All you super organised people can now look smug at the fact that we’re two weeks into 2019 and only now am I doing a wrap up of last year. While you of course had this all nailed well in advance of midnight on December 31. You’re probably the same people who have booked their summer holiday twelve months in advance. And are never late with their tax returns.
But just remember……
I can’t procrastinate for much longer however so here’s the low down on my 2018….
If you’ve followed my blog since January you’ll know that I declared 2018 to be a “Year of Reading Naked” – a “rudderless, free wheeling” year .
I said back in January 2018:
I will keep the ongoing projects I’ve been working on for a few years now like the Booker Prize Project (there is no way I am abandoning that right at the last moment) or my World Literature project.
I’m also going to start a new one – the Year of my Life reading project initiated by Cafe Society.
But I won’t use those projects to drive my reading. When I am ready for the next book I’ll just look around the book shelves and pick out what takes my fancy. With some 220 plus books I own but haven’t read, I will have plenty of choice. I’m going to try to restrain myself so I don’t purchase zillions of new books but won’t be setting any targets or imposing numeric constraints.
Did the plan work????
To some extent yes…
I enjoy the camaraderie that you get from participating in challenges and reading events. But I also know from past experience that if they require me to read from a list or to fit my reading into pre-defined categories, then I lose interest quickly.
Hence my decision not to join any challenges last year.
I stuck to that resolution almost the whole year but did succumb to Non Fiction November. In my defence this didn’t require any list making or reading; just writing a few posts.
I also cut way down on the number of Net Galley requests and rejected most of the direct offers of review copies.
All of which meant that, apart from the commitment to read for a book club every month, I had complete freedom over what I read. It was so refreshing to be able to browse around the local library and choose whatever took my fancy. Equally refreshing to go to my own bookshelves and select whatever caught my eye.
Somehow I managed to read 12 books that qualify for my Years of my Life reading project . (the link takes you to the list of books I’ve read). When I started that I thought I would read two books for each year (one fiction, one non fiction) but on reflection I think that’s too ambitious so I’m going for just one from each year. I also anticipated reading each year in order but then reconsidered on the basis it felt too much like ‘reading from a list’ which is something I’ve learned I don’t enjoy. So I’m free wheeling.
On the other hand …
I didn’t make much progress at all with the backlog of books I already owned (far too many temptations at the library).
Despite stating that: “I’m going to try and restrain myself so I don’t purchase zillions of new books….” , what happened was that after a period of restraint at the beginning of the year, things went completely awry at the end of the year.
Hence the list of books I own but have not read, has risen still further. I acquired 71 new books in 2018, most of them in the last five months of the year. Some pruning of the shelves between Christmas and the New Year helped bring the total down but as we start 2019 I still have 289 books awaiting my attention.
Nor did I do very well with my intention to read more books in translation and from authors in different parts of the world even though I took a subscription to the Asymptote book club for that very reason. Of the 12 books I received I managed to read only one – The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge. I did tick off one new country (Cuba) from my world of literature project by reading The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa. By the end of the year I got my total to 37 countries against my target of 50.
Favourite reads of 2018…
I saved the best until the end. My final book of the year was simply outstanding. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is enigmatic, intense, hypnotic. How this never even made it to the longlist for the 2018 Booker Prize is beyond my comprehension.
Other highly commended books:
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh: the memoir of a neurosurgeon gives a graphic account of the mysterious world of the brain. In between he vents his frustrations of working within the NHS.
Sugar Mother by Elizabeth Jolley. My first experience of this author. A strange but seductive story. I enjoyed her writing so much I went on to read another by Jolley – Miss Peabody’s Inheritance (review to follow soonish) which was equally superb.
Three Things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon. For once a much hyped book that deserved the accolades.
Now We Shall be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller . Not as powerful as his earlier novel Pure, but still a very polished work of historical fiction
The Ladies Paradise by Emile Zola. Less dark than some of his other novels but still shows Zola’s ability to capture the essence of parts of French society. In this case his attention is on the rise of the department store as a new form of commercial activity.
The Duds of 2018
There have to be some don’t there?
The worst books were obviously the four I couldn’t finish: G by John Berger; Ritual 1969 by Jo Mazelis, When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen and The Librarian by Salley Vickers.
But that was then…
We’re in a new year so it’s time to set new goals. Watch this space …..
Let’s get the good news out of the way first. Last month you may remember I said that, because I’d broken my upper humerus, I had limited movement in my arm. Good progress has been made in the past month and I no longer walk like a penguin. I can do pretty much most domestic and social activities unaided now, including drive my car. Freedom at last!!! I even managed a three hour baking class last week where we were throwing around a heavy batch of bread dough (I did it left handed just to be on the safe side).
