My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three books on my TBR shelves that I bought in charity shops or bargain book shops. They still all bear their price stickers…..
As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.
My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru
I bought this in a discount book shop in Michigan during one of my frequent work trips. I knew the name of Hari Kunzru as one of Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists” , chosen in the same year the accolade was awarded to Zadie Smith and Monica Ali. When I saw this priced at $2 it seemed too good to miss the opportunity to experience a “new British talent”.
Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:
Chris Carver is living a lie. His wife, their teenage daughter and everyone in their circle know him as Michael Frame, suburban dad. They have no idea that as a radical student in the sixties he briefly became a terrorist – protestin the Vietnam War by setting bombs around London. And then one day a ghost from his past turns up on his doorstep, forcing Chris on the run …
I’ve read a few pages from the beginning of the book which takes place on Chris/Michael’s 50th birthday. While his family are out collecting stuff for his party, he hurriedly packs his clothes and passport and drives off in his car. Clearly the narrative is going to wind back to a surprise encounter with a person from his past.
I notice from the author’s explanation that the book is loosely based on some revolutionary underground movements active in London in the 1970s. It’s a topic I don’t know much about but I’m interested enough to keep this on the shelves.
The Verdict: Keep
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A charity shop purchase made the year after I read (and loved) her novel Bel Canto (the link takes you to my review). I don’t know anything about the book other than it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012.
Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:
Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. But Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery – especially from her investors. When Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher is sent to investigate, a curt letter reporting his death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders’s colleague and former student of Dr Swenson, must retrace her friends perilous steps and uncover the secrets hidden among the remotest tribes of the rainforest.
It sounds promising; I’m drawn by the idea of a quest and the culture clash in the rainforest. I just hope that anacondas don’t make much of an appearance since I have an aversion to snakes…
The Verdict: Keep
Bad Dirt by Annie Proux
The cheapest book of the three, it’s also the one where I’m struggling to understand why I wanted to add it to my bookshelves. I’ve only ever read The Shipping News by her and while I enjoyed it at the time, it didn’t leave me feeling I was keen to read anything else she has written.
It’s a book apparently set in a community in Wyoming, where she has made her home. I clearly bought it thinking it was a novel but it wasn’t until the very end of the back cover blurb that I now see its a collection of short stories.
They are about a set of characters who live in “an isolated expanse of wasters and dreamers where the inhabitants say there’s no place like home. Where men grow bears competitively and where Bible classes wonder ‘What kind of furniture would Jesus pick?”
It sounds as if it could too easily veer towards caricature for my taste. Plus, since I am not a fan of short stories at all, I know it not one for me. I don’t feel too bad about letting this one go – it cost me all of £1.
The Verdict: Abandon
So that’s one fewer book on the TBR shelves again this week. Thanks to everyone who weighed in last week on my question about whether to keep The Accidental by Ali Smith – you persuaded me to let it remain for now.
This week’s Top Ten topic, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is the ten best books of 2016. By which I take it they mean the books I read in 2016 that I enjoyed the most. I’ve pontificated about this for a few weeks now but can delay no longer. So here is my list. I was surprised to see how many are Booker prize related.
- Top spot goes to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing for her sweeping saga of life in China during the Cultural Revolution and its effects on three musicians. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and in my ever so humble opinion should have been the winner. But the judges disagreed….sigh.
- The Many by Wyl Menmuir: a debut novel which was mesmerising even if I didn’t fully understand it. Contained some disturbing ideas about the long term effectof pollution on the sea and fishing stock . It was longlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize
- The North Water by Ian McGuire: Another 2016 Booker contender, this was a rollicking if grim historical adventure set on a whaling ship.
- Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: the only non fiction book to make it onto my top 10, this was a thought-provoking detailed examination of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on a hospital in New Orleans and the life/death decisions confronting the medical staff.
- Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb: my first experience of this Belgian-born author. After reading this terrific novella about a young girl’s humiliation when she goes to work for a Japanese company and comes bang up against cultural rules and expectations.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Another author that I read for the first time in 2016 and what an experience. The plot focuses on a group of people who go to a concert in a Latin American country and end up being taken hostage. Although there is plenty of tension and drama, the real interest for me was in how the different hostages (who include a world famous opera singer, her accompanist and a devoted fan) all respond to music.
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami: it’s taken me many years to get around to reading Murakami. It was delightful atmospheric novel about love and loss.
- The Gathering by Anne Enright: another Booker title but this time a winner – from 2007. Irish authors often tend to focus on doom and gloom and this one is no exception since it revolves around a sister’s reaction to her brother’s suicide. It’s grim in a sense but Enright portrays the inner life of her protagonist so well I just had to keep reading.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North: by Richard Flanagan: Winner of the Booker Prize in 2014, this is a riveting story account of an Australian doctor who is haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife and his experience as a prisoner of war in Thailand.
- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: yet another 2016 Booker contender though I read this long before the Booker judges made their initial selection. It’s the first time I read anything by Strout and on the strength of this tale about a mother/daughter relationship I’ll be keen to read some of her earlier work.
July came and went in a blink of the eye. August will likely go just as quickly and then all we’ll hear about for the next few months is that dreaded word Christmas. I’ve already seen promotions from a hotel and a local restaurant even though some people have only just headed off for their summer holiday. I know retailers in the UK have been moaning about low sales because of the crap summer weather so far but it’s depressing how the commercial world seems intent on pushing the Christmas season earlier and earlier. I’m going to turn a blind eye to it all and just focus on the month ahead.
So as a new month begins this is a bit of a wrap up of what’s I’ve been reading recently and what I’m planning or the month ahead.
It’s taken me a few years to get around to reading Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial.(reviewed here). The subject matter made it challenging but it was worth the effort – the issues raised by Fink about medical ethics during times of disaster have made for some heated discussions among friends and relatives. I also read the wonderful Bel Canto by Ann Patchett -my first experience of her writing but I know it will not the be the last. July saw the completion of two Booker prize winners – Last Orders by Graham Swift and The Life & Times of Michael K by J. M Coetzee. I had planned to read to short story collections but so far have managed just one of them – The Thing Around My Neck by Chimamanda Adichie with the help of advice in response to my question on how to approach a collection of short stories. Most people recommended I read them in bite size pieces which helped hugely.
I have two books on the go at the moment. Tree of Life: A Novel of the Caribbean is a 1992 novel by the Guadeloupean writer, Maryse Condé. It’s the story of three generations of one family and their rise from poverty against a backdrop of racial tension and world events like the construction of the Panama Canal and World War 1. It’s my choice for #womeninliterature month. I’m about a third of the way through and finding it OK but not that engaging. Certainly not as riveting as my other read which is Moskva by Jack Grimwood. Set in the 1980s it features a British intelligence officer sent to Moscow to avoid an investigation over his actions in Northern Ireland. Shortly after his arrival he gets roped in to help find the Ambassador’s daughter who has gone missing. This is a page turner that was highlighted by the Daily Telegraph as one of the best crime novels of 2016.
On the Horizon
If it’s August then it has to be AllAugust/AllVirago of which I’ll be reading A Favourite of the Gods by Sybille Bedford and posting a few reviews for Viragos I read earlier in the summer but haven’t got around to reviewing yet. I have a few NetGalley review copies requiring my attention including The Sleeping World by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes which is set in 1970s post-Franco Spain and The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke. What comes after that I haven’t yet decided since I don’t like making detailed plans which feel constraining. There’ll certainly be a Booker title in the mix but I know I’m not going to get around to making much of an impression on the 2016 longlist other than reading some samples of each title.