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I like to take reading material related to my destinations when I travel, and these are the companions I have chosen for my current trip. So where am I going? All is likely to be revealed on Twitter in the next few days. In the meantime, the blog will be taking a breather. Back soon.

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These four books represent a 3 city tour

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February 2017: Wrap-Up

What is it about February?  Last year I had 6 DNFs in total, 3 of them in February.  If the pattern holds, there will be 8 DNFs this year. Yes, there were 4 this month.  I don’t usually name DNFs, but I must mention one, simply because finding a what seemed to me perfect summary in the novel I read immediately afterwards, is a coincidence not to be ignored.

Firstly, the critique of one of the novels shortlisted for The Prize in Filippo Bologna’s The Parrots:

Yours is a very special  book, almost  a kind of prose poem, with an epigrammatic, fragmentary quality that somehow magically creates unity

Yes, I thought that fits Saša Stanišić’s International Dublin Literary Award longlisted Before The Feast.  Of course, it’s already won a host of other literary awards, but at 100 pages,  it was taking an age to go anywhere.  And its tricksiness was such that I actually despaired of there being any destination at all, so it was time to give up.  Tellingly though I also DNF’d his multi -award winning debut.  I guess we’re just not compatible.

Sarah Moss’s Signs for Lost Children, also longlisted for the International Dublin Literary award, was another disappointment.  I was expecting great things given the love for her in the blogosphere. It’s always a risk when a novel follows two characters going their separate ways.  What if one character’s journey is more interesting than the other’s?  Well, that’s exactly what happened here.  The wife stays behind to forge a career in Victorian mental institutions (interesting), while the husband goes on an extended trip to Japan, and falls in love with its culture and craftsmanship.  Chapter after chapter, full of descriptions of beautiful artifacts.  And then more of the same for good measure – or so it seemed.  To say it dragged is an understatement.

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Books read February 2017

Unlike the two Japanese novellas that kicked off Pushkin Press fortnight.  Things picked up from that point on and this then became the month that just kept giving!   Firstly I created Pushkin Press Corner which, now that I can see my entire Pushkin Press TBR at a glance, has triggered a project that will see me circumnavigate the world at least twice reading only titles from the Pushkin Press catalogue. I read and reviewed eight books in the fortnight, “travelling” from Japan to Spain via Russia, Israel, Austria and Italy.  Anyone care to work out the airmiles?

While I didn’t visit Germany with Pushkin Press due to the Stanišić DNF, I did so anyway thanks to David Young’s thriller Stasi Wolf.  No lack of action or movement to report in those pages!

Total YTD: 22 read, 4 DNF
Totals for February 2017:10 read, 4 DNF
Reviews February 2017: 9

Stasi Wolf – David Young
The Hunting Gun / Bullfight – Yasushi Inoue
Rasputin and Other Ironies – Teffi
One Night, Markovitch – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
The Last Days – Laurent Seksik
The Governess and Other Stories – Stefan Zweig
The Parrots – Filippo Bologna
Things Look Different In The Light – Medardo Fraile

Book of the Month: This is only the second month of choosing a book of the month and I’m beginning to regret the idea.  I suspect 3 of the Pushkin Books will make my best of year awards – Seksik, for saddest book, Bologna for best satire and Fraile for short stories. But if there has to be a book of the month, then Medardo Fraile’s brilliant collection convinced me that I did, in fact, save the best till last.

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Given that Pushkin Press are second only to the Folio Society in terms of the number of books I have in my collection, I thought it might be a good idea to gather them all together and allocate them some shelf space.  It’ll only take an hour or so, I thought.

Three hours later, because they were indeed scattered to the four winds, this is the result.

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Pushkin Press Corner

They are, like every other shelved book in the house, double-stacked.  The TBR is in the front row, so that I can see at a glance what I have to read. (This collection is, by the way, the result of many years of adding a Pushkin Press title to book orders to avoid postage costs, purchasing Pushkins in sales as well as the publisher’s generosity with review copies.) Along the top we have the signature Pushkin Collection titles arranged A-Z and down the side other Pushkin imprints arranged Z-A.

