It 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?
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…..
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.
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:
- Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang (it’s rare for me to buy a non fiction book but I loved her Wild Swans)
- The Fortune of the Rougons which is the first in the Rougon-Macquart series by Emile Zola;
- Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, which is one of the books on my classics club list and
- Spell It Out, the Story of English Spelling by David Crystal, an author whose work on language in Shakespeare helped get me through some tough Open University coursework a few years ago.
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.
I 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?
Armchair BEA came to an end yesterday, leaving me with very sore fingers from masses of commenting but also fond memories from encounters with people who have a similar love of everything to do with books.
This was the third year I’ve participated in the event but the first in which I volunteered as a cheerleader. That meant not only was I trying to write a daily prompts based on the topic for the day, but also making a conscious effort to comment on other people’s entries. I incurred quite a few black looks from Mr BookerTalk when I was still tip tapping away at 11pm trying to get to as many other participating bloggers as possible. But I know how it feels when you’ve spent time carefully crafting what you thought was a good post, only to find it disappears into the ether and no-one comments.
What all this brought home to me was just how big a fan club exists for the kinds of books that I don’t tend to read at all; namely young adult fiction. I knew this had grown and grown in recent years but I’d say that nine out of every ten blogs I looked at seemed to focus on that category (or would you call it a genre?). I know my young adult days are long over but I can’t ever remember reading anything in that vein myself – I doubt there was even a descriptor of ‘young adult fiction’. We just seemed to graduate straight from children’s books to adult. Or is that my memory playing tricks with me??
In between commenting I did manage to write these posts:
- my favourite novella/short story
- resources for bloggers (writing and images)
- literature from other countries
- audio books and podcasts
- introductory post talking about my favourite books from last year and this year
Next week will be just as busy though in a different way.
Today I’m going to be at the Hay Literary Festival listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talking about her latest book Americanah which I finished reading last night. I didn’t want it to end, it was that good.
Monday sees the start of the next MOOC course for which I’ve enrolled. It’s on the literature of the English Country House. According to the introductory email from FutureLearn, this course will:
take you on a tour round country houses of Yorkshire and Derbyshire including Haddon Hall, Hardwick Hall, Chatsworth House, Brodsworth Hall, Bolsover Castle and Nostell Priory, and introduce you to some wonderful English literature texts. Each week we will explore a different historical period and a different theme which will include ‘Entertainment in the English Country House’, ‘Politeness’ and ‘Reclusive or Malevolent Owners’
Wednesday is our monthly meeting of the book club. This month’s choice is Wind in the Willows which I have yet to open so I’d better get cracking. Since most of the people in the group are in the 40+age group (our oldest member is 92!), it will have been many years since we last read this book. What will be interesting to discuss is how reading of a children’s text differs when you read it as an adult.
Somewhere along the line I need to start reading The Canterbury Tales which was the book I ended up with after the Classics Club spin. I’m supposed to read it by July 7 but since I don’t imagine its the kind of text you can, or would want to, read quickly it’s best if I don’t leave it until the last moment.
So that’s my week ahead. How does yours look?
No matter how many years you’ve spent on this planet, no matter what gender you are or which country you hail from there is one thing I bet we all have in common: we all love to receive compliments. Remember how you felt when your teacher singled you out in class for something you’d done particularly well? You might get that same warm glow of satisfaction and pride now when you get a promotion in work or just a verbal ‘well done’. Or when someone comments about the dress you’re wearing or your new hairstyle. Or you get a positive reaction to a blog post you’ve spent hours crafting.
“You are so intelligent,” read one recent comment posted on a review I published last year. “I’ve been surfing on-line for more than 3 hours but haven’t seen anything as interesting as your article,” said another. “If all web masters and bloggers made content like yours the internet would be a better place,” said a third.
Now I flatter myself that I can string a few words together to create some semblance of order but I doubt that I’m anywhere as good as these comments would suggest. They’re just too effusive to be genuine.
And of course they are far from genuine. They are in fact false friends, otherwise known in the lingo of digital media, as spam.
I’ve experienced these kinds of comments ever since I started BookerTalk more than two years ago. Just one or two a day to begin with, then it started creeping up and just lately the number has exploded. Even though the WordPress spam filter tool catches most of them, some creep through and no matter how many times I report them or try to block them permanently, they keep coming back.
Some of them are so obviously spam that they easy to detect. They’re the ones that contain gibberish, usually in multiple languages and written at great length. Like the one that contained this gem of gobbledygook:
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Thank you for sharing that wisdom with me lili-marlene-doortmund, or whoever you really are, it made my day complete in so many ways. But may not as much as this tremendous comment from Dark Souls:
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I’m not quite sure how one ‘clutches a post’ but it sounds a bit painful.
Then there are those where you can tell just from the name, that they are not genuine I’m pretty certain that Michael Kors is rather too busy running his fashion empire to read my review of an African author’s latest work let alone leave a comment saying how wonderful it was. Yet every day, and sometimes multiple times a day, I get an email in his name. I’ve picked up two more great buddies also in the shape of Tree Removal Galston West and Buffalo Linkstation Is430d who send me comments every week even though I have yet to write about tree surgery or link stations (actually I don’t even know what a link station is).
I’ve read enough warning about opening mail from strangers to know that the last thing you should do is click on any of the links in these comments or respond. The spammers know this so they seem to have changed tactic in the last few months and instead of simply posting compliments, they are now asking for help.
So I get plenty of comments now asking me what spam filters I use and can I recommend a good plug-in to deal with them (thanks for the question Thad Pitcher but the fact your gravatar is called Giuseppe Zanotti Sneakers doesn’t suggest that you and I have much in common). Then are the ones who say they are having problems finding my contact page so would I send them my email because they have some recommendations for me – nice try Janie Russell of auto detailing chandler NZ but I live in Wales, United Kingdom so it’s a hell of a long way for me to travel to buy my next car. Unless of course you’re offering to pay my air ticket? No, somehow I think not.
And so it goes on day after day. I imagine most of the comments are written by people in one of the poor regions of the world where they get paid peanuts to splurge this garbage. It may be the only kind of job they can get and it might mean they can afford to put food on the table for the family. I feel rather mean making fun of them if they are in that predicament. Maybe that’s just an idealised notion of mine and really these things are simply written by people who have absolutely nothing better to do with their lives than to annoy others.
In which camp do you think they fall? Do you have similar problems with spammers and if so, how do you deal with them??