and the level of what I call my personal library (otherwise known as the TBR mountain)
March 2018: Books to mark Wales’ special day
March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales —St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh.
April 2018: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
One of the most memorable episodes in Alan Bennett’s series of dramatic monologues Talking Heads features an elderly lady who has taken a tumble in her home while doing a little illicit dusting.
May 2018: WWWednesday 2 May 2018
Currently reading: The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda. This is a book I picked up on my holiday late last year in South Africa when I asked a bookshop owner for recommendations of South African authors.
June 2018: An alternative Golden Booker Prize
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize.
July 2018: New additions to the shelves
After months of admirable self restraint, the flood gates opened in the last few months and all my attempts to whittle down my stack of owned-but-unread books have been thwarted.
August 2018: Classics club spin falls on Mitford
The anticipation is over and the result of the latest Classic Club Spin is in.
September 2018: Six Degrees from film memoir to crime
It’s time for #6degrees which this month begins with a memoir: Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson.
October 2018: Lullaby by Leïla Slimani
It takes a brave author to begin a novel by revealing the ending.
November 2018: Non-Fiction November: favourite reads
I’ve taken the plunge and joined Nonfiction November which is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books for a month.
December 2018: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
How long can a series endure before it runs out of steam?
What does this tell me about my blogging year?
What does this mean for 2019?
I’m still mulling over my 2019 plans but this exercise has made me realise that I need to adjust the balance of reviews to other content like memes. I think I’ve been doing more of the latter because I’m slow at writing reviews, spending far too long trying to come up with the ‘perfect’ intro whereas memes etc don’t usually require as deep a thinking process. Consequently I am well behind with my reviews….. I feel a New Year’s Resolution in the wind….
You may have seen this meme doing the rounds recently. It originated as a tag on a book vlog apparently ( I don’t watch these so rely on other people highlighting interesting content).
Earlier this week I decided to part company with The Librarian by Salley Vickers. It’s the choice for the book club meet up in January. I wasn’t that excited by the selection because I wasn’t very enamoured by her earlier book The Cleaner of Chatres. But I hoped the fact that this plot involves books might prove more interesting. For anyone who doesn’t know this book, it concerns a woman who begins a new job as a children’s librarian and embarks on a mission to get more children enthused about reading. Right from the first few pages I knew I was going to have a problem with this novel. The writing style just jarred on me. In part it read like a synopsis of a story, with lots of telling, and very little showing. It also was very laboured and overly detailed. I lasted to about 60 pages and then decided it was a waste of time to go further when I had many other, greatly superior books awaiting me.
2. The last book I re-read
I’ve done very little re-reading in the past year. The last book I re-read was Peter Pan by J M Barrie – and that was only because it was a set book on a children’s literature course I was pursuing.
3. The last book I bought
The end of 2018 was signalled by a flurry of book purchases. Some were gifts for various family members but I also took the opportunity to acquire a few new items for myself. They included Winter by Ali Smith which is second novel in her Seasonal Quartet collection. I had planned to hold off reading this collection until all four had been published, but this was on offer at the bookshop and seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
4. The last book I said I read but actually didn’t
I’ve never said I’ve read a book when I haven’t. I usually have the reverse problem – always involving a crime novel – where I discover just after starting a new book that I had already read it even if I can’t recall the details of the plot.
5. The last book I wrote in the margins of
I do this only for books I’m studying for a course or where I am trying to get more knowledgeable about a particular topic in order to share the knowledge with other people. interest, as well as ordinary bookmarks.
6. The last book I had signed
This would be Katherine of Arragon by Alison Weir, the first in her Tudor Queens series. I took my copy along when she was in Penarth to talk about the second in the series —about Anne Boleyn. She kindly signed both books for me.
7. The last book I lost
My copy of Voss by Patrick White has disappeared without trace. If anyone finds it please let me know. It’s a rather sad looking paperback edition which I purchased via e-bay.
8. The last book I had to replace
I’ve been trying to think of circumstances in which this would happen and I’ve drawn a blank. I don’t tend to borrow books from other people , I always return books borrowed from the library and I’m not in the habit of losing my own books over a cliff edge or in the bath. If the case arose that the book club chose a book I no longer owned, I’d either get a library copy or go to the meeting relying on my memory.
9. The last book I argued over
I’ve had a few ‘spats’ over the years and a few ‘differences of opinion’ but arguments – never as far as I can recall. The last ‘difference of opinion’ was two days ago when my mum, who was spending Christmas with us, was engrossed in Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat. We often chat about the books we’re reading even if we have very different tastes. My mum thought The Greatcoat was superb, whereas I was underwhelmed by it and found the plot implausible beyond belief. We are still on speaking terms though….