Apart from trying to coax my damaged wing back into health, what else was I up to on October 1, 2017?
I’m not one of those people who makes a habit of simultaneously reading multiple books. Two I can manage providing they are in vastly different genres (a crime novel say and a more literary novel, or a novel and a short story collection) but unusually I have three books on the go at the moment.
The first is my 44th Booker Prize winner – Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre which won the prize in 2003. This is not one I was looking forward to read and it seems I am not alone. Although some reviewers thought it highly comic, others hated it and didn’t feel it deserved to win the prize. It’s set in a town in Texas in the aftermath of a mass shooting of students at the local school. One student, Vernon Little, is taken in for questioning and gets caught up in the legal and media circus. I’ve not yet read far enough to judge whether this will be one I enjoy but it certainly has a unique style.
By contrast on my e-reader is a psychological story that became a cinema classic when it was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock with the leading roles taken by James Stewart and Kim Novak. The film was Vertigo and the book was D’entre les morts (From Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. It was published in English as The Living and the Dead in 1956 and now re-issued under the new Pushkin Vertigo imprint. Apart from re-locating the action from Paris to San Francisco, Hitchcock seems to have stayed fairly close to the original story of a former detective asked to help an old schoolfriend who is concerned about the increasingly strange behaviour of his wife. Interest in his quarry becomes a dangerous obsession however.
My third book is a re-read. It’s a novella which has become a stable of the school syllabus in the UK for 14-16 year olds. I’d never read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck until four years ago when it was chosen by the book club I belonged to at the time but loved it (my review is here). Now I’m re-reading it to help coach a young girl in my village who is being bullied at school so studying on her own until a solution can be found.
Reflecting on the state of my personal library
One of my goals for 2017 is to enjoy the books I already own and to reign back on acquiring yet more. I started 2017 with 318 unread books. I’m holding steady to last month’s total at 274. I bought just one book in September: The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) by Emile Zola published in 1883 as part of his Rougon-Macquart cycle. This one focuses on the world of the department store, a form of retail outlet that is very familiar to us today but was an innovative concept in the mid-nineteenth century. Until then, shoppers had to visit separate establishments for different items but with Le Bon Marché (the model for Zola’s store) they could find all their purchases under one roof. The book was adapted by the BBC for a costume-drama series The Paradise broadcast in 2012 and 2013.
Thinking of reading next…
I don’t know what I’ll be reading later in the month other than one of the remaining six Booker prize titles from my list. It’s a long time since I read any of the Louise Penny novels I bought on my last trip to the USA ( I much preferred the covers of the US editions to the British ones) so a return to her fictitious village of Three Pines could be on the cards. I also found a little collection of Penelope Lively books when I was hunting through the shelves recently and its ages since I read anything by her. As always there are too many choices!
Watching: I read Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time at the time it was published which is now about 30 years ago and went on to read and enjoy many more of his novels (his early output is, with the exception of the magnificent Atonement, superior to his more recent work.). The recent BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch was a reminder of just how powerful a study of loss and grief The Child in Time is and of McEwan’s versatility as an author.
Required viewing in our house at the moment is The Great British Bake Off. I’m frustrated by the intrusions of the commercial breaks but other than that the series hasn’t seemed to have suffer much by it’s move away from the BBC ( I never did like the Mel and Sue double act). There’s a new series of The Apprentice starting I think this week – this is a show that is probably on its last legs. The last few series they seem to have scraped the barrel and found the most inane and useless candidates possible. They talk a lot about how great they are but I wouldn’t let them anywhere near any business of mine. It’s good for a laugh though.
And that is it for this month. I hope by this time next month the arm will be back in operation again. Until then, happy reading everyone.
This week’s Top Ten topic (as hosted by Broke and Bookish) is “Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning To Start But Haven’t.” This could turn out to be a very short post in that case since I don’t tend to be a reader of series. Or at least I didn’t think I was until I took a look at my reading over the last few years and the list of books I own but have not yet read. It seems I am already part way through a few series. So let’s talk about those first.
Current Series Reading
The Rougon-Macquet cycle by Emile Zola: a sequence of 20 novels written by the French author between 1871 and 1893. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire), the novels follow the lives of the members of two branches of a fictional family. Zola planned in this sequence to “study in a family the questions of blood and environments.” In other words, he wanted to advocate his theory of naturalism by demonstrating how people are heavily influenced by heredity and their environment. So far I’ve read four of the 20 and each one has been excellent. I have another title on my 20booksofsummerreadinglist which will get me quarter of the way through the collection. That’s fine, I’m in no hurry. If you don’t know Zola’s work and want to get more familiar with it, take a look at the superb readingzola blog created by Lisa and Dagny.
Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope: a sequence of six novels set in the fictitious English county of Barsetshire and its cathedral town of Barchester. The novels concern the political and social dealings of the clergy and the gentry but don’t imagine that means they are rather dull – the novels are full of power struggles, social class clashes, financial disasters and frustrated affairs of the heart. They also contain some of the most magnificently rendered characters I’ve come across in literature. I’m half way through the series – next up in my Anthony Trollope project is Framley Parsonage which was published in 1861 and features a young vicar whose aspirations to move up in the social circle make him vulnerable to the machinations of a Member of Parliament with a reputation for debt. More info about Trollope can be found at the Trollope Society website
Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny
We’re now at book twelve in a series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Head of Homicide at the Sûreté du Québec. Louise Penny’s protagonist is a man of great integrity, a man who refuses to shirk from uncomfortable truths or to turn a blind eye when he senses corruption and wrong-doing even at the heart of the police force. But he’s also thoughtful, gentle and warm – not only to his wife and son in law but to the inhabitants of a small community in the province of Quebec called Three Pines that he discovers during the course of one of his investigations. Three Pines is a superb created fictional place; it’s so small it doesn’t even show up on maps, yet it is home to Gabri who runs the bistro, the acerbic poet Ruth, Myrna who owns the bookstore and the artist Clara Morrow. Each book that takes us back to Three Pines means we get a chance to meet up with these old friends. I’ve read six of the books published so far (a new title is due out this August) but I didn’t read them in sequence. Penny has said each novel is meant to be self-standing but to get the full effect of the character development they are indeed best read in order. So that’s what I’ve now started to do. You can find more about Louise Penny at her website
Series I may not finish
The Shardlake novels by C. J Sansom. I’ve enjoyed a few of this historical crime series which feature a laywer called Shardlake who takes on the role of the ‘detective’. Sansom is a historian by training which enables him to bring the Tudor period to life with all its political machinations, religious upheaval, sounds and smells (he does smells rather well). There are six in the series starting with Dissolution which was the first I read. I’ve read four now – the last one being number 5 in the series; Lamentation (reviewed here) – and though I’ve enjoyed them, the level of enthusiasm has begin to wane. If I wasn’t so close to finishing I probably would give up now, but it seems as Macbeth said
I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er. (Act 3, Scene 4)
Future Series to Read
Palliser Novels by Anthony Trollope: Once I finish the Chronicels of Barsestshire I’m planning to move onto the Palliser novels. This is a series of six novels written between 1864 and 1879 which feature a wealthy aristocrat and politician Plantagenet Palliser, and his wife, Lady Glencora (although they don’t play major roles in every title). The plots involve British and Irish politics in varying degrees, specifically in and around Parliament. There is a bit of a cross-over of characters with those in the Barchester Chronicles – Plantagent Palliser has a small role in The Small House at Allington for example and he has an unwise flirtation with the daughter of Dr Grantly and granddaughter of the Reverend Mr Harding, characters who appear in The Warden and Barchester Towers. The Victorian Web considers the Palliser novels to be superior to the Barchester Chronicles
Strangers and Brothers by C. P Snow: This series of 11 novels, published between 1940 and 1970, is one that has been on my radar screen for about 30 years. So keen was I to read them that I made my husband trek from bookshop to bookshop in Hay on Wye just so I could get all of them in the same Penguin livery. All the novels are narrated by a character called Lewis Eliot whose life we follow from humble beginnings in an English provincial town, through to a reasonably successful career as a London lawyer. In future years he becomes a Cambridge don, and sees wartime service in Whitehall as a senior civil servant. They deal with – among other things – questions of political and personal integrity, and the mechanics of exercising power. This series may not be familiar to you but you’ll possibly have heard the expression Corridors of Power – this is the title of book number nine but was referred to in an earlier title in the series. The term went on to become a household phrase referring to the centres of government and power. Its still in use today though the name of its originator has faded from the public’s mind. What constituted ‘required reading’ in earlier decades is barely heard about now. I’m just hoping that when I do start reading the series, that trek around Hay will prove to have been worth the effort.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and the Bookish asks for 10 books I’m most looking forward to in the first half of 2017.
Since I am planning to put a temporary halt on my book buying habit for those months, (out of necessity) the books I am looking forward to reading all come from my TBR.
