Archive for the ‘chat’ Category

I’ve had my eye on this game, hosted by Kate, for a while, never quite finding the time to join in until today.  The idea is to freely associate books based upon one common initial link.

1. Today’s starter for 10 is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with Darcy perhaps the world’s most popular literary crush.  Not mine as it turns out because …

2. Prince Andrej from Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the man for me!

3. Andrej would be Andrew if he lived here in Scotland, and I’m spoilt for choice for the next book with so many Andrews to choose from.  Let’s go with the town, named after the Scottish patron saint, and The Book of St Andrews, an anthology that accompanies me whenever I visit.

4.  What do I think of whenever I think of St Andrews?  The two-mile long beach, the best bookshop in Scotland, or the bottle dungeon in the ruined castle, the horror of which haunts me,  and was so effectively captured in Belcampo’s short story Funeral Rights, contained in the Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories.

5. I can’t mention Dutch Literature without thinking of W F Herman’s The Darkroom of Damocles, my favourite novel of all time. (Note to self – it is time for a reread.)

6. The sword of Damocles is an allusion to the ever-present threats to those in power. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” as King Henry says in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two.

7.  Which brings me rather neatly to my current read.  New Boy, the latest release in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, is Tracy Chevalier’s homage to Shakespeare’s Othello, another leader who discovered peril where he least expected it. There is also a circular link back to Pride and Prejudice.  Wasn’t Mr Bingley, once upon a time, the new boy on the block?

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You may have thought that July was a kind of inofficial German Literature Month given that my blogging consisted of reviews of 3 German novels, 1 Welsh novel set in Germany and one post about my recent literary tour of Schleswig-Holstein. It wasn’t meant to be that way but it’s what happens when I spend the first half of the month in Germany, and the second half of the month reviewing what I read and did there. So be it.

I do still have the second part of my literary tour of Schleswig-Holstein to report on, and there will be further German-lit posts during August, given that there are plenty of related events at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. (12 days and counting!) But my reading has moved on because, if everything goes to plan, I will be at the festival for 12 of the 17 days, and I have a lot of reading to complete before then.

The festival, already the largest in the world, is bigger and wider-ranging than ever this year. In fact, you could say it has gone global because you don’t have to be in Edinburgh to take part. The free online How to Read A Novel reading course that they are delivering in conjunction with Edinburgh University, using this year’s James Tait Black Award shortlist to investigate key blocks within modern fiction – plot, characterisation, dialogue, setting – is now up and running. I’m currently working my way through the first module and am finding it most illuminating. I’m pretty sure that you can still enrol if you wish to join in.

Books Read 2017

Books read July 2017

I’ve also started my reading for the festival, having read 4 novels in preparation. You can see these at the bottom of the Books Read in July pile above. 3 were fantastic, whereas I feel rather cool towards the fourth. Perhaps Jenny Erpenbeck will warm me towards Go Went Gone at her event on the 20th.

That I didn’t love Erpenbeck’s latest took me completely by surprise, as did the fact that I was mesmerised by Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, July’s Book of the Month, which left me breatheless at times. I don’t read much science-fiction but may well read more if the Bradbury is a marker of the quality to expect. I wouldn’t know where to start though, so please leave any recommendations you have in comments.

Anyway my book festival is opening with a workshop on the Bradbury and my review will follow that. My final read for the festival this year is likely to be Medea by Euripides – the trigger for that being David Vann’s latest novel. This is why I love the Edinburgh Book Festival – it expands my reading horizons; this year both in time and space. From Greece in the 5th century B.C to Mars in 2026. You can’t say farther than that.

I enjoyed July, and August will be another good month. But until then, here is this month’s blogging and reading statistics update:

Blog Posts
The Invention of Curried Sausage – Uwe Timm
The Aftermath – Rhydian Brook
The Murderer In Ruins / The Wolf Children – Cay Rademacher
A Literary Tour of Schleswig-Holstein (1): Husum

2017 Reading Statistics
Total YTD: 64 read, 6 audio books, 7 DNF
July 2017: 8 read, 1 DNF

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June 2017 Wrap-Up

I’m currently on the road, so a picture of the 10 books I read in June will follow in due course. (Added 09 08.17)

Books read June 2017

 They are books 54-63 listed in the Read 2017 widget on the right.   There’s a distinctively German feel to books 58 onwards, and that’s because I’m in Germany, currently touring Schleswig-Holstein.  This is a new German state to me, bringing my tally to 14/16.  I hope to make it 16/16 before Brexit.  Thereafter, who  knows?

This trip has diverted me fron my Tournament of Books, but, with only 3 books remaining to be read from the 22 contenders, I should complete this in July. There’s been some fine reading amongst this selection of books, although my favourites (The Wednesday ClubParadise Lodge, The Unseen and The Good People) haven’t matched the actual winners in any of the respresented awards.  Still I am looking forward to amazement/disgruntlement to come when I do catch up with the official winning titles.

The. Tournament of Books served a key purpose in making me focus on the shortlisted books I already had to hand and thus helped to keep me within my purchasing targets.  I have to confess though that that resolve has withered during the past week in Husum, where I have discovered a beautiful edition of Theodor Storm’s novellas, in which the text is accompanied by photographs of the places in question.  I have limited myself to 3 purchases, but suspect that this is a collection set to grow.


But enough of the pleasures to come, here are the blogging pleasures from June.

This Census Taker – China Miéville

A Country Road, A Tree – Jo Baker

Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen

The Good People – Hannah Kent

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – Dorthe Nors

imageBook of the Month: I thought my novel of the year so far, Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen, was going to run away with this, and then I read James Hawes”s The Shortest History of Germany.  To say it was a revelation is to say the least! More to follow after Hawes’s event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August.

Final scores for June
Total YTD: 57 read, 6 audio books, 6 DNF
Total for May 2017: 10 read, 0 audio books, 0 DNF

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Let’s start this post in May 1989 as Lizzy and family are scouting Scotland to determine whether to move there.  They are treated to two weeks of glorious sunshine (with perhaps a couple of forgotten days of rain).  When I say glorious, I mean glorious!  Suffice to say the move was completed …. and it has taken 28 years for Scotland to deliver another May to rival that of 1989!

Which is my way of saying that the great yellow ball in the sky (I believe some call it the sun) has been in evidence of late, and so while there has been much walking and gardening and outdoor reading, there has been little blogging.  Posts have concentrated on my tournament of shortlisted books, which is delivering