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Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Howards EndUnlike author Susan Hill I don’t live in an old rambling farmhouse with aged beams and cosy nooks from which I can look upon “gently rising hills and graceful trees”. Nor sadly do I have an elmwood staircase that could take me up to a landing with overflowing bookcases. But I do know the sensation of coming face to face with a mountain of unread books.

Climbing the stairs one day in search of a book she knew was there, Hill discovers “at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred” that she had never read. Among them are recommendations from the Richard and Judy book club, Booker prize winners, classics, childhood annuals (charmingly she still gets The Beano every year) and an old alphabet book.  She resolves to spend a year reading only those books already on her shelves, forgoing the purchase of new ones, which, she admits, is a strange decision for someone who is both author and publisher.

I wanted to repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading and to map this house of many volumes. There are enough here to divert, instruct, entertain, amaze, amuse, edify, improve, enrich me for far longer than a year and every one of them deserves to be taken down and dusted off, opened and read.

We get some delightful and often surprising titbits: about the time when as an English student at King’s College London, she  devoured detective stories as light relief from Beowulf (one can understand why!). Or the unexpected encounter with EM Forster in the London Library. Having bent down to pick up the book an elderly man had dropped on his foot she looks up to find herself looking into the watery eyes of one of the grandest of the grand old men of literature. But here he was “slightly stooping and wholly unmemorable.” and yet “the wonder of the encounter has never faded.”

 

I warmed to her after reading the chapter where she recollects the magic of receiving the gift of books as a child. It was impossible to disagree with her that today, with such easy access to books, we have forgotten how special they were in our past. For Hill growing up in the 1940s they were rare treats.  Every Christmas brought annuals that she read so often she could memorise the stories but the most precious gift she remembers is her first pop up book. Some of these she still has and one of the pleasures of her year of reading from her bookshelves is going through the collection.

Over the year, Hill draws up a list of 40 titles that she thinks she “could manage with alone, for the rest of my life”. It’s absolutely not a ‘best books ever written’ type of list but ones she considers has special meaning for her. The list tells you a lot about her taste and her foibles. Trollope gets two places, as does P G Wodehouse; Dickens is there with Our Mutual Friend, Virginia Woolf with To the Lighthouse and E. M Forster (not Howard’s End surprisingly but A Passage to India).

The list is significant for its omissions. There is little in the way of European authors unless you count Dostoevsky as ‘European’ – no Zola or Camus however. The Americans are represented by Edith Wharton (the House of Mirth) and Henry James (Washington Square). Her rationale for the poetry choices tell you that she is in essence a conservative reader.  “I do not read much poetry now, and rarely anything new,” she admits. “I know I should. Should. Ought. But I don’t and that’s that. Perhaps I don’t need to. I can recite the whole of ‘The Lady of Shalott’, after all.”

She is without question a woman of firm opinions. Some I found it hard not to agree with, such as her love of the physical feel of a book (she loathes e-readers) and her aversion to the fashion for reading the “very latest book everyone is talking about.” She has little patience with people who pretend to have read certain classics or who boast about the number of books they read each week (“Why has reading turned into a form of speed dating?” she asks). Jane Austen she finds boring but considers Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower to be a masterpiece and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s work is long overdue for a re-issue.

The interjections spice up what could easily have become a pleasant but otherwise inconsequential journey through one woman’s reading preferences and habits. Hill has an edge that nicely counterbalances the sometimes whimsical tone and in her final selection of 40 has made certain to stir up debate.

Bookends #13 – summer reading

An occasional round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed (and often I missed them too)

As predictable as the ‘Must have Christmas gifts’ and the ‘get in shape for the beach’  feature articles, newspapers have started trotting out that annual stalwart: “must read books for your holiday.”

