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Saint or sinner??? It’s confession time..


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?

dog earedGuilty.   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??

Forgotten Books

One of the comments made frequently by reviewers is how a particular book lingered with them long after they reached the final page. I’ve certainly had that experience with a few novels (Germinal, Petals of Blood, Crime and Punishment, The Heart of the Matter come to mind as prime examples).

Most novels for me however are more transitory experiences. I enjoy them at the time and since the general sensation of pleasure does remain, I am glad to have read them. Some I might even re-read at some point. But I don’t continue to think deeply about them in terms of their message or theme for much longer than that immediate experience.

And then there are those that I cannot honestly recall ever having read. I only realise the fact when I open it again or find it at the back of the shelves. They’re not awful otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered keeping them. They’re just things I allowed to pass before my eyes in a sense, something that whiled away the time but never really engaged my brain beyond the superficial level.

The ObservationsI came across one of these yesterday while doing a bit of a clean up of the bookshelf and desperately hoping to find some gaps so I could fit in my new purchases. It was The Observations by Jane Harris.   Instantly I recalled that I had planned to read this last year but never got around to it. I was just putting back on the shelf when a moment of doubt began creeping in. I read the synopsis on the back. It definitely sounded familiar. But then that might just have been because I’ve looked at it many many times in the year or so since it first came into the house (deciding each time that I wasn’t in the mood). I started flicking through the pages, skim reading a paragraph here and there. It didn’t take long before reality sunk in. I have indeed already read this.

But when and where was another puzzle.  Until I started this blog I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question. A quick search revealed that I was reading it on November 1 last year, finding it “a very readable historical mystery novel set in a remote manor house in Scotland. I must have finished it otherwise I wouldn’t still have in my possession but I can’t have rated it highly because I never wrote a full review. Clearly it didn’t make of an impact on me. In fact if someone asked me what it’s about I would struggle to say more than it’s about a maid, a mistress who makes very odd requests and the suspicious death of a previous servant. The rest is blank shall we say.

I know this isn’t an isolated example of a book that I’ve forgotten I ever read. I used to read lots of crime fiction and frequently took books home from the library only to realise half way through that the plot sounded rather familiar.

If my memory is this bad, I have no hope of emulating the reader who has used her Goodreads account to record every book she can remember reading, including those from her childhood. It’s taken her four years to get to 1,000 books. She clearly has a much better memory than I do – I think I would struggle to get even half way to that number. I certainly don’t remember everything I read as a child.

The article she wrote for The Guardian doesn’t say how she managed this extraordinary feat. The quickest route would be to look up the various category lists or author lists, scan them and add titles to your ‘read’ shelf. But she clearly went beyond that since she also says in her article that of the 1,000 she enjoyed only about 700. Which means that it wasn’t a case of recognising a cover and thinking ‘oh i read that one’ but actually recalling what her reaction was.

Just to put this into perspective. I have 200 books on my “Read” shelf at Goodreads  which is only a small fraction of what I’ve read throughout my life.  But knowing which books I’ve left off my list is tough. I know for example that I’ve read a lot of Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine but looking at the titles although they are familiar I can’t be sure thats because I read them or have just seen them in book shops so often. Even when I know for sure I read a particular title, trying to recall my level of enjoyment is a further challenge particularly given Goodreads’ five point scoring system.  I enjoyed Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and A Town Like Alice but would they both score a five or was one better than the other?. I have no idea. It’s enough of a problem trying to deal with the last 40 years of reading, going back into childhood would for me be nigh on impossible.

Am I a lone voice here with my memory deficiency? How much do you recall of what you read? Do you have the same issues with forgotten books??

Sunday Salon: on Goodreads and Amazon

sundaysalonJudging by some of the reactions to Amazon’s announcement this week that they are buying Goodreads, you’d have thought the Mayans got their calculations wrong and the end of the world is now, not December 2012 as originally predicted.

Whether you agree with those Goodread users for whom Amazon is the very antipathy of ethical business or those concerned about privacy under the new regime, the announcement has been enough to send them in search of  alternative reader forums. There are not many serious contenders.

  • is an attractive and easy to use cataloguing site which allows users to create and share three libraries containing any number of titles.  You can add comments on the books but that seems to be about, no discussion groups or abilities to link with other users it so not very appealing for those who like the book discussion options on Goodreads.
  • Shelfari LibraryThing. This one does have discussion groups as well as cataloguing but since it’s owned by Amazon, it’s not really an option for anyone trying to avoid Amazon. Since it’s unlikely Amazon will want to run two similar businesses, potentially we could see Shelfari close down anyway.
  • The biggest of the options and the only truly viable option is LibraryThing

I’ve been experimenting with both Goodreads and LibraryThing since September 2012, trying to make up my mind which is better suited to my interests. I haven’t reached a conclusion yet — both have advantages and both have elements I don’t care for much. If you are equally undecided, here are my thoughts so far..

Library Cataloguing/Book tracking: At the basic level, both sites make it easy for users to keep a personal library of books whether they are owned but unread, or yet to be acquired. Searching for a title and then adding it to your own library takes just a few clicks on either site. Both also offer good options for categorising and tagging. If you want something more sophisticated (for example, if you have some old editions of books published pre ISBN days or want to indicate a particular source from where you acquired the book) then LibraryThing offers far more options than Goodreads.But that’s a level of detail I don’t need. So either site works fine for me.

