Reading Horizons: November 2019
What I’m reading now
I’ve been digging into my stack of “owned but unread” books in an attempt to bring some order to the chaos of the bookshelves.
A Change of Climate was published in 1994 and is nothing like any of the other books by Hilary Mantel that I’ve read. She never seems to write the same kind of book twice.
This one is focused on a couple living in Norfolk who run a charitable trust for homeless people; drug addicts and problem teenagers. In their early married life they worked as missionaries in South Africa at a time when restrictions are tightening towards the non white population. The couple’s liberal attitudes land them in trouble and they are arrested.
I’m half way through and while I’m enjoying Mantel’s descriptive style I think the book needs to move up a gear now.
By contrast I’m reading The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, owner of the second largest second hand bookshop in Scotland.
It’s a journal which details the day to day events including the number of books ordered, the number of customers and total sales for the day (horrifyingly low!) Shaun’s comments on his often eccentric customers and his eccentric shop assistant Nicky are wonderful because he has a great eye for the absurd. This should be required reading for anyone thinking of buying a bookshop because while it sounds like great fun, the economic reality is sobering.
What I just finished reading
After a run of three books so disappointing that I abandoned them (one of them after just 5 pages) it was a delight to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. From start to finish it gave a fascinating insight into the character of a woman that stamped her mark on the White House. I loved her honesty and her humility – even with everything she achieved, she constantly asked herself “Will I be good enough.”
The Bowery Slugger was an experimental toe in the water of crime noir. Set in one of the most notorious neighbourhoods in New York in the early decades of the twentieth century, it traces the downward spiral into violence of a Jewish immigrant boy. The level of violence was disturbing but the book was redeemed by its depiction of New York gang culture and the Jewish community.
What I’ll read next
A friend keeps raving about the Australian author Jane Harper. I have two of her novels, The Lost Man and Force of Nature, both of which are appealing. But I’m also in the mood for some Trollope so might delve into the next in the Barchester Chronicles – Framley Parsonage.
That should keep me busy for a while.
Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.
This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.
A few weeks ago the editors at Shiny New Books asked their team of reviewers (plus some friends) to reveal which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas.
I thought that was such a great idea I decided to do my own version but with a little twist. While we all enjoy giving we also enjoy the excitement of receiving. And so I asked bloggers, publishers, authors and avid readers based in Wales what book/s they’d most like to give as a Christmas gift but what book or books they secretly hoped Santa would bring them this year.
They’ve come up with an eclectic list incorporating a literary classic to a short story collection, a ‘clean eating’ cook book and, in one case, a novel that hasn’t yet been completed…..
Helena Earnshaw: Honno Press
Would love to give: Stranger Within the Gates by Bertha Thomas
“Obviously I love to give books published by Honno, and particularly from the Welsh Women’s Classics, hoping to introduce friends and family to these great women writers of the past! Stranger Within the Gates, by Bertha Thomas, is a favourite. Although written over 100 years ago, it has a contemporary appeal — it contains a witty pro-suffrage parody, as well as other sharply observed stories.
We’ve also recently brought out a new edition of The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, with a great new cover that makes a beautiful and interesting gift. ”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I am torn between three books. I’m hoping for The Original Suffrage Cook Book, originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for the campaign for the vote for women. The Women’s Atlas, by Joni Seager also looks like a fascinating resource as does Y Lolfa’s Codi Llais by 14 Welsh women about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.
“In fiction, I am hoping for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. A bit of a well known choice, with the upcoming film, but a recent interview with the author was so moving and fascinating that I feel I need to read the book. ”
Cerian Fishlock: Publishing student
Would love to give: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Of course you’d want to tailor a gift to your chosen recipient, but this is both my favourite book of all time, and the book I think everyone should read. It’s a phenomenal piece of literature, beautifully crafted, and causes you to question the basis of human nature. The Penguin Classics edition is a beautiful text, making it the perfect present for Stevenson fans and virgins alike.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I regularly buy myself a novel or work of fiction (thank you Waterstones for your buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), but very rarely pick up a non-fiction book for myself. Of course the New Year heralds the season of diet manuals and ‘get fit quick’ guides. Ignore those, head straight to Anna Jones’ vegetarian bibles instead. The Modern Cook’s Year and A Modern Way to Cook ignore all the jargon of current trends and offer realistic recipes which fit in with modern life — all wrapped up with mouth-watering photography.
An Edited Life by blogger Anna Newton, is an upcoming guide to getting your life in order (now available for pre-order in the UK). Whilst I’m not usually interested in social media stars turned authors, a quick peruse of Anna’s blog (The Anna Edit) will prove all the inspiration you need to overhaul your wardrobe/loft/kitchen/makeup… I could go on.”