The Sunday Times “Suitcase Essential” feature listed 100 of what they claimed were the best books for the summer. The basis for their selection wasn’t explained but we had a variety of history, biography, memoirs, and science titles plus of course a fiction list. Out of the 50 fiction titles, they singled out five as  ‘top choices’

  • Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend which it described as “an addictive read”
  • The Green Road by Anne Enright summarised as “a heart-wrenching novel about family secrets. The newspaper is tipping it for the Booker Prize this year.
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, described as “an exquisite nobel that feels wrenched from the author’s heart”
  • Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster – considered a vivid description of small-town life. This is the only one I’ve read. I thought it was a superb study of how a recently widowed woman slowly claws her way back into some form of a life.
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters –  a “superb tale” according to the Sunday Times
  • The Cartel by Don Winslow which is described as a superb thriller on a par with TV’s The Wire

Surprisingly given the amount of attention garnered by The Girl on the Train, this didn’t get a mention in the crime & thrillers category. It did however make the summer selection published recently by the  Financial Times. 

It’s interesting to see how different the two lists are in their selections. The FT selects two of the big stories from this year so far – Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins and Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in 10 years, The Buried Giant— though both are missing from the Sunday Times list.  But the most significant difference is the selection of works in translation or by authors from outside the British/American camp. The Sunday Times manages just two as far as I can tell; The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara and The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Dadud, an author who seems to be creating rather a stir with his retake on Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. The Financial Times however gives us a special list of fiction in translation. The title that most caught my attention was Wolf, Wolf, by Eben Venter who provides a scathing perspective on the new South Africa. it could however be next summer by the time I get around to reading this…..

If you want to read the Financial Times list in full, click here

And this doesn’t help you fill up your bookshelves, you could always take a look at the list of upcoming new publications put together by The Millions.

What to read in 2015

You’ve read everything on your ‘to read’ shelf (ok, I’m joking) And got through everything you were given as a Christmas gift. So now you’re in the mood to look ahead and start planning what to read over coming months. Naturally the authors and publishers know that no matter how many books lying unopened on your shelves avid readers always want more.

This year will see new issues from some of the foremost writers of our times (work from at least three Nobel Laureates) and a few second books from people whose debuts got them noticed.

The selection below is just a fraction of course of what will be published (they don’t include science fiction, YA or fantasy since none of those genres have appeal for me).  If you think I’ve missed something new and notable, do let me know.

And of course tell me what you’re most looking forward to reading.

February

This month sees the posthumous publication of the final book written by Iain Banks. It’s a collection of poetry written in collaboration with his childhood friend and fellow science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. Publisher Little, Brown will issue this to mark what would have been Banks’ 61st birthday

Neil Gaiman brings out his third collection of short fiction Trigger Warning which includes some previously published pieces of short fiction and a special Doctor Who story written for the fiftieth anniversary of the series in 2013. One story in the collection, “Black Dog,” is a new work of fiction that revisits the world of American Gods,

From  John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, comes  A History of Loneliness, a story of an Irish priest who has endured recent, founded outcries against the church. He’s forced to examine his role in this scandal.

TylerAnd if you love the work of Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Tyler, watch out for her 20th novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, which she says will be her last. Like many of her previous books, it is a family saga set in Baltimore, as told by the aging Abby Whitshank and her husband Red, who will soon need to be cared for by her children and grandchildren. Tyler talks about this novel in a BBC interview 

SJ Watson aims to repeat the soaring success of Before I Go to Sleep  with a new novel. Second Life. It’s another psychological thriller featuring a woman leading a double life.

March

IshiguroArguably the literary event of the year happens on March 5 when Kazuo Ishiguro publishes his first nobel in 10 years.  The Buried Giant is set in Britain during the Dark Ages, opening as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years. Details are scarce but according to Ishiguro, this is a novel about  “lost memories, love, revenge and war”.

That’s enough to hook me, and anyway this is by Ishiguro so sure to be good. Hence why I’ve already put my name on the wait list at the library…

Two years ago, Huffington Post named Hanya Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees,  one of their Best Books of 2013.  I added it to my wish list though have yet to get to it. Now she returns with an epic tale of four talented but frustrated college friends trying to find their way in New York and how their friendships shift as the years pass.

