Snapshot November 2016

Another chapter in my reading year in which I try to capture a picture of what I’m reading, thinking about reading, buying on Nov 1, 2016.


Most of my reading at the moment is for the course on children’s literature that I foolishly decided to embark upon. It’s a level 3 (equivalent to third year university) delivered via the Open University. It’s my final module on a BA Honours Lit course I started about 12 years ago I think, persuaded by a friend who heard I had an idea for a non fiction book and recommended I sharpened up the academic research skills first. I tossed about the idea of history but got swayed by my other love of literature. It was meant for me to be ‘fun’ – I already have a lit degree so why would I need another one???  But now the end is in sight.

I finished Treasure Island by R. L Stevenson last week and now am ploughing through Little Women by L.M.Alcott and absolutely hating it. I know it’s considered a classic but it’s so full of saccharine I feel an urgent need to visit the dentist every time I read a chapter. And it’s so long! Little Women (which in America is marketed as part 1 with part 2 called Good Wives) comes in at 470 of densely typed pages. Give me strength while I grit my teeth.

wakinglionsBy way of an antidote I am also crawling my way through Waking Lions by the Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. It’s not the fault of the book – just my lack of time.  It’s quite an intriguing story which looks at how the decisions we make on the spur of the moment can have long term repercussions. In this case, the decision is made by a surgeon who accidentally runs over a man on the road. Should he leave the injured man who is clearly on the path to death or should he summon help. He chooses the former. But then the victim’s widow turns up at the door intent on a very unusual form of blackmail.


lietreeRather a lot of new purchases recently. One by Sarah Crossan, a verse novel about conjoined twins which won the CILIP Carnegie Medal – an annual award for children’s fiction. Also purchased is another contender for the medal, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge which won the Costa Book of the Year 2015. It’s described as “deliciously creepy novel”. Both of these were bought all in the interests of research you understand for my children’s literature course (what do you mean you don’t believe me!). I succumbed to an offer at the bookshop and bought The Vegetarian by Han Kang, The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh and The Glorious Heresies by Lisa Mcinnerney which won the  Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016.


The BBC did a short series with Andrew Marr looking at three different genres of books: detective fiction; fantasy epics and spy stories. I’m part way through the one on detective fiction where he argues that these follow a set of “rules”. See more about this series at the Open University web page


After my recent disappointment (described here) with my first experience of Marjorie Allingham’s detective fiction, Karen at kaggsysrambling recommended another of her titles – The Tiger in the Smoke. I’ve managed to get an audio version of this. Early days yet but the characterisation at least feels more authentic than in the other title I tried. I’m also enjoying the flavour it gives of post war Britain. Apparently J. K. Rowling has described this as her favorite crime novel

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on November 3, 2016, in Children's literature, Costa prize, Israeli authors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Two literature degrees isn’t bad 🙂

    I don’t mind Little Women but I see where you’re coming from. It can take a certain mood to read it. (On the versions, I still get confused because I had Little Women and Good Wives; they published it in sections here at some point, too.) I’ve a copy of Waking Lions that I’m hoping to get too soon. Loved her previous book.

  2. I did kids lit as we affectionately called it for my part graduate library qualifications, and I loved it. It gave me a keener eye for kids lit when I had my own kids. And I read books that I still remember now.

    I loved Little Women, which I read just as that. Good wives was also published here as a sequel. Sure it’s sweet but it is of its time. I think you have to read books in the context of their times. I love Austen, but while I love her language and commentary on humanity I wonder if she were wait until today I’d love all those expected happy endings. I’m not sure, but I adore her because for her time she had a cheeky knowing edge that still stands up today. Does that make sense?

    I have never been interested in Treasure Island. Adventure never appealed to me, which probably says a bit about me! I like travel, and not easy luxury travel, but scary adventures? No, not even as escapism.

    • One of the things we are asked to consider is whether LW can still be considered as a classic. Its a bit of a slippery question since you have to define what classic means first ….. does it mean books that are popular? resonate with their audience? quality? For me a classic should be something that is of its time but in a sense is also for all time because the messages it conveys are relevant to later generations. So I’m thinking LW is no longer a classic

      • Good question, Karen, though I’d argue that a classic is pretty much something that has stood the test of time. To me it would be hard not to call LW a classic. My problem re classics trends to be how long that time should be, and also whether a book that is old but has been rediscovered, ie had disappeared from view, can be said to have stood the test of time.

      • Oh, and I should say, that while my definition of classic is pretty simple, ie that time lasting one, the much more interesting, related question calls more on your questions, that is, why has the work stood the test of time?

  3. Busy busy! I didn’t read Little Women until well into adulthood and had a hard time understanding what all the fuss was about. I think it is definitely a book for youth otherwise it ends up being as you describe it.

  4. What a good idea for a blog post! I can’t remember what I did on November 1 – I know today I have read nothing (so far), bought nothing and watched nothing (so far). Oops!

  5. I live in fear of re-reading books I loved as a child. Excuse the cliche but I suppose it’s the fear that the magic won’t be there anymore. Although having said that I’ve recently re-read Children of the New Forest for research purposes and that wasn’t too bad. My mother loved Tiger in the Smoke. It has fantastic descriptions of fog – well up there with the opening of Bleak House!

  6. Oh dear – the course sounds a bit of a trial. I had to revisit a couple of children’s classics for work a few years ago, most of which I didn’t enjoy but loved rereading Alice in Wonderland. Will you be studying that?

    • Alice is a seminal text in the history of children’s lit – considered the first one that was purely for entertainment rather than trying to ‘teach’ children something. I loved it as a child because it was so playful

  7. So sorry to hear you are struggling with Little Women, I loved this book as a child but I fear I may agree with you now I’m a little older. I hated Treasure Island though!

  8. It’s too bad you’re not enjoying Little Women. I read it a long time ago and I remember loving it at the time. Around the same time I also read Treasure Island and was surprised by how much I liked it – I didn’t know what to expect from a pirate story. What did you think of that one?
    A children’s literature course sounds like fun! Hmm…

    • You have hit on a key point about this course Naomi – that there is a big difference between what “children’s books’ are read and enjoyed by adults versus those chosen by the child readers themselves. Adults often buy and read them because they are looking to rekindle an experience of their own childhood and they want their child/grandchild to have that same experience. A bit of a problem with something like Little Women which is more than 100 years old and represents a way of life that no longer exists. Treasure Island is far more durable I think – its an adventure and what kid doesn’t like adventure!

  9. Hope “The Tiger in The Smoke” continues to appeal! 🙂

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