In no particular order here is a selection.
1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
2. Border Country by Raymond Williams
3. A tale for the time Being- Ruth Ozeki
4. The Murder of Halland, Pia Jul
5. The Kill, Emile Zola
6. The Cheltenham Square Murder, John Bude
7. Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata
8. A Brief history of Seven Killings, Marlon James
9. True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Cary
10. Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth
As you can see this is a mixture of Booker prize winners ( I am determined to finish this project!) and some novels in translation. I’ve also given myself an indulgence in the form of The Cheltenham Square Murder. The Kill is the second in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series which is another little project of mine. I bet few – if any of you – will recognise the second book on my list…. Border Country is by a Welsh author who when he wasn’t writing fiction was one of the leading literary academics in the 1970s and 80s.Among his most important academic works is The Country and The City in which he used alternating chapters on literature and social history to consider perceptions of rural and urban life. Border Country was first published in 1960, then re-issued in 2005 as one of the first group of titles in the Library of Wales series, having been out of print for several years.
Those are the books on my radar screen. How does your wishlist for next year look?
On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens
Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas game and giveaway.
Our task today is to come up with book titles that match the third line of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. This means yet more birds but hopefully slightly easier than day 2. Remember you can try to stick to the prompt of ‘french hens’ for titles of books or authors (??) or cover images though other than a cookery book I’d be struggling with this. OR you can go off piste and be creative.
Booker Talk Titles for Day 3
I failed even more miserably with French Hens than with yesterday’s prompt of turtle doves, so I have had to think more broadly. I don’tt know that these qualify as hens since the authors are not all female, but here are three French titles from my TBR list.
The Kill by Emile Zola: I became enamoured with Zola when I read Germinal so have been slowly reading other titles from the Rougon-Marquet series. It’s a long term project since there are twenty books in the cycle. Here’s the status of my Zola project so far. I’ve picked The Kill (in French this book is known as La Curée) because it’s book number 2 in the series. Apparently this is a different kettle of fish to the predecessor La Fortune des Rougon that I read last year – The Kill is a study of the next generation of the Rougon family and the wealth they acquire but it also a plot involving sexual and political intrigue.
Candide by Voltaire: I’ve never read anything by Voltaire so when I saw this – the only title of his I’ve heard of – in a secondhand charity shop I snapped it up but in three years I’ve never felt compelled to open it. All I know is that its a satire first published in 1759 which features the young man, Candide, who lives sheltered life in which he is indoctrinated by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. This lifestyle comes to an abrupt end and Candide then begins a painful process of disillusionment. The philosophical content is putting me off rather – have any of you read it? If so, would you recommend it?
My third title is another classic – this time by Balzac who I read for the first time in 2015 and loved. La Cousine Bette. This is an 1846 novel set in Paris which tells the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots the destruction of her extended family. The book is part of the Scènes de la vie parisienne section of Balzac’s novel sequence La Comédie humaine (“The Human Comedy”).
Now over to you – here’s How to Play:
Come up with book titles or book images or anything book related (could be the name of a location mentioned in the book or a character) that matches with either ‘French’ or ‘Hens’ or both if you are feeling adventurous. Let’s see how creative you can be. I’m looking ideally for 3 titles/images etc . You can mix and match your nominations.
Put your titles into the comments field of that day’s post. Don’t just give me the name since you could easily get that from a Google search – tell us something about the book itself. Why did you choose these titles – are they from your TBR or ones you’ve seen mentioned on a blog. Please try not to just use lists from Goodreads etc.
Feel free to blog about this on your own site or via Twitter using the #12days hashtag
There’s an incentive to play along with this which is a giveaway of a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository
To participate, your list of books must be in the comments field by 10pm GMT/5pm Eastern Standard Time on Sunday Dec 4.
Day by Day Prompts
Day 1: Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day 2: Turtle Doves
Day 3: French Hens
Day 4: Calling Birds
Day 5: Gold Rings
Day 6: Geese a-Laying
Day 7: Swans a-Swimming
Day 8: Maids a-Milking
Day 9: Ladies Dancing
Day 10: Lords a-Leaping
Day 11: Pipers Piping
Day 12: Drummers Drumming
Rules of the Game
1.Each day a post will go live on booker talk.com matched to the task for that day. All you to do is post a comment with your list of books on the page
2. Each day try to come up with 3 titles. No need to think of 11 books featuring pipers or eight with maids in them. This is meant to be fun not mission impossible…..
3. Participants are encouraged to be creative with the names of titles matching each day. But the books do need to be in existence – no scope here for making up your own titles.