One book The Guardian has suggested we keep an eye out for is an unusual work in translation due out in March by Máirtín Ó Cadhain.  They describe The Dirty Dust as an exuberant novel set in a graveyard and told entirely in the voices of the dead. Apparently it’s been labelled the most important prose work in modern Irish though by whom it’s not clear. Could be a good one though for people who like something different.

April

Two Nobel laureates hit the bookshops this month.  God Help the Child by Toni Morrison is about race, family dysfunction and how past traumas reverberate to the present. Her publishers are keeping quiet so further details are hard to come by but just Morrison’s name will make it certain this book will be hard to miss the closer we get to the publication date.

it’s taken two years to translate into English but Mario Vargas Llosa‘s The Discreet Hero, finally gets some exposure outside his native country of Peru where it has been a best seller.  The narrative follows two businessmen – one the victim of extortion, and one whose children want to kill him.

JaneSmileyEarly Warning by Jane Smiley is the second instalment in her Last Hundred Years Trilogy, which follows a single Iowa farming family and its descendants from 1920 to 2020. The first book,Some Luck covered the Depression years and World War II. The new book starts in the midst of the Cold War and takes readers through Vietnam and into the Reagan era.

May

So successful was Kate Atkinson with her 2013 novel Life after Life (I disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it) that she’s chosen to go back to the same family for her next book A God in Ruins. It’s about the fortunes of Teddy, the younger brother of Ursula Todd (the girl who kept dying in Life after Life). He’s a RAF pilot and aspiring poet.

Amitav Ghosh, whose Glass Palace I reviewed recently will publish the final novel in a trilogy this month. Flood of Fire starts in 1839 when China bans the lucrative opium trade from British plantations in India.  An expeditionary force is despatched to try and reverse the decision but when they arrive in Hong Kong they get caught up in what became known as the first Opium War. Knowing Ghosh this will be as meticulously researched as his other historical novels.

This month sees the publication of the last novel written by Kent Haruf who died last year. In Our Souls at Night he returns to the fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt with a story of a widower and a widow who come together and begin  sharing the aspirations, disappointments and compromises of their long lives. This could be one to cherish.

June

Judy Blume is an author who needs no introduction, having brought pleasure to millions of children and young adults during her 16 year career. With In the Unlikely Event she branches into a new field with her first novel for adults in which she tells the story of a community reeling in the wake of a series of freak plane accidents.

Love + Hate by Hanif Kureishi was meant to have come out in December to mark Kureishi’s birthday but for some reason publication was delayed. This is a collection of  short fiction and essays. One story features a Pakistani woman who has begun a new life in Paris, there’s an essay about the writing of Kureishi’s acclaimed film Le Week-End, and an account of Kafka’s relationship with his father. The book ends with a long piece of reportage from which the collection takes its title, about the conman who stole Kureishi’s life savings, a man who provoked the author’s admiration but also revulsion

Another offering from the Faber stable is The Festival of Insignificance by the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the French-Czech novelist Milan Kundera. It’s been fifteen years  since publication of his last novel, so his fans will likely be disappointed that his first book after so long is a very slim one indeed It’s a story of four friends in Paris who talk self-importantly about “sex, history, art, politics, and the meaning of life” while simultaneously celebrating their own insignificance (Library Journal).

July

 Benjamin Markovits, one of  Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists publishes You Don’t Have to Live Like This, a tale of two college friends who hit on a plan to revitalise poor neighbourhoods in Detroit. One friend is an ex Yale graduate now down on his luck and the other is a wealthy player in the dot com phenomena.  It seems like a foolproof idea but they soon find themselves in the midst of everyone else’s battles.

If you loved Captain Corelli’s Mandolin then you’ll be keen to get The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières which is another epic romance set around the first world war.

August 

August brings us a short novel by one of the biggest names in literary fiction. Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie is inspired by ancient traditions of storytelling. There’s a playful clue in the title but you have to do a bit of arithmetic to find it (hint: add up the numbers).