10. The last book you couldn’t find
I know without any doubt that I have How Late it Was How Late by James Kelman on my shelves. I started reading it at the beginning of the year so I know it’s in the house somewhere. I can even remember that it’s a bright red cover with just the book title in block letters but no other artwork. Can I remember where I put it though? I can blame no-one other than myself. I have a semi alphabetical system but when I run out of space, books get shoved in anywhere……..
I saw this “Nice or Naughty?” tag at FictionFan’s blog and thought it made a refreshing break from shopping, parcel wrapping, cooking etc etc etc. I will leave, the jury, to decide whether I’m a saint or a sinner……
So here are the questions..
1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?
I plead guilty. I try hard not to accept books for review if I don’t think I have the time but occasionally my halo has slipped. Everytime I see those unread books on the shelves I suffer waves of guilt.
2. Got less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley?
Not guilty. I’m close to it though since my current rating is 63%. I got over enthusiastic a few years ago and requested far too many books so the rating slipped from 90%. I’ve done much better this year by the simple strategy of not requesting any books for about nine months of the year. I just closed my eyes whenever an email came through from NetGalley ….
3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?
Not guilty, I don’t like rating systems. I add one to my Goodreads account but don’t set much store by them.
4. Folded down the page of a book?
Guilty. I did this once on a flight when I didn’t have anything to hand I could use as a bookmark. I was reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and found so many passages I wanted to note that I ran out of objects I could use as bookmarks. I’d already used my boarding card, the paper towel and the drinks coaster.
5. Accidentally spilled on a book?
Not guilty as far as I can remember. And I’m sure I would remember….. But then white wine or champagne wouldn’t be that noticeable. Those bubbly bits on the page — they’re just water marks aren’t they?
6. DNF a book this year?
I’ve long passed the stage where I keep pushing on to the end of novels I’m not enjoying but I’m surprised to find I have only one novel I couldn’t finish this year. I abandoned
G by John Berger. It was one of the books on my Booker Prize project list but a more dull book it would be hard to envisage.
I might come close to another DNF before the end of the year. I started reading The Librarian by Salley Vickers last night (this is the next book club selection) and am not at all taken with the narrative tone.
So yes I plead guilty m’lord.
7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?
Not guilty. Despite a plethora of magazine articles and Instagram pictures suggesting otherwise, books are not meant to be decorative items. They are meant to be read. Repeat after me……
8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?
Guilty. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been engrossed in a book when I should have been sleeping. Or reading when I should have been getting ready to go to the gym.
9. Skim read a book?
Not this year though in the past I’ve been known to just glance at books given as work assignments, about the latest business theory… usually the skimming takes place on the trip to the meeting with all fingers and toes crossed that no-one asks any deep and searching questions. Now this is just between you and me right???
10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?
Guilty this year even though I set the goal lower than its been for about 5 years. When I was in full time employment I used to dream of days when I could just sit at home and read. And now I’m retired and can, I somehow never get around to reading in the daytime. 2018 will see me reader fewer books than I have for many years.
11. Borrowed a book and not returned it to the library?
Completely innocent on this one. I do however forget the date when the books are due back at the library so end up with a fine….
12. Broken a book buying ban?
Wish I could plead innocent on this but it’s not to be. I tried a ban last year and lasted a few months. But before I could wipe the self-satisfied smug look on my face, I happened to go into a bookshop. You can get guess the rest can’t you? This year the total of my owned-but not read- books is higher at the end of the year than it was at the beginning. How did that happen?
13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?
Oh dear. I have to come clean on this one. Some books are difficult to review so yes I might put one aside intending to return to it when the inspiration returns. And then forget it….
14. Written in a book you were reading?
I know this makes me persona non grata in certain circles but yes I have done this with books I’m studying for a course. It’s called active reading.
15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?
I use Goodreads to help keep track of what I’ve read but I also have a spreadsheet and a page on this blog. Keeping them all in synch is a challenge. So yes, guilty on this count.
16. Borrowed a book and not returned it to a friend?
Nope, my friends don’t enjoy the same kind of books I enjoy so I don’t borrow from them.
17. Dodged someone asking if they can borrow a book?
No, though I know the chances of actually getting it returned are almost non existent.
18. Broken the spine of someone else’s book?
Since I hardly ever borrow other people’s books, this is unlikely to ever occur.
19. Taken the jacket off a book to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?
Never. I don’t understand why someone wants to remove the jacket at all. The artwork of the cover is an integral part of the book surely?
20. Sat on a book accidentally?
Yes, Yes, Yes. Books will insist on turning up in the most inconvenient places…..
Having answered all questions truthfully and fully, I leave my future in your hands. Am I a saint or a sinner??
A few weeks ago the editors at Shiny New Books asked their team of reviewers (plus some friends) to reveal which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas.
I thought that was such a great idea I decided to do my own version but with a little twist. While we all enjoy giving we also enjoy the excitement of receiving. And so I asked bloggers, publishers, authors and avid readers based in Wales what book/s they’d most like to give as a Christmas gift but what book or books they secretly hoped Santa would bring them this year.