Susan Corcoran: Blogger at booksaremycwtches
Would love to give: The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech
“This is a dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart. It’s a joy to read, heart breaking and exquisite. For me, it’s her finest book to date.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“The books I secretly hope Santa brings me are Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls. Having fallen deeply in love with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, it would be fascinating to read the story from a female character’s point of view.
The other would be A Keeper by Graham Norton. I loved his first book and really want to read this one.”
Thorne Moore: author
“I’d give Albi by Hilary Shepherd, the best and most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. It’s about real history and human nature in crisis.
I’d love to receive — from Santa, who is magical and can therefore achieve anything —volume 3 of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, because I am itching for it, so it would make the perfect Christmas present.”
Kath Eastman: Blogger at The Nut Press
Would love to give: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale
“I try and fit the book to its recipient and their interests but these are some of my go-to book gifts this year:
“The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is set in a toy emporium which opens in London when the first frost appears and shows how magical the imagination can be but there’s also a darkness to it as well which I loved. I think it’s a perfect read for this time of year.
“I’m giving crime fans Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife which is a really impressive debut looking at a woman who campaigns for, falls for and marries a death row prisoner, only for him to be released and for her to discover that’s when life gets interesting.
“My other choice would be The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas which is about an unlikely superhero: it’s geeky, humorous, heartbreaking and refreshingly different. I’d recommend it to fans of Eleanor Oliphant and comic book heroes alike.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I already have more than enough unread books to keep me going over the festive period, so I’d be happy with some book tokens for Christmas to put towards some of the terrific new releases coming in the New Year.
That said, I wouldn’t say no to finding the Costa shortlisted novel The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman under the tree, or John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, both of which really appeal to me.
Megan Farr: Firefly Press and Graffeg
Would love to give: The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
“A book I would gift to all children aged 8-12, as well as their parents, is this beautifully written and magical book by Catherine Fisher. It is the perfect read over the Christmas holidays, as the story is set in a snowy Victorian mid-Wales in the lead up to Christmas Day. When orphan Seren arrives as her new home she finds that the family is in mourning as their son has been missing for a year and a day. Seren sets off with the help of an enchanted Clockwork Crow to find him in this magical story of snow and stars from a master storyteller.”
Hoping Santa will bring….
“I am very much hoping to find Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Cassandra Drake by Posy Simmonds under the Christmas tree. I recently read The Rotter’s Club and very much look forward to revisiting the characters after the financial crash of 2008, following them to the present day, and seeing what Coe makes of the Brexit fall-out. I am equally excited to read Posy Simmonds’ first graphic novel in 11 years, being a huge fan. Her graphic novels are always a delicious mix of gorgeous drawing, brilliant characters and great societal observation.”
Anyone who was left begging for more when they reached the end of Bring up the Bodies, is in for a lengthy wait before they’ll be able to feast on the final part of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. In an interview for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) she revealed that she won’t finish writing the book until late in 2016 or even middle of 2017.
Apparently her involvement as consultant for the stage production of the Man Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies have distracted her a little though she was able to use cast members as sounding boards for some of her plot ideas. When her work on the Broadway version comes to an end this summer she’ll be taking a holiday and then planning to get back to writing in earnest. it will take her between 18 months and a year to finish the book.
Until then we’ll have to be satisfied with the few crumbs of information she’s divulged. We now know the following about Part 3:
- It’s called The Mirror and the Light
- It features the short reign of Jane Seymour and the long awaited birth of a male heir.
- We will experience King Henry’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
- The book marks the demise of Thomas Cromwell and his disgrace
Those titbits are all we’re going to get for some time it seems but they have whetted my appetite even more. I know what’s going on my Christmas wish list for 2016.
Wolf Hall and
As we’re only a few weeks away from the end of the year, the blogosphere seems to have been very active with ‘favourite books of 2012’ articles. On my blog this week I featured two of these lists – I found them both interesting more from a perspective of what they didn’t include than what was selected.
This has been an eventful bookish week personally. After months of inquiries that just sent me down further dead ends. I finally tracked down a book club relatively close to where I live. There are many clubs around but they don’t advertise themselves – members join via word of mouth it seems. Our library service wanted to help but since most of the clubs are held in people’s homes, they couldn’t disclose personal phone numbers. Very frustrating. Eventually I found one based at a small independent bookshop called Nickleby’s (which has the added advantage of course that I can browse and buy at the same time).