Attention on world conflicts of the twentieth century continues unabated and who better to help us reflect on the impact of  World War 1 than Pat Barker. She took a break from the 1914-18 period for a few years but returned in 2007 with Life Class, the first part of a trilogy about a group of characters in the London Blitz. Book 2 in the sequel, Toby’s Room, came out in 2012 and this year sees the completion with publication of Noonday in which she moves her characters forward to the early years of the second world war. One of the characters in the book was named by a reader who won an auction staged to raise money for Freedom from Torture, a charity that provides therapies and support to torture survivors.

September

Jonathan Franzen’s Purity is the story of a young woman named Purity (or Pip) who is on a quest to uncover her father’s identity, with a “mythical undertone”. There have been hints that he’s adopted a different style for this novel, moving away from his usual realism to a more ‘fabulist’ style.

Novelists have been experimenting for the last few years with new media as a story telling device. The latest to tread the path of interactivity is Iain Pears whose novel Arcadia will be published both in traditional book format and as an interactive app. The idea apparently is to showcase the time-slipping narrative of a spy turned academic.  According to his publisher, Faber,  the novel’s characters’ lives will intersect in vivid ‘time-slip’ stories. As it mixes genres, periods and styles it can be read as a traditional linear story or episodically – reading and omitting sections as they choose.

PaulTherouxI couldn’t resist slipping one non-fiction book into the list though I very rarely read them. It’s a surprise to find Paul Theroux coming out with a new travel book – his last trip covered in The Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola had to be abandoned because it was too dangerous to cross through the Congo. He’s in his seventies so he can be forgiven for wanting to be closer to home for his next travel. Deep South sees Theroux set out for the southern states of the US that he has never before explored.

October

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk (Faber). The ninth novel from the Nobel laureate conjures the changes in Turkish society over the last few decades from the point of view of an Istanbul street vendor.

October marks the start of a major international project in which Shakespeare’s plays will be retold by acclaimed novelists. Jeanette Winterson‘s re-imagining of The Winter’s Tale launches the series this month.

Sebastian Faulks used to be one of my favourite authors though I found his latest novels rather disappointing. Maybe he will have found his winning formula with Where My Heart Used to Beat.  The title is taken from Tennyson’s In Memoriam and is an exploration of memory, desire and the madness of the 20th century.

November/December

These are both rather fallow months, presumably because publishers it’s too late for the Christmas market.  All I’ve found of interest so far is a new title by Kenzaburō Ōe , the Nobel winner, Death by Water is about an internationally acclaimed author’s investigation into the mysterious death of his father.

 Other notable issues

If you’re still hungry for more then keep an eye out for these second novels from authors whose debuts made a splash.

  • Belinda McKeon whose first novel Solace won the 2011 Faber Prize and was voted Irish Book of the Year, comes out with her second book in April.  Tender is described by publishers Picador as “a dazzling exploration of the complexities of human relationships.”
  • AD Miller follows up his Man Booker shortlisted debut, Snowdrops (reviewed by Booker Talk here  with The Faithful Couple, a story of male friendship. Publishers Little,Brown say it’s a  ” story of a friendship built on a shared guilt and a secret betrayal… They clearly have ambitions for this novel since they consider it “a literary novel with mass appeal as well as the potential to win prizes”. We’ll see if that comes true when the book gets published later this spring.

Taking the plunge with the TBR

2015tbrbuttonI didn’t join in any challenges last year despite multiple temptations because I wanted to focus on my own projects. As the new year beckons however I’m feeling that I need a bit of a nudge to clear some of the backlog of books on my shelves. The 2015 TBR challenge run by Adam at Roof Beam Reader came just at the right time so I’ve signed up.

It’s a very doable challenge since I can combine it with my projects (we’re allowed to double count books we read). Of the 12 books I’ve listed, four are from my Classics Club list, four from my Booker Prize winners list and the remainder from my world literature reading list.