When I started thinking about what to read during Pushkin Press Fortnight, I decided that I would do an around the world trip. Looking at this little lot, I have enough for an Around the World and Back Again project. So that’s the project I will begin on Tuesday. The starting point is Japan, simply because the last book I read prior to reading for Pushkin Press Fortnight was partially set there. I won’t get round the world in the fortnight but it will be interesting to see how many air miles I rack up.

 

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A decade! Who would have thought it?  This blog has come a long way since I lost that notebook with my reading notes, and decided to store them, henceforth, in a place where I wouldn’t lose them.  Many good things have happened along the way – far too many to list here.  Highlights must include German Literature Month (6 years and counting), meeting online booklovers in the flesh (I hope to meet more of you some time in the future) and gaining access to special places and events that would have been off limits otherwise.  I was also quoted in the Wall Street Journal!!

But let’s not forget the authors, their publishers, and WordPress without which this blog would not have existed.

I now have a books read index of over 1000. I recently reviewed this and I was struck by the following:

– the number of books I read due to the recommendations, readalongs and initiatives of fellow bloggers.  This community we have is valuable, not only to ourselves but to the world of literature at large.  Forgive the namedropping here but, as Sebastian Barry once said to me, as I was staring into his deep brown eyes, trying not to swoon: Literary bloggers are changing the face of reading.  (This was a book-signing and THE special literary festival moment that will probably never, ever be surpassed.)

– how few I have forgotten.  There are some – those that I think are best forgotten – but they are a rare few.  I can remember most in sufficient detail to discuss.  So the time spent reviewing for this blog is not lost time. In fact reviewing makes me think deeper and appreciate more.

There are also a number of titles I absolutely adored but did not receive the attention or the praise I think they deserved. So, as a treat for yourselves, seeing as you’ve been putting up with me for 10 whole years, I have three of these to giveaway. My thanks to Saraband, Pushkin Press and Alma Books for making this blogiversary giveaway possible.

1) As I’m based in Scotland, a Scottish novel first, although there’s not much Scotland in it. Regardless it really is An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful.

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An eminent British writer returns to the resort hotel in the Japanese mountains where he once spent a beautiful, snowed-in winter. It was there he fell in love and wrote his best-selling novel, The Waterwheel, accusing America of being in denial about the horrific aftermath of the Tokyo firebombings and the nuclear destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As we learn more about his earlier life, however – as a student in Bloomsbury, involved with a famous American painter – we realise that he too is in denial, trying to escape past events that are now rapidly catching up with him. A sweeping novel of East and West, love and war, truths and denials.

Link to my review

2) You all know by now that my heart belongs to Germany, and so I’ve chosen what is quite possibly my favourite German 20th-century classic. (Well it might tie with Buddenbrooks.) Ulrich Plenzdorf’s The New Sorrows of Young W.

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Publisher’s synopsis
Edgar W., teenage dropout, unrequited lover, unrecognized genius – and dead – tells the story of his brief, spectacular life.

It is the story of how he rebels against the petty rules of communist East Germany to live in an abandoned summer house, with just a tape recorder and a battered copy of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther for company. Of his passionate love for the dark-eyed, unattainable kindergarten teacher Charlie. And of how, in a series of calamitous events (involving electricity and a spray paint machine), he meets his untimely end.

Absurd, funny and touching, this cult German bestseller, now in a new translation, is both a satire on life in the GDR and a hymn to youthful freedom.

Link to my review

3) Finally, The Scent of Lemon Leaves, a  Spanish award-winning novel which took me completely by surprise.  I’ve loaned my proof copy a few times and all who have read it loved it.  Whoever wins this has an extra-special treat in store, because Alma Books has generously donated the last copy of the first edition hardback.  (And I’m a tinsy bit jealous.)

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Having left her job and boyfriend, thirty-year-old Sandra decides to stay in a village on the Costa Blanca in order to take stock of her life and find a new direction. She befriends Karin and Fredrik, an elderly Norwegian couple, who provide her with stimulating company and take the place of the grandparents she never had. However, when she meets Julián, a former concentration-camp inmate who has just returned to Europe from Argentina, she discovers that all is not what it seems and finds herself involved in a perilous quest for the truth.

As well as being a powerful account of self-discovery and an exploration of history and redemption, The Scent of Lemon Leaves is a sophisticated and nail-biting page-turner by one of Spain’s most accomplished authors.

Link to my review

Let me know which book(s) you’d like to win in comments.  UK entrants only. The giveaway will close on Monday 13.02.2017, so that I can send the Pushkin Press title out to coincide with Pushkin Press fortnight. The excitement continues.  Long may it last.

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January 2017 Wrap-Up

I’ve had an excellent start to the 2017 reading year, having read 13 books from 3 centuries with only one slipup apropos the TBR Dare.  But as I haven’t determined my exceptions policy for this year, I shall do so now.  I am allowed to read one 2017 acquisition per month for the length of the Dare.

But this post is about the books read during January 2017. Voilà!

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The reasons why these books worked their way to the top of the TBR follow with links to reviews available at the time of posting.

From the Adventures through the TBR B branch of my reading mindmap

– Books about Books: Lesen und Lesen Lassen, The Book Collector, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop.  This latter was an e-book that I had to buy and read immediately after finishing the wonderful Parnassus on Wheels. Simply because nothing else would do!

– B is for Bronte, hence Anne’s two novels: Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Both somewhat of a revelation, Anne tackling the thorny subjects of governess abuse and domestic abuse in entirely realistic fashion, so far removed from the romanticised novels of her two sisters.  I preferred Agnes Grey to The Tenant.  Helen was just too perfectly pious for me.  Agnes, on the other hand, actually lost it on occasion!

– B is for Burns, as in Jean Burns, wife of the Scottish Bard, whom he called The Jewel.

From the International Dublin Literary Award longlist:

– Bernd Aichner – Woman of the Dead E-book my #EU27 entry for Austria.

– Esther Gerritsen – Craving  which is a #EU27 entry for The Netherlands.  (I will have several of these, as I continue to make my way through my Dutch TBR).

– Sofi Oksanen – When The Doves Disappeared (which I will use as my #EU27 entry for Estonia.  Oksanen is Estonian on her mother’s side and the novel is all about Estonia during the second world war.  It probably has more Estonian flavour to it than the Mati Unt novel I was going to read.)

From the W is for Whim Branch to be added to the mindmap.

– David Young – Stasi Child A whimsical read because the publisher kindly sent the sequel Stasi Wolf for review. Stasi Child was so good I read its 400 pages in one day and I’m not going to wait until April to read Stasi Wolf.  Now you know what February’s exception to the TBR Dare rules will be.

– Antonia Hodgson – The Devil in the Marshalsea Winner of the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger in 2014, the same award that Stasi Child won in 2016.  Why read one winner when you have two in the TBR?

Book of the Month.  Lesen und Lesen Lassen (in the face of some fierce competition as both Parnassus on Wheels and Stasi Child were also 5-star reads.)

Are you participating in the TBR Dare this year?  If so, tell us all about your January over at www.tbrdare.com.

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Reading and Purchasing Plans 2017

I’ve taken my time with this post. I’ve been watching the various strategies that my fellow bloggers have been creating to see if there’s anything that I could adopt for myself – particularly with regard to purchasing targets.  I’ll come back to that later.

Reading plans, I need no help with – except perhaps on how to cut down on my ambitions.  You’ll understand when you look at the following mindmap. Believe me this is the simplified version!

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A quick explanation perhaps?

Reading from left to right, top to bottom.

