The first book I ever reviewed was so dreadful that I have obliterated its title from my memory. It was by Maeve Binchey and though I know she is extremely popular among some readers, I vowed never to read anything by her again. Ever. I only got to the end because it formed part of a book review column that was being introduced on the newspaper where I was a rather junior reporter.
Maybe it was that experience that destroyed my interest in reviewing. It wasn’t until I started this blog that I began in earnest. I’m re-interpreting the brief for this week’s Top 10 topic. So instead of listing the first 10 reviews to appear on this blog (which would be dull) I’m opting for the first 10 reviews of Booker Prize winners. It is after all my project to read all the prize winners that prompted me to begin the blog in 2012.
- The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens. The very first review to appear on this blog, was this 1970 winner. It’s embarrassing to look back at this review – I clearly had a lot to learn…
- Something to Answer For by P H Newby. This review appeared in April 2012. My attempt was slightly – but only slightly – better than the first effort.
- Saville by David Storey. This appeared in the same month as the Newby review. Not a book I cared for at all as my review indicates all too clearly.
- Staying On by Paul Scott. This is a follow up to his superb series called The Raj Quartet. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book, I’m also happier with the quality of the review.
- White Tiger by Arvind Adiga I remember enjoying this novel which won the 2008 Booker Prize but I see from my review that I wasn’t that keen on the ending.
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. A wonderful book and one of my favourite Booker winners.
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Definitely not one of my favourite Booker winners. Though I admired the technical virtuosity and the brilliance of the imagination, I struggled to finish the book – and also, I seem to remember, struggled to write a review.
- Possession by A S Byatt. These reviews do seem to be getting more coherent (at last)
- The Sea by John Banville My review from 2013 may not have done full justice to this book but at least it’s no longer embarrassing to read after all these years.
- Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. And so we reach July 2013 and a novel that was a re-read.
It’s been interesting to look back at these blog posts and to see the progress I made in just over a year of writing reviews. When I decided to begin blogging I had no concerns about my ability to write: I had after all trained as a journalist and had worked for years in a communications role. But it didn’t take long for me to appreciate that writing reviews of books is an art that requires a completely different skill set.
There is still a long, long way to go before I reach the point where I find it easier to write these reviews and am more satisfied with the result. I wonder if I ever will reach that day or whether I’m too too much of a perfectionist to ever be satisfied….
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. .
I’ve come across Reading Bingo several times over the years since I started this blog but never joined in because it seemed the idea was to commit to reading books that fitted the squares. I know from experience I am hopeless at reading to order. But this year I’ve seen a few bloggers Marina at Finding Time to Write , Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks and Susan at ALifeinBooks fill in the squares in retrospect first. Since I am too stuffed with Christmas pudding to move too far from the sofa it seemed a fun way to look back on the year and see how well I could match my books read with the 2017 bingo card. I’ve done way better than I expected with just two blank squares…
A Book with More Than 500 Pages – weighing in with more than 600 pages is the Booker-award winning Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
A Forgotten Classic – Gerard Reve’s The Evenings has been called a masterpiece of Dutch literature (I’m not convinced about that). Published in Amsterdam in 1946 it took 60 years before an English language version became available.
A Book That Became a Movie – You may not have heard of the book Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac but I’m confident you’ve heard, and may have watched the version by Alfred Hitchcock.
A Book Published This Year – Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch brilliantly captures the atmosphere of Hull in UK at the time when the poet Phillip Larkin was head of its university library.
A Book with a Number in the Title – one of the best two novels I have read all year is Jon McGregor’s superbly constructed Reservoir 13, A contender for the Booker Prize in 2017, it sadly lost out in the final round.
A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty – I don’t know Alys Conran’s exact age (it would have been impertinent to ask her when I met her at the Wales Book Awards) but I’m confident she is younger than I am so that’s enough for me to justify including her hear with her multi award-winning debut novel Pigeon.
A Book with Non-Human Characters – Limited options here since I dislike books of this kind. The nearest I can get is Strangers by Taichi Yamada which features ghosts.