My first experience was on Wednesday. It was an venture into the unknown for me – I had no clue what to expect; a highly erudite discussion or a ‘Janet and John’ level of chat. It was just at the right level thanks to good preparation by the peson The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. You can see my review here. It’s fair to say this had mixed reviews – generally most people agreed it was a book of two halves but we didn’t come to an agreement on which half was the best. I got ‘persuaded’ to nominate the March read but it wasn’t easy coming up with something on the spur of the moment. In the end we settled for Posession by A. S. Byatt (selfishly, I chose it because its on my Man Booker prize reading list) ….
And in other news……
Have finally made a start on my backlog of reviews. I want to get these finished before year end and before the memory fades too much to write anything meaningful. First up was Bring Up the Bodies which won the Man Booker prize for Hilary Mantel this year which I’d read in August when it was on the long list. It’s as good, if not better than her earlier one about Cromwell (Wolf Hall).
The year is 1535. Thomas Cromwell has put aside his lowly origins as the son of a blacksmith and is now chief minister and leading statesman within the court of Henry VIII. He’s fast approaching the height of his career, having found a way for Henry to extricate himself from his childless marriage and uncovered a rich source of new income for the King through sequestration of monastic lands and buildings.
Most books featuring Cromwell concentrate on his work and achievements as lawyer and statesman. What makes Hilary Mantel’s novels about this period different is the way she reveals the man behind the titles and the legislative actions. The Cromwell she shows us, first in Wolf Hall and again in her sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is a complex character. He’s an astute business man with a thriving cloth trade with Flanders derived from relationships built during his years in that country. He’s a politician par excellence, nimbly navigating the myriad jealousies and jostlings for position amongst the gentry and aristocracy that surround the King. But in Mantel’s text he is also a loving and devoted father with a touch of humanity that extends to opening his home to the poor and needy who require food. The man who manipulates young, impressionable men into confessing they committed adultery with Henry’s new queen (Anne Boleyn) is the same man who is moved to tears when he finds the angel wings his dead daughter once wore at Christmas time.
It’s that duality of character that Mantel brings to center stage in Bring up the Bodies, conveying it in a third person narrative style that simultaneously has the intimacy of a first person narrator. Often those moments of character revelation come through short comments made almost en passant.
One such passage occurs when Cromwell is despatched by Henry to see the woman he divorced (Katherine of Arragon) in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Katherine is a problem that will not go away for this royal couple – she refuses to acknowledge the validity of the divorce, refuses to give allegiance to the new queen and is a focal point for Catholic plots against Henry. they need to know whether reports she is dying are true. What Cromwell sees is a shrunken figure of a woman swaddled in an ermine fur cape.
She is jaundiced, and there is an invalid fug in the room – the faint animal scent of the furs, a vegetal stench of undrained cooking water, and the sour reek from a bowl with which a girl hurries away: containing, he suspects the evauated contents of the dowager’s stomach.
Noticing the ermine fur coat in which she is swathed, the pragmatic side of Cromwell’s character comes to the forefront. “The king will want that back, he thinks, if she dies.’ But almost immediately the lens is changed to show his more thoughtful nature as he wonders whether Katherine’s dreams are of the gardens of the Alhambra she left as a young girl:
….the marble pavements, the bubbling of crystal water into basins, the drag of a white peacock’s tail and the scent of lemons. I could have brought her a lemon in my saddlebag, he thinks.
Four months after I closed the book, I could still remember that passage and the way Mantel shows Cromwell’s mind leap from the wizened creature he sees in front of him to a simple action he could have taken to remind her of a better life.
Moments like this abound within the novel. For that reason alone, Mantel for me deserved to win the Man Booker Prize in 2012.
It’s an astonishing achievement to win a prize like the Man Booker prize once in a lifetime. To win it twice is remarkable. To win it for two books out of a trilogy is truly extraordinary.
“you wait twenty years for a Booker prize and then two come along at once.”
And then immediately paid tribute to those who had not won and thanked the people who had believed in her and helped her to bring Bring up the Bodies to print.
She knew the stakes were staked against her – only two other authors have ever won the Booker prize twice and none of them had such a short interlude between each prize. Her final comment shows that she knows the stakes only get higher now:
“I have to go away and write the third part of the trilogy.”
The judges decision shows once again why I should never take to the Black Jack tables in Vegas. I always pick the wrong one – I kept saying for the last few months that as superb as I thought Bring Up the Bodies is, I couldn’t see the judges giving it to her just because it was the second in the series and was about the same character. Just shows how wrong I could be. But for once how the right the Booker judges got it this year.
I should also thank them for enabling me to tick another Booker prize winner of my list to be read!!