4. The number of contributions per person will be totalled and the one with the highest number will win the prize. So if you post three titles for day 6 and 5 on day 11, that gives a total of 8 points.
5. Contributions should be entered on the page within the time limit stated each day – typically I will give 48 hours between the time I post the day’s challenge and when comments will be closed.
6. You don’t need to play every day in order to be entered for the prize. Some days will be easier than others – and anyway you have all that shopping and packing still to do
7. There is only one prize – available internationally. The Prize winner will be announced on the blog around about the 15th of December.
6. The prize is that you get to choose a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository that I will arrange to ship to you. This will probably not arrive until next year given the last postage dates for international mail.
With 168 unread books on my shelves you’d think there was no need for me to go looking for anything new. Strictly speaking that’s true – I don’t actually ‘need’ any more books. It’s more a case of I just love the thrill of buying/borrowing/acquiring. Which is how these newcomers are now gracing my bookshelves. There would have been one more except that the only bookshop in the centre of Cardiff had sold out of Wyl Menmuir’s The Many – clearly they hadn’t expected it would get long listed for the Booker prize. Good news for the author and for the publisher but not so good for readers. I’m not sure whether this is significant but they had plenty of copies of all the other long listed titles…
Anyway this is what I’ve bought recently….
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: This is the choice for the next book club meeting middle of August. It’s set in the 18th century on a tiny island in the bay of Nagasaki and thus midway between east and west. A young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune and experiences the clash of cultures, corruption and passion. I bought it knowing I probably wont get to read it in time for the discussion (already over committed with #womenintranslation month and #allAugustallVirago) but the shop that hosts the club is a small independent and they need our support.
Breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes: This is the first time I have ever ordered a book before it was even published. Pereine announced last year they had commissioned two writers to visit the Calais refugee camps (often referred to as The Jungle) and use this as a source of inspiration for a collection of short stories. The eight pieces now publishedare about escape, hope and aspiration told through the eyes of the refugees themselves, and also volunteers and local citizens.
The Complete Guide to Contemporary World Fiction by M. A Orthofer: I received an e-copy of this for review earlier in the year and found it a rich source of information about writers from different parts of the world. But the e version isn’t easy to navigate and this book is one I know I will want to refer to again and again. My review of the book is here.
The Kill by Emile Zola: I’m gradually acquiring titles in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series as part of a project to read all 20. I have a few I bought many years ago but they are not Oxford World’s Classics editions which I like for the introductions which give helpful context about the historical context of each title. Some of the titles seem harder to get than others so when I see any of them I grab it immediately. The Kill was the second novel in the series and is set against the background of the massive redevelopment of Paris and the birth of the modern city. Zola used a story of a woman driven into a scandalous affair to portray French society at the height of decadence.
I’ve also downloaded e-reader samples of all the Booker long listed titles so I can get a taste of the style though it’s unlikely I’ll get to read any of them other than The Many before the shortlist is announced in mid September.
What have you all been buying/acquiring recently or are you reigning back on the purchases for a while?
Seeing that comment in Simon Heffer’s column in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph column, I nodded in agreement and also felt it was a bit of an obvious comment. Who but a fool (or maybe people with compulsive buying habits) would fork out to buy something they wouldn’t use?
Unless they are someone who buys a book with very good intentions of reading it even though there is that voice in their head muttering “don’t kid yourself you’ll get round to reading this.” Someone like me in fact when the transaction involves the purchase of non fiction books.
Which is why I have a large stack of them. Unread. Not even opened.
Sure I have a large pile of unread fiction titles but I do pick some out and read them (doing pretty well on that front so far this year in fact).
But the non fiction titles? Forget it.
Some date from at least 10 years ago when I thought I should learn more about the sustainability issue than I could glean from newspapers. Others were bought in a vain attempt to keep up to date with the latest business theories (I did manage three chapters of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and about the same with The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen). But some books about the political changes in China remain undigested beyond about page 3.
The only non fiction titles I’ve read in recent years have been either book related like the World Guide to Literature or craft related. I’ve not read a history book in easily 20 years. And yet I still buy non fiction. Last year I bought:
Both seemed eminently readable – I scanned them in the shop to make sure they were not top heavy factual tomes.
Have I read them? Er, no.
Will I do so soon? Er, not likely
And yet what did I do just last week? Why of course, I went and bought some more non fiction. Namely The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer and Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind ( oh the irony of that purchase).
Most likely they will still be sitting in the same place on the shelf this time next year.
Don’t ask my why I do this. I have no idea. But I know its a bad habit I need to get out of.