A Funny Book – HagSeed by Margaret Atwood is a touching and imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There are some genuinely funny scenes set in a prison where the inmates become the cast members and have to decide what swear words will be acceptable.
A Book By A Female Author: The most extraordinary novel I read all year was The Vegetarian by the South Korean author Han Kang. It’s a short novel but deals with some big issues such as the clash between personal desire and society’s expectations.
A Book with a Mystery – an easy one this since the word mystery appears in the title. The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts, comes from the Golden Age of Crime and is part of the British Library Classic Crime series. A meticulously plotted murder mystery that will test your powers of memory and logic.
A Book with a One-word title – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi won multiple awards and a six figure advance from a publisher (good going for a debut author). I enjoyed many elements but overall felt it could have been an even better novel.
A Book of Short Stories – Failed on this one. I have several collections of short stories but seldom get around to reading them. I did start one collection but only read three stories.
Free square – My Antonia by Willa Cather, a classic of a farming community set in Nebraska. It was so beautifully written I’m keen to read more by Cather.
A Book Set on a Different Continent – Even though I haven’t read as many novels in translation as I would have liked this year, I did read a few set in Australasia. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey was one I highly enjoyed.
A Non-fiction Book – The Good Women of China by Xinran relates the real life stories of women who live within the constraints of a society that doesn’t value women. All the stories were featured on her radio programme.
The First Book by a Favourite Author – Fail again. Although there were a number of authors I read this year whose work I have enjoyed in the past (John Banville, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Atwood for example) none of the books were their first published works.
A Book You Heard About Online – I can’t believe it took me so long to discover We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson but it was only through other bloggers that this came to my attention.
A Bestselling Book – Published in 1930, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, may well pre-date best seller lists so I can’t tell you how many copies of this have been purchased. But it’s never been out of print and has spawned many tv and screen adaptations including one in 2016 so on the basis of its enduring popularity I’m classing it as a best-seller.
A Book Based on a True Story – Off to Philadelphia in the Morning by Jack Jones is a fictionalised account of the life of Joseph Parry, one of the most famous composers to hail from Wales. Born into the extreme poverty of the iron and coal-mining town of Merthyr Tydfil he moved to Philadelphia with his parents at a young age. On his return to Wales he became the first person from Wales to gain a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge University.
A Book at the Bottom of Your TBR Pile – as a literature student I dipped into A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf regularly but never read the whole essay. I corrected that ommission this year. You could say I left it a bit late after 37 years but at least I got to it …
A Book your Friend Loves – I read By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie as part of the #1968club hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at kaggsysbookishramblings. My sister, who is a Christie fan, loved it more than I did.
A Book that Scares You – Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel isn’t a scary book in the sense it is populated by aliens or things that hide in the woodshed. But it did send shivers down my spine with its premise that the world is hit by flu pandemic so virulent its victims die within 48 hours. In a few short weeks it claims the lives of 99.99 per cent of the world’s population. What made me nervous was that the survivors find a lot of the objects and technologies they had felt essential to their lives (like mobile phones) prove useless in this new world. I started to worry that I don’t have any of the skills that would help me survive.
A Book that is More Than 10 Years Old – What a joy it was to read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Yes it was sensational and a romp of a story but du Maurier also managed to underpin this with a more thoughtful theme about the female situation.
The Second Book in a Series – Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a prequel to his best seller Shadow of the Wind but was actually his second to be published. It’s more patchy in quality than Shadow of the Wind but is still a fast moving adventure story that can be enjoyed just for its setting in Barcelona.
A Book with a Blue Cover – Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin. The story is complex (multiple narrators and timelines) but is handled well and is strong on atmosphere. The cover is gorgeous.
If you haven’t come across Reading Bingo before, do give it a go. You might be as surprised as I was. And do take a look at the other bloggers who have participated so far this year:
Marina at Finding Time to Write
Emma at Book Around the Corner
Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks