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Blog Feedreaders – Recommendations Needed

sundaysalonOn this grey and rather windy Sunday I’ve been doing some clean up of the long list of blog sites I follow – not just for book stuff but other interests like genealogy and crafts. Problem is to keep up with all of these in a reasonable time frame which is where feedreader are enormously helpful. But I’ve yet to find a great one so I’m hoping a few of you with more experience than I have can come to my rescue.

I currently use two readers:

  • one that is part of WordPress which I like in some ways because I can decide whether I want each new blog post sent immediately on publication or a weekly digest. i also like the fact I can get the alert coming into the email in basket so I can quickly decide do I want to do anything other than read it (such as like it or read comments, or add a comment). But it does clog up the email basket quickly. However I know I am not good at keeping up to date with the Reader Feed on wordpress itself and there is no way of marking which post I read. Nor can I find a way to put different blogs into categories so I could get one feed for book bloggers, another for publishers and another say for genealogy.
  • Because WordPress can’t meet all my needs I created a Bloglovin account which fills in some of those gaps – it lets me put groups of topics together. But it’s not that user friendly. For one thing -I don’t like the fact the reader gives me only a few lines of the post and to read more I then have to click and then often to leave a comment click again. And then if I want to tweet this or include the url in a post I find it shows the bloglovin url rather than the actual url on the site. Very time wasting. The big problem however – and this is getting to me more than an irritation  – Bloglovin  does not like to work on my iPad. It keeps crashing no matter how many times I try uninstalling/reinstalling and then updating.

There has to be a better solution around – one that will work effectively with Apple products which is all I have (laptop, phone and tablet). I want a reader that is uncomplicated to use, gives me flexibility to manage feeds of different categories and from different blog host platforms) and is ideally free.

What do you all use – have you found an ideal solution? Please let me know before I lose all my hair and nails fretting about this.

New acquisitions – aka “I can’t stop buying”

NewpurchasesWith 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?

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday afternoon blues

Today sees me with a touch of the blues. Instead of revelling in the blue of a summer sky I’m staring out of the conservatory windows at wall to wall grey sky and heavy rain.  So frustrating to be able to look out onto the garden and see all the jobs that need to be done and not be able to get out and do them. My lovely rose bushes look very sad and forlorn after the thunderstorm on Friday. The sweet peas need a bit of propping up so they can climb up the trellis and there are some new perennials I bought last week to fill in gaps in the borders that are still sitting in tubs awaiting planning. Sigh. Sigh and triple Sigh. I really hope this isn’t going to be another one of those wash out summers which are a specialty of dear old Blighty. That never happens in books does it? There, the summer is always perfect. Girls get to wear floaty dresses and sandals, everyone goes off for picnics by the river (such idyllic scene marred only by the discovery of the odd body or two) or linger late into the evening on their patio/terrace/lawn amidst the remnants of the barbecue.

You know, I think those people campaigning for the UK to leave the EU have missed a trick in showing the link between our membership of the EU and the crap summers of recent years. They’ve blamed every other woe to befall UK on our membership so why not rubbish summers? I bet if they were to promise warmer, sunnier times if we voted for an exit, they’d do a roaring trade.

Amid all this doom and gloom I did have one reason to be cheerful this week. Earlier in the month Kim at Reading Matters hosted a giveaway of Richard Flanagan’s back catalogue to mark the fact Vintage Publishing has just repackaged his works for UK readers. Her timing was perfect because I had only recently read his Booker prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North which bowled me over and left me wanting to read more of his work. Amazingly I won. So yesterday morning bright and early the postman greeted with this delightful package of five of his novels: Death of a River GuideThe Sound of One Hand ClappingGould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve FishThe Unknown Terrorist and Wanting.

The delivery didn’t include the plant by the way –  just the books I should emphasise. I tried taking my own picture of the collection but it wasn’t anywhere as good as the one Kim did on her post. My only dilemma now is to decide which of these titles to read first. I’m leaning towards The Sound of One Hand Clapping which Goodreads describes as “A sweeping novel of world war, migration, and the search for new beginnings in a new land…. The Sound of One Hand Clapping is about the barbarism of an old world left behind, about the harshness of a new country, and the destiny of those in a land beyond hope who seek to redeem themselves through love.”

Doesn’t that just get your heart fluttering with anticipation?

