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Books On My Autumn TBR List

toptentuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday looks to that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and asks what we’ll be reading this Autumn from our TBR. Making a list of what I’m going to read is always tricky for me since I don’t like planning too far ahead knowing that I am highly unlikely to stick to the list. I prefer the serendipitous approach where I can. Plus  I have (foolishly??) embarked on a university module about children’s literature so will need to devote some reading time to those texts. But in the interests of playing along with the game here’s a list of books that might have a chance of being read in the next few months. I’ve gone for a mixture of Booker prize winners, crime, books in translation and classics.

  1. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. I’ll be reading this as part of my Booker prize project. It won in 1988 (he went on to win the Booker again in 200finklerquestion1 with True History of the Kelly Gang. This will be my first experience of reading Carey’s work but so many people have said this is a great book that I will begin with high
    expectations.
  2. Another from my Booker list is The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson which won in 2001. I know from various comments on this blog that it’s not to everyone’s taste but I dipped into it a few weeks ago just to get a feel for the style and didnt have an issue with what is generically labelled ‘Jewish humour’.
  3. An Elergy For Easterly by Patina Gappah: This is a collection of short stories that was on my #20booksofsummer list but I never got to finish
  4. Frog by Mo Yan. My knowledge of authors from China is pitiful so this is an attempt to remedy the situation,spurred on by the deeply moving experience of reading about the Cultural Revolution last week via Madeleine Thien’s knock out Man Booker 2016 shortlisted title Do Not Say We Have Nothing.  Mo Yan won the Nobel literature prize in 2012. Frog,  first published in Chinese in 2009 is ostensibly the life story of the author’s aunt, a midwife, told through a series of letters to a celebrated but unidentified Japanese writer. It covers a broader period than Thien’s novel because it goes back to the Japanese occupation of China, then moves ahead to the victory of the Communist party in 1949, the hunger and violent political upheavals of the first 30 years of communist rule and, finally, the lurch to a peculiarly rampant form of state-directed capitalism. It’s going to be powerful I suspect.
  5. good-womenContinuing on the theme of China, this seems like a good time to finally get around to reading The Good Women of China  by Xue Xinran. She is a British-Chinese journalist currently living London and writing for The GuardianThe Good Women of China is primarily composed of interviews Xinran conducted during her time as a radio broadcaster in China in the 1980s. However, she also details some of her own experiences as a woman in China.
  6. English Music by Peter Ackroyd. This has been on my shelf since 2011.It was recommended when I asked for suggestions of books that would typify England. I ended up reading a different recommendation – Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea   but now think it could be time to revisit Mr Ackroyd.
  7. Candide by Voltaire. This is book number 4 on my woefully neglected list of books for the Classics Club challenge. With less than a year to go I find I’ve read 28 out of the targeted 50 so time to put a spurt on.
  8. Ditto for the Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith which is on the list at number 5 and I did actually start reading it about a year ago but other things intervened. I don’t normally go for overt humour in novels but this sounded wry rather than laugh out loud.
  9. And now it’s time for some crime. Those misty/rainy days are perfect excuses for insulting in something a little dark but not too bloodthirsty. The British Crime Classics imprint sounds the perfect solution to me and thanks to the generosity of Ali at I am the possessor of The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts which is set deep in the English countryside. You can see Ali’s review here and why I’m keen to read this.
  10. 1947 club: This is an initiative by Karen at Kaggsy’s Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book which will run October 10-15. It’s only a few weeks ahead but I still don’t know what I am going to read. Maybe Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin which is based on the true story of a working class husband and wife who, acting alone, became part of the German Resistance. .More on the 1947 club is here

Disclaimers:

The order in which these books appear in my list has no significance at all. I reserve the right to read in whatever sequence I want ….

I equally reserve the right to read only some of them or indeed none of them if something else comes along that exerts a greater pull. 🙂

Review: The Clerkenwell Tales

clerkenwell talesThere are times when I see the blurbs on cover of a book I’ve just finished and wonder if I’d been reading an entirely different book. And so it was with Peter Ackroyd’s The Clerkenwell Tales; a book that seemed to have all the elements of a good read but proved to be — if not a dud exactly — a big disappointment.

I chose this novel to represent England in my Reading along the Prime Meridian challenge. It’s set in the heart of London in 1399 which was a tumultuous year in English history.  King Richard II, a staunch advocate of the divine right of kings to rule, has his throne threatened by a revolutionary army led by Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke is not the only one who wants to overthrow the King. Dominus, a clandestine group of high-powered officials that seems to be in league with an apocalyptic religious sect is similarly intent on causing mayhem. The atmosphere of fear and anxiety is exacerbated by a nun whose prophesies of Richard’s demise are unleashed on a superstitious public.

Murder, arson, conspiracy. With a plot like that, how can a book fail especially when written by an author with a tremendous skill with period detail? Ackroyd doesn’t disappoint in that respect. His descriptions of daily life, of meals and mystery plays, of footwear and headwear, of tooth sellers and medical potions turn the past into a fascinating though smelly present. Next time I’m feeling ill, I won’t bother my local GP, I’ll just follow one of the cures from the leech featured in Ackroyd’s book.

‘he was much discomforted by her heaviness of stomach and suggested she mix the grease of a boar and the grease of a rat, the grease of a horse and the grease of a badger’s, souse the concoction in vinegar, add sage and then put it upon her belly.

The problem with this book is the way Ackroyd chooses to tell his story.  Each of his chapters is named after a character from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Each of these characters has only partial knowledge of the plots and intrigues so what the reader experiences is a gradual revelation of the story. It’s a clever idea, almost akin to the way witnesses in a trial contribute to the jury’s understanding of the whole picture,  but since none of the characters enters the story for more than a few pages it’s difficult to get know them in anything more than a superficial way. It’s such a shame because some of them have a lot of promise that is just bursting to be fully realised. But it never does.

Sunday Salon: Not the greatest of weeks

sundaysalonThe end of January was one of those weeks when all you want to do is hide under the duvet. After the relief on Monday of learning that I wasn’t going to be out of a job, came the shock of learning which of my colleagues would not be so lucky. There isn’t any good way to tell someone they are being made redundant. It doesn’t matter how rationale the explanation, there’s still that feeling of ‘why me?’. And for the ones left behind, a touch of guilt that they somehow survived, and their friend didn’t.

With all of that going on, I really couldn’t summon up a load of enthusiasm for reading or blogging. It didn’t help that one of the books I’m reading has turned out to be a disappointment. I chose Peter Ackroyd’s Clerkenwell Tales to represent England in my Reading along the Prime Meridian challenge on the basis that it’s set in London which is where the Prime Meridian is deemed to begin. I also knew from reading Hawskmoor many years ago that Ackroyd is very skilled at conveying the spirit and history of the  city.

But it’s turned out to be not as riveting as I’d hoped. It’s great at conjuring up the smells and atmosphere of the place towards the end of the fourteenth century and conveying details about the attitudes of its citizens. It’s meant to be about a plot to destabilise the country which is already in crisis with the threat of civil war, a story told in fragments by multiple participants. The character list is the same as that found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales except that Ackroyd’s figures never really go anywhere. Problem is that this device means we don’t really get to know any character in depth so its hard to feel engaged with them. I’ll finish it (it’s not a very long book) and hope that the other Ackroyd I plan to read – English Voices – is a more rewarding experience.

In other news……

I did manage to finish A S Byatt’s Possession well ahead of the Book Club meeting middle of this month so that gives me plenty of time to think of some discussion topics. I’m confident we’re going to get some very mixed reactions to the book. You can find my thoughts in the review I posted.

 

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