Winner: No clear winner for me but it depends on how serious a collector you are

Design/Appearance: Goodreads looks attractive, is well designed and its easy to find your way around the site.

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 11.54.04

Personal home page at Goodreads

Your personal home page is well organised – it shows you at a glance updates from other users with whom you are connected and quick links to functional tools like your library (called My Books) or Groups you’ve joined.

LibraryThing. Looks very old school web design in comparison.

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 12.03.20

The personal home page comes jammed with so many words it’s overwhelming. Some of it is helpful but most of the features are ones I’m really not bothered about (Zeitgeist statistics for example).  The design and the functionality gives the impression this is a forum for serious people rather than those brought up in the Facebook era. Apparently you can change the home page to remove the sections of little interest but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

Winner: Goodreads is a class ahead in this respect.

Beyond Lists:

The real value of both sites comes from the platforms they offer for people to connect with other users who have similar interests and to share thoughts on books they’ve just read or recommendations for future reads. There are many more users on Goodreads than on LibraryThing which suggests there would be more people with whom to connect. You can find pretty much any interest group whether its fans of a particular genre of book (women’s writing, science fantasy, etc) or particular authors or people who like reading the same title at the same time as others. Joining a group is simplicity itself on both sites and the members are always welcoming but there seem to be marked differences in the kinds of discussions themselves. LibraryThing appears to attract a more ‘serious’ type of discussion than Goodreads. Not so erudite that you’d feel loathe to participate if you didn’t have a Masters in Literature, but good thoughtful discussion beyond the ‘I like it’ type of comment (I know this is a huge generalisation but that’s what I’ve observed!).

Winner: LibraryThing – I like the way the groups I’ve joined introduce me to books and authors I’ve never heard of previously. A few of the GoodRead groups I joined never got beyond basic commentary.

Ease of Use: Now this is where, for me, the waters part in a very significant way. LibraryThing  is a wiki and some of its features  require the use of html. For example, if I want to participate in a group with my own thread, then to even make the title bold requires me to remember the format <b> name of book </b> each time and if I want to include a photo it’s an even more complicated sequence. I still haven’t figured out how to just post a picture straight from my laptop – instead I have to put it on Flickr first and then do some copy/paste stuff. I know regular users don’t have a problem with this but to me its a stupid waste of time.  Goodreads simply says that some HTML can be used, but doesn’t insist on it

Winner: LibraryThing needs to up its game here. We live in a Mac and Windows era where users should be able to execute any instruction with a simple click or double click.

What have your experiences been with these sites? Any favourite?

Favourite books of 2012 – the readers’ lists

It”s that time of the year when newspapers, magazines and blog sites like to fill up their spaces with lists. One of the oddest for me is a feature on people who died in the year in question – not sure I understand what value that has other than its easy to do.  Lists about books are popular of course because they’re often combined with features on the perfect Christmas present to buy your mother, gran, aged aunt, horrible nephew etc etc .

The feature pieces that ask politicians and celebrities of various status levels what they would most like in their Christmas shopping list, always amuse me. I can imagine some of them agonising over their choice, particularly the politicians. Do they chose a book to show off their street cred or something erudite that give us mere mortals the clear sign of how serious and intelligent they are?? I wonder how many of these longed for books actually get read.

It’s more interesting to find out what ordinary readers actually rate as the best books of the year. So far we’ve seen two of these. One from the members of Good Reads and the more recent one from followers of the Book Riot blog site.   There is some is common ground between the two lists (marked with *) J K Rowling shows up on both as does Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which I’ve heard good reports about. Miracle of miracles Fifty Shades is on neither.  Apart from the fact they seem heavily weighted towards American authors, what struck me about both lists is the absence of many heavy hitting authors. Only the Book Riot list includes Erdrich’s National Book Award winner and the Man Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel while the GoodReads list includes just one of the Booker longtlisted novels (Pilgrimage of Harold Fry). Is this just a reflection of the fact that word about these books is slow to percolate and interest will increase once more of them make it into more affordable paperback versions? Or is this somehow a reflection of the profile of members of these sites?


Here’s the Book Riot one 

Of this list of 25 I have read precisely one (Hilary Mantel)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (94 votes)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (80)

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (26)

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (23)

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (21)

The Twelve by Justin Cronin (21)

*The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (19)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (18)

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields (17)

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (17)

*This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (16)

Arcadia by Lauren Groff (14)

*Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (13)

The Round House by Louise Erdrich (13)

*Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (13)

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (12)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (12)

*Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (11)

*Canada by Richard Ford (11)

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (11)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (11)

*The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (10)

Every Day by David Levithan (10)

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (10)

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (10)


And the GoodReads list

Of this list, I’ve also read just one (Harold Fry)

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling 11,525 votes

Where we Belong – Emily Griffin

Home Front – Kristin Hannah 

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

*This is How you Lose Her – Junot Diaz

*Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

*Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

* Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Dicks

Grown up Kind of Pretty – Joshilyn Jackson

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

*The Dog Stars– Peter Heller

Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver

In the Shadow of the Banyan– Vadday Ratner

The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson

Running the Rift – Naomi Benaron

A Walk Across the Sun – Corban Addison

Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon

*Canada – Richard Ford

*Billy Linn’s Long Halftime Walk – Ben Fountain

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