They’ve come up with an eclectic list incorporating a literary classic to a short story collection, a ‘clean eating’ cook book and, in one case, a novel that hasn’t yet been completed…..
Would love to give: Stranger Within the Gates by Bertha Thomas
“Obviously I love to give books published by Honno, and particularly from the Welsh Women’s Classics, hoping to introduce friends and family to these great women writers of the past! Stranger Within the Gates, by Bertha Thomas, is a favourite. Although written over 100 years ago, it has a contemporary appeal — it contains a witty pro-suffrage parody, as well as other sharply observed stories.
We’ve also recently brought out a new edition of The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, with a great new cover that makes a beautiful and interesting gift. ”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I am torn between three books. I’m hoping for The Original Suffrage Cook Book, originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for the campaign for the vote for women. The Women’s Atlas, by Joni Seager also looks like a fascinating resource as does Y Lolfa’s Codi Llais by 14 Welsh women about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.
“In fiction, I am hoping for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. A bit of a well known choice, with the upcoming film, but a recent interview with the author was so moving and fascinating that I feel I need to read the book. ”
Would love to give: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Of course you’d want to tailor a gift to your chosen recipient, but this is both my favourite book of all time, and the book I think everyone should read. It’s a phenomenal piece of literature, beautifully crafted, and causes you to question the basis of human nature. The Penguin Classics edition is a beautiful text, making it the perfect present for Stevenson fans and virgins alike.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I regularly buy myself a novel or work of fiction (thank you Waterstones for your buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), but very rarely pick up a non-fiction book for myself. Of course the New Year heralds the season of diet manuals and ‘get fit quick’ guides. Ignore those, head straight to Anna Jones’ vegetarian bibles instead. The Modern Cook’s Year and A Modern Way to Cook ignore all the jargon of current trends and offer realistic recipes which fit in with modern life — all wrapped up with mouth-watering photography.
An Edited Life by blogger Anna Newton, is an upcoming guide to getting your life in order (now available for pre-order in the UK). Whilst I’m not usually interested in social media stars turned authors, a quick peruse of Anna’s blog (The Anna Edit) will prove all the inspiration you need to overhaul your wardrobe/loft/kitchen/makeup… I could go on.”
Would love to give: The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech
“This is a dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart. It’s a joy to read, heart breaking and exquisite. For me, it’s her finest book to date.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“The books I secretly hope Santa brings me are Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls. Having fallen deeply in love with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, it would be fascinating to read the story from a female character’s point of view.
The other would be A Keeper by Graham Norton. I loved his first book and really want to read this one.”
“I’d give Albi by Hilary Shepherd, the best and most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. It’s about real history and human nature in crisis.
I’d love to receive — from Santa, who is magical and can therefore achieve anything —volume 3 of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, because I am itching for it, so it would make the perfect Christmas present.”
Would love to give: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale
“I try and fit the book to its recipient and their interests but these are some of my go-to book gifts this year:
“The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is set in a toy emporium which opens in London when the first frost appears and shows how magical the imagination can be but there’s also a darkness to it as well which I loved. I think it’s a perfect read for this time of year.
“I’m giving crime fans Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife which is a really impressive debut looking at a woman who campaigns for, falls for and marries a death row prisoner, only for him to be released and for her to discover that’s when life gets interesting.
“My other choice would be The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas which is about an unlikely superhero: it’s geeky, humorous, heartbreaking and refreshingly different. I’d recommend it to fans of Eleanor Oliphant and comic book heroes alike.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I already have more than enough unread books to keep me going over the festive period, so I’d be happy with some book tokens for Christmas to put towards some of the terrific new releases coming in the New Year.
That said, I wouldn’t say no to finding the Costa shortlisted novel The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman under the tree, or John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, both of which really appeal to me.
Would love to give: The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
“A book I would gift to all children aged 8-12, as well as their parents, is this beautifully written and magical book by Catherine Fisher. It is the perfect read over the Christmas holidays, as the story is set in a snowy Victorian mid-Wales in the lead up to Christmas Day. When orphan Seren arrives as her new home she finds that the family is in mourning as their son has been missing for a year and a day. Seren sets off with the help of an enchanted Clockwork Crow to find him in this magical story of snow and stars from a master storyteller.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I am very much hoping to find Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Cassandra Drake by Posy Simmonds under the Christmas tree. I recently read The Rotter’s Club and very much look forward to revisiting the characters after the financial crash of 2008, following them to the present day, and seeing what Coe makes of the Brexit fall-out. I am equally excited to read Posy Simmonds’ first graphic novel in 11 years, being a huge fan. Her graphic novels are always a delicious mix of gorgeous drawing, brilliant characters and great societal observation.”