And for once I know what I’ll be reading first – Daisy Miller/Washington Square by Henry Miller.

Books for the festive season

sundaysalonNewspapers in the UK pay scant attention to books normally but there are two occasions in the year when the question of book purchasing moves way up the agenda for their publishers.

Half way through the year we start seeing features recommending the books we should take on our summer holiday. For some reason newspaper arts editors seem to think we are interested in knowing what books actors and politicians will be reading. I’m always suspicious when I see the titles chosen by the latter —they sound so dull and worthy that they’ve probably been scrutinised by political advisers desperate to make their chap (or chapess) seem intelligent.

And then we get to the second point in the year, the one we are in right now. In the run up to Christmas you can be sure to find articles giving you suggestions of what to buy as gifts for grannie, little James and Agatha and impossible-to-buy-for brother.

This week saw the Daily Telegraph publish their ‘Books for Christmas’ annual feature which promised to bring a selection of ‘the year’s best books’ to the notice of readers. There are the usual autobiographies of minor actors and pop stars and the kind of compendium books that only ever make an appearance this time of the year. I’m going to cross every finger and toe I possess that no-one in my family follows through on some of their recommendations ; I absolutely do not want a biography of Beyoncé, nor can I imagine myself whooping with delight upon unwrapping 100 Things You Didn’t Know About Maths or 101 Two Letter Words which apparently sets the dictionary words of two letters in a rhyming quatrain.

The fiction selection promises far richer offerings. The columnist Tim Martin bypasses many 2014 published books by big name authors or that we’ve seen popping up in fiction prize lists. So Ian McEwan is out as is David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest, as Martin looked instead for titles that “took little for granted, questioned established structure and kept the reader perpetually off balance.'”. The resulting list is a blend of lesser known names with some that will suit people who like a challenge.

Here is his selection

  • Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill: charts the breakdown of a marriage using fragmentary narrative style
  • Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer: described as “a doomy, hilarious, thoughtful Cambridge comedy”
  • Shark by Will Self: a prequel to last year’s novel Umbrella
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsworth: this was long listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It’s written in a pseudo-Saxon form of English so might be best read after a few glasses of ginger wine
  • Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets Do They Live For Ever? by Dave Eggers: a novel about a lunatic who kidnaps his way up the American chain of command.
  • Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère: a tale of a Russian prankster, author and politician
  • How to be Both by Ali Smith: shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize (and should have been the winner IMHO)
  • Tristano by the Italian writer Nanni Balestrini: this has to be the oddest title on this list. Each copy is unique since the sentences forming the text are shuffled, giving unique variations running into 16 digits. Nevertheless Martin says it is oddly compelling.
  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustevedt: a multi voice novel about a female sculptor who publishes her work under several male aliases
  • Look Whose Back by Timur Vermes: I think he is a German author. This novel is a comedy in which Hitler is reincarnated in modern-day Germany where he becomes a You Tube sensation
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk: a short debut novel about a writer teaching in Greece
  • End of the Days by Jenny Erpenbeck: a story based on the concept of one-life-multiple-outcomes
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers: mixes current themes like bio-terrorism with a passion for classical music
  • In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman: Martin describes this as the year’s most interesting first novel, a ‘gobbling up of ideas around the financial crisis, war, terrorism, philosophy’

Do any of these pique your interest? From this list I think I’d be most inclined to go for the ones by Zia Haider Rahman and Jenny Offill. Which reminds me that I haven’t put my request list into my family yet. I’d better get going…..

 

A list too far

When Amazon came out with a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime earlier this month, the members of LibraryThing took umbrage at the fact the oldest book on that list was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. So they created their own list of 100 books older than 200 years.

I confess that until last summer every time I saw a list like this I couldn’t resist doing a count of how many of the titles I’d read myself. As if was giving myself an end of term report card. What I was really hoping of course is that I would end up with the marks of an A student not a D. Mostly though I landed somewhere in the category of ‘should try harder’.

But part way through the summer months I began to go off lists. I’d glance at them but didn’t feel compelled to grab a pen instantly and start doing the count.

I’m not exactly sure what caused the turn around. Maybe it was just a case of one list too many. Summer and Christmas seem to be two points in the year where we get a plethora of lists — what to take to the beach, books to read at the poolside, books to read on your Amazonian trek (ok I made that one up); 12 Christmas stocking filler books; Books of the Year … and on and on it goes.

Some of these lists are clearly confectionary dreamed up by creative folks in marketing departments desperately thinking of some new initiative that will get the number crunching accountants off their backs.

BucketSome seem bizarre — I don’t know when I’m going to die so how do the creators of the 100 Books to Read Before You Die list, know? They can’t possibly know either how quickly I can read so I might get through 100 books in a couple of years but you might romp through them in one. So what happens then, is there a follow up — a kind of ‘100 Books part 2.’

And others are ones that irritate me. They’re the ones that have the word ‘must’ in the title. For example:

50 Must Read Novels

100 Novels Everyone Must Read

25 American Novels Everyone Should Read in their Lifetime

Must Read Books Around the World

I object to the somewhat hectoring tone of these. Who are these people to tell me what I must or must not do? ‘Recommended’ or ‘Suggested’ I can live with but not ‘must’  I object i suppose to the idea contained in that word must — that if I don’t follow their prescription and read all of these books then I can’t be considered well read or educated. Thanks for making me feel inadequate! At a time when we want to encourage people to read anything, giving the impression that you have to read 50 or 100 books is surely the wrong message?

I also question the choice of books. I know each of us has our favourite novel or writer and can’t believe they are not included in the list. Reddit has a discussion thread on the Amazon list in which there are multiple comments bemoaning the exclusion of particular authors and the ephemeral nature of some of the choices (Gone Girl and Hunger Games are hugely popular certainly but do they really have enough staying power to be on the list along with the likes of The Long GoodbyeGreat Expectations or The Sun Also Rises?)

Even more of a turn off for me is that these lists have a very narrow lens on the world of literature. Predominantly they come from the canon of Western literature — you might be lucky and find a few well trodden paths into French, Russian or Spanish literature via the tried and tested stables of Dumas, Tolstoy or Cervantes but beyond that there are slim pickings. Little from the East even though it’s Japan that’s often considered as providing us with the first ‘novel’ (The Tale of Genji) and nothing from India or Africa. As I’ve found through bloggers writing the View from Here series on this blog, these countries do have a literary vein that would be worth opening up to the world.  Until someone is creative enough to develop a list of recommended reading from Africa, or India, from China or Japan and other parts of the world, I’m going to ignore lists.

What’s your view on this?  Do you have a fascination with lists? What value do you think they have that I may be missing?

Sunday Salon: Sizing up the issue

sundaysalonIs there a pair of fat trousers in your wardrobe? Maybe it’s a skirt or dress instead. I’m talking about the garment that many of us have lurking in the cupboard somewhere. The garment that you take out every now and again to guage whether you need to hold back from the ice cream or choccie biscuits for a while or step up the time on the treadmill. My own version is a taupe coloured silk skirt I bought from Episode for an awards evening more than a decade ago. It was part of a suit and while not designer prices, was more than I normally spent on clothes so  I’ve been loathe to discard it even when I could no longer kid myself that it fitted me.

It’s at this point that you are probably wondering what this has to do with our normal Sunday Salon catch up on bookish related things. Has BookerTalk gone completely off her rocker you may be thinking. In the words of the (fictitious) Prime Minister in the House of Cards tv series I’m currently watching: you might very well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Fear now however, there is a connection. Of a sort.

You may (if you’ve been paying attention over the last few weeks) recall that I was bemoaning the fact recently that my acquisitive nature has meant I have too many yet-to-be-read books to fit into my bookshelves. Hence why I am following a self-imposed ban on buying anything new for a while so I can focus on reading a few of the ones I already own.

Now I could easily judge my progress by ticking them off as I read and coming over all smug when I see those little symbols creep up. But I decided I needed something rather more visual.

Dec aquisitions 2

Sizing up the problem: Christmas gifts 2013

I have a pile of books bought as Christmas presents that are currently lurking on the floor, feeling rather neglected while they wait for a space to become available on what I like to think of as ‘my’ bookshelf. There is another little collection that I snuck into a bookcase shared with Mr BookerTalk hoping it would hide the fact I was buying rather lots of books towards the end of the year. I am not sure whether he has noticed but the game will be up before long I’m afraid…. There are 15 books I’ve found so far.

So I’m going to use these two piles as my version of the fat trousers. I’ll know I’ve made progress when I can fit all of these into ‘my’ bookcase.  It’s not as easy as one in, one out since books come in different thicknesses as you all know. But once I can fit into the space again, then like all good weight watchers, the hard bit will be to keep it that way and prevent the equivalent of the midriff bulge coming back.

I’m planning to make a little more progress later on today. But first things first — would you just mind passing me that wicked looking chocolate biscuit…

Sunday Salon: Taking Stock

booktowerThe new year has been ushered in with the usual burst of activity on the personal effectiveness front.  Whether you want 2014 to be the year you really do lose weight, or you’re aiming to get fit, learn a new skill, get a new job or just up the happiness quota, you can be sure one of the newspapers or magazines in the UK has run an article on the topic in the last couple of weeks. January apparently seems to the one month in the year when people up and down the country take stock of their lives and resolve to do something different.

I’ve been doing a little of my own stock-taking on the reading front over the last week and I don’t mean just thinking about goals and plans for the year. I mean I’ve done a tally up of all the books that are on my To be Read (TBR) shelves.  This has been the first time in my life I’ve ever done this and it’s been a eye-opening and somewhat sobering experience.

I wouldn’t have even embarked on the exercise but for the fact that I couldn’t find any space for the books I received as Christmas presents.  Bookcases throughout the house seemed to be full and the ones I use just for my  TBR books were  jammed tight with novels doubled up on every shelf.  There were some in piles on the floor but these were threatening to topple over.  As I looked around at the mess, I realised I didn’t actually know what was on those shelves or in each pile so if I wanted a particular title I wouldn’t know if I already had it or where it would be found. So I began taking them out in armfuls and putting all the titles and author names into a document.

And then I counted them.

Now if someone had asked me a month or so ago to estimate how many books I owned but had yet to read, I would have put it around the 50 mark. Maybe 60 at a stretch.

How wrong I was.

I have, it seems a total of 110 unread books. This doesn’t include, by the way, any books on my e-reader nor does it include titles my husband bought for himself but which I also fancy reading at some point. If I were to include those, the list would go up to around 150.

Now I know that some bloggers have far more than that on their TBR list (I think the highest I saw was 250 cited by one person). But I don’t read probably as many titles in a year as many others seem to be able to do; at my pace I have more than two years worth of reading already in my home.

Some of them have been there for at least 3 years. It could in fact be longer than that because I don’t absolutely know when I acquired them. Some were Christmas or birthday presents which I may even have requested but then forgot I had or went off the idea of reading that author. But by far the majority are ones I’ve bought for myself, especially after I began reading other blogs and picking up their recommendations. December was an especially bad month since I bought 10 novels that month. Shopping for gifts for family and friends was clearly too much of a temptation.

I can’t help thinking about all the money wasted if I don’t now get on and read these books. Until I made a sizeable hole in the pile, I can’t really justify buying anything new. A book buying ban is now in place in the BookerTalk household.  I’m not going to make this a challenge or put a timeline in place (I haven’t forgotten that only a week ago I said I wouldn’t be taking on any new challenges). Realistically I know I won’t be able to avoid all temptation for a year but at least when I do succumb I will be making sure that it’s something I am really really want.

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