The leftmost box (top level) is self-explanatory.  The mindmap will represent My Year in Books.  Level One (Grey round-edged rectangles): The top four are the broad categories  which will form the basis of my reading in 2017.  I started Adventures through the TBR with the letter A last year.  I wasn’t going to be so obvious as to move onto B this year but 2017 is the centenary of Heinrich Böll’s birth and I have a full set of the Melville House Press Bölls to read.  So B it is.  Following the recent cull, I know exactly what’s in My TBR and so it wasn’t difficult to find a few more B categories to flesh out the branch.  The other centenary this year is that of the Russian Revolution, hence R is for Russian – specifically Chekhov’s Short Stories and Doctor Zhivago, but I’m sure many more Russians come my way.  Also R is for recommendations – I have a pile of books purchased purely on the recommendation of others: bloggers, friends, authors at literary events.  You know how it goes.  Time to read them.

Categories 2 and 3 are lists I’m working on and ongoing reading projects.  Category 4 are all the social reading temptations that will come my way this year. As you can see, I am signed up to Stu’s Pushkin Press Fortnight, Marina Sofia’s #EU27 project and the forthcoming 1951 club.  There’s also the Voss readalong in March ….

Enough I hear you say for the full year.  No doubt, but I’m not restricting myself to this. The WHIM category, while not represented, will undoubtedly grow as the year progresses.  But, as a starting point, this little lot will keep me busy without any feelings of deprivation throughout the 3 months of the TBR Dare.

I was reasonably happy with my reading last year.  The one area of concern was that I only read 5 books published prior to 2000.  So this year I’m aiming for at least 25% of my reading to be older books.  Böll and the Russians  will help with that, of course. They’ll also help with the 33% target of works in translation.   I also want to read 6 chunksters (450+ pages),  6 non-fiction and at least 12 e-books.  I might also add 6 books in German to the mix (because if I don’t, I’ll just get lazy).

I think this is a plan that will keep me interested and that it will work for me.  I’ve tested it for the last 3 weeks, and I’m enjoying it. This is how the expanded measurable reading targets branch looks at this moment. (The colour shading indicates which branch the book originally came from. Green = B for Brontes, Purple = B for Books about Books. End bubbles show other categories that the book fits into also.).

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Of course, I could manage this much more efficiently on a spreadsheet, but that wouldn’t be as entertaining or as pretty!

And so to those pesky purchasing targets, or rather constraints. Before I say anything more, I want to be clear that I’m only doing this because I have run out of space.  For that reason e-books and review copies are exempted from the following statements.  I am drawn to Simon’s Project 24 but know, I will fail.  I’m also drawn to Caroline’s One Book A Week, but that won’t work when I’m at a literary festival.  I also enjoyed last year’s tactic of earning purchases which made me cull about 300 books, resulting in an over purchase of only 6 books for the year. I won’t have that many books to cull this year, so I’m combining Simon’s strategy with mine to form Project 24+.  This means that I have a starting allowance of 2 books per month.  Further purchases are earned using the same formula as last year: Additional Purchase Allowance = (Books read + Books culled) / 5.  Assuming that read plus culled will average 12 books per month, my total purchase allowance will be 24 + 144/5 = 52 books. (Same as Caroline’s One Book Per Week but with leeway for more if need be.😉)

This will still be a challenge.  3 weeks in and I need to finish 3 books before my purchases from the Folio Society Sale arrive.  😂😂😂).

So there we have it in a rather large nutshell.  But I’m looking forward to the 2017 reading (and purchasing) year. How are your reading and purchasing strategies panning out?

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The first book of 2017

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Today I am celebrating the reclamation of my reading sofa with an illustrated anthology of writing about the pleasures of reading. The German title translates as Read and Let Read. Similarities between the the reader on the dust jacket and myself are entirely coincidental, though as I can slouch once more in my reading nook, I am as happy as the proverbial ….

I hope 2017 proves to be an excellent reading year for us all

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