Maybe instead of just staring at the rain I should cover my windows with pictures of these books. That should deal with the fit of the blues shouldn’t it?

 

 

 

 

An eventful week

sundaysalonSome weeks seem to pass without any noteworthy events or developments. And others are full of them. Last week fell into the latter category for me.

This week I posted my 500th post on this site; not bad going considering that when I posted my first item four years ago I really had no idea what I was doing (I know a little more now but still feel I’m in the learner category). Many people have said that a blog site is a bit like having a puppy for Christmas – it’s all wonderfully new at the beginning and then as the weeks go buy you realise just how much hard work it involves. Blog sites, like puppies, do need feeding and maintenance and a bit of TLC from time to time. Never did I envisage how much time could be absorbed just on the maintenance side of the blog let alone creating new content… But hey, I made it!

Another cause for celebration was that this week marked by 32nd wedding anniversary. We celebrated by going to the cinema to watch the live broadcast from London of Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet. This is not my favourite Shakespeare play by a long way – I find Hamlet a most irritating character (on a par with that other fictional ditherer Jude the Obscure). But Cumberbatch’s performance was stunning; delivering the most athletic version of Hamlet I’ve ever seen and far superior to the Mark Rylance performance I saw many years ago).  The production values were extremely high (as you’d expect from the National Theatre) but the set was the most enormous I think I have ever seen.   A truly memorable evening.

Rhoose library campaignA milestone of entirely different nature happened on Tuesday when I got to have my day in court in the campaign to save our local library from closure. It was the culmination of 13 months of effort with some intense work load in the last four months, poring over documents from our local council, gathering witness statements and evidence and responding to claims and counter claims. As a journalist I attended hundreds of court sessions but never one like this where there were no witnesses or cross examinations, just the legal teams fighting it out and quoting legal precedents to back up their arguments with the judge interjecting when she disagreed with their comments or reprimanding them when they stepped outside the law. Now we’re in limbo until the High Court Judge makes her ruling.

Next week looks a little quieter – maybe I will even get a chance to catch up on some reviews.

How has your week been? Any significant milestones achieved?

 

Confession time: faking a reading experience

sundaysalonImagine this scenario.

You’re in a coffee shop with friends (or bar, or restaurant, dinner party, whichever appeals to you most). At some point one of your friends begins talking about a classic book they thought absolutely superb, one maybe that had a big impact on them when they read it years ago. Being a book enthusiast you’ve heard of it of course. But you’ve never read it. Or you can’t remember reading it but feel surely you did because it’s such a classic?

Do you admit you never read it — and put up with the looks of astonishment that result?

Do you find a way to get out of the conversation, maybe even making a quick exit mumbling something about finding the loo/rest room?

Or do you assume your most interested look, dig deep into your head for anything you know about this book so you can at least make a contribution that gives an impression you’ve read it.  Maybe you comment on how a minor modification in the punctuation of the opening of Moby Dick  gives it a completely different meaning. Maybe you talk about reactions to the film adaptation and how it wasn’t faithful to the original. Anything really that gets you out of a detailed discussion on particular episodes, plot devices or characters.

Ever since reading Andy Miller’s Year of Reading Dangerously (see review here ) and his admission he had pretended sometimes to have read a particular book, I’ve been wondering if I’ve ever been in that situation. And if so, how I reacted.

I know I did once in college when keeping up with the reading list proved too much and I couldn’t finish the assigned novel, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, in time (I never did finish it.) It made the subsequent tutorial so much of an ordeal I made sure it was never repeated.

Other than that, the only times I can recall are where a friend/member of a family has bought me a book they loved and then asked me for my reactions. Rather than offend them, I’ve skirted around the issue — commenting on the cover or the title for example, or how the author now has a new book out. Anything to stave off an admission a) I haven’t read said book because it absolutely doesn’t interest me or b) I couldn’t finish it because it was so poorly written. It’s hard work though so I think in future I shall simply be honest though of course, tactful.

So that’s my confession. Now how about yours?  Have you ever had to pretend you’ve read something when you hadn’t? Why did you feel you had to fake it and how did you do that? I’ve mentioned two situations when faking it might be understandable — forgiveable even — but are there other extenuating circumstances you’ve experienced.

I’m resolved to …..

It’s that ‘turning over a new leaf’, ‘making a fresh start’ time of the year. You can hardly open a newspaper at the moment without finding an article about how to lose weight, take up a new hobby, get yourself super fit. Have you noticed too how the publishing houses are heavily promoting self help books right now? Book bloggers are also, it seems, giving a lot of thought to the twelve months ahead – I’ve lost track of the number of posts I’ve seen in the last few weeks talking about reading plans for 2015 and new challenges.

I’m keeping my own plans very simple this year. As simple as they can possibly get.

1. I am resolved to enjoy the reading experience……..

Lest you think I have completely lost the plot, let me explain. When I first started blogging three years ago I got carried away with all the opportunities for challenges and readalongs. I ended up doing far too many and consequently hardly made progress with any of them. It also began to feel that I was reading just to tick a box instead of what I really wanted to read. I gradually weaned myself away and last year I cut them out all together, focusing instead on my own projects. That worked well. Ok I didn’t read as many titles from my Booker Prize winners list as I expected, or from the classics club list. And I never did get all the way along the Equator. In the last couple of days I’ve come to appreciate how little it really matters whether I read 5 or 15 from those lists. I’m not in a race, not even with myself. And so I’ve decided to keep pootling along with those projects this year. in case you’re wondering, pootling is a word we use a lot in our family. I love the sound of that word.  It means to move along at a leisurely pace, a bit like Mole and Ratty in Wind in the Willows.

2. I am resolved to make space on my bookshelves

I joined the TBR Challenge that Adam runs at Roof Beam Reader. There are many similar challenges around but I chose this one because it’s simple and very manageable. Just 12 books from the TBR pile in a year. Even I can do that one.

That’s it. I told you it was simple didn’t I?

The ofitreaders2015nly other thing I’ll be doing this year is trying to get back to the level of fitness I had two years ago when I was going to the gym four times a week. Last year I was lucky if I made it twice a week.  Fortunately there are some like-minded bookish people in the blogosphere who in the form of #Fitreaders. Although this is called a challenge I see it more as a online support network.  Whether it’s walking, dancing, golf, etc etc, you decide individually on your fitness goal and just share your progress. I bought a Fitbit device last year but it’s been gathering dust for a while. Time to re-activate it. My initial target is a very modest 5,000 steps per day on 5 days of the week. I’ll see how that goes before planning the next phase.

What are your plans for 2015?

Surely I’ve read more??

sundaysalonIt seems I have been operating under an illusion for the past few months. If you’d asked me one thing about my reading habit this year, I would have said that I read more of the current year’s new titles than ever before.  I didn’t set out with a plan to read the new works but I do like to have at least a sense of what’s new in literature. But when I saw the recently-announced list of 80 finalists for the 2015 Folio Prize, I realised the reality was very different from my perception.

Of those 80 books published in 2014, I have read just two: The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee and How to Be Both by Ali Smith. I’m half way through a third title – All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu and have three more on reserve in the library but I doubt they will get to me before the year is over. I know the list represents only a fraction of what was actually published this year, this is meant to be the cream after all, so it was entirely conceivable that I had read some 2014 titles that just never made the cut. A quick look at my reading list reassured me a little – there were another six works of fiction that I’ve read. Panic over!

The experience did make me look more closely at what I’ve been reading this year. I was in for another surprise – I finished only four titles from my Classics Club list which is very slow progress. If I’m going to complete the 50 books in this project by the target date of August 2017, I’m really going to have to get a move on.  I did considerably better with my world literature project fortunately (15 of the books I  read fell into this category).

I wouldn’t have known any of this if I hadn’t started keeping a list of everything I’ve read. I never did that before I began blogging so if you’d asked me what I was reading 5 years ago let alone 10 or 15, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Lists it seems do have their purpose.

How has your reading year been – any surprises for you too?

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…..

 

Bang goes the book ban

sundaysalon At the start of the year I pledged to cut down on buying new books because — like so many other avid readers — I already had far too many unread titles hanging around the house. According to my calculations I had 135 physical books yet to be read (I ran out of fingers and toes so there may have been a margin of error in that figure) plus an untallied number of e-books.

I’ve been good for most of the year with only one or two purchases of books needed for the local book club meeting. But all those good intentions have now gone by the wayside since August saw somewhat of an explosion in the purchasing department.

It was the perfect convergence of three factors…..

Reason Excuse #1: The Booker long list had been announced at the end of July and I wanted to read at least a few of the 13 titles before the winner is announced in October. I did try getting them from the library but had only marginal success so to make sure I had at least something to read until my requests came through, I ended up buying e-versions of Niall Williams’ History of the Rain and Karen Joy Fowler’s We are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

Empress Dowager Cixi.  Source: Wikipedia commons licence.

Empress Dowager Cixi.
Source: Wikipedia commons licence.

Reason #2: I had to hang around for a few hours in the city center one day and of course, gravitated to the bookshop and a number of books just leapt into my arms. I became the owner of:

Reason #3: Speaking of which, I am about to embark on an Open University module in early October and needed to buy a few of the set text books. I’m doing this purely as a way of keeping the brain cells ticking over but it still involves a lot of reading and some essay writing.  It’s a multi disciplinary course in which we look at philosophy music of Shostakovitch and the art of Cezanne. Some of those hold more interest than others for me (I have very little ear for music and Shostakovitch is certainly not a composer I appreciate) but I’m looking forward to the art sections and the history. And of course there are some literature components which is why I’ve bought:

  • Two plays: Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus and Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes
  • a book of poetry (The Faber Book of Beasts by Paul Muldoon) and
  • A World of Difference: an Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents edited by Lynda Prescott. This last one sounds a treat since it includes work by leading writers such as V S Naipul, Zadie Smith and Peter Carey. Their contributions are all on the theme of difference.

Even with all these purchases I’ve still got a TBR list of 134 which is smaller (fractionally) than when I started the year which is progress of a sort. Now I’ve got the book buying bug out of my system I should be able hold on for another three months without any more purchases.

Sunday Salon: Not reading but flying

sundaysalonI have a manager who apparently gets so completely absorbed in her book on an international flight that she doesn’t notice the slow passage of time. I wish my own experiences were of a similar nature.

Every time I get ready for one of these trips, whether its for business or pleasure, I start anticipating all the time I’ll have to do nothing but sit and indulge in something that in the normal course of a day, gets scrunched into the last 30 minutes or so. That dream never really materialises quite the way I imagine. Partly its because there is just so much stuff that distracts me on a flight and makes it hard to concentrate for any length of time when I’m in a packed-to-the-gills economy section.

I open my book before take off but there are constant interruptions via the PA system. Instructions to do X and Y ready for take- off; safety instructions about what to do in the event that we gently on top of a calm ocean instead of some hard tarmac and have to go whooshing gaily down a slide. Then there’s the captain’s welcome and the steward’s welcome and then the second officer to the co pilot adding his words of wisdom, none of which we can actually hear clearly but maybe important. Then of course there are more interruptions with drinks and meals to be served, duty free sold and landing cards despatched (and if you’re on one of the cheap and cheerful holiday flights you’ll get the added joy of being able to lottery cards and bottles of water).

Just when you think you’re in for a moment of peace, the person next to you decides they just have to go to the loo so you have to fumble with the seat belt which by now has managed to twist itself around your headphones cords and your ankles. Then the passenger in front thumps the release button so his seat back is now two inches in front of your nose. And the kid behind thinks its tremendous fun to start kicking the back of your seat.

Two hours have now elapsed and you’re only 30 pages into your book. Actually you’ve read 40 pages but since you keep losing the thread of what you’re reading, you’ve had to double up on some of the pages.

By then its time for the ice-cream to come around or the water. Or there’s been a slight wobble in the stratosphere so now you have to buckle up again.

An hour passes and you get into your book again.

But then the baby three rows down wakes up and realises it hasn’t achieved its daily quota of lung exercise. So makes up for this with double volume. And the baby three rows back thinks a little harmony wouldn’t go amiss so joins in.

Another hour of reading is enjoyed. But then its time for another loo visit by your neighbour. And since we’ve all been starved of calories for some time now, the food and drinks trolleys make a re-appearance. By the time that’s all cleared away, we’re nearly landing so we have to have a weather report and thank you for flying message from the flight deck.

Seven hours of reading time has got shrunk to maybe three or four at most.

Only once on a flight have I ever managed to read a book from cover to cover and that was because a) it was a night flight when everyone went to sleep except me b) I had a whole row to myself so no disturbances from passengers in the next seat.

Knowing this is the reality doesn’t stop me dreaming however, or stacking my carry on bag with way too much reading material.

Anyone have a strategy that has worked for you in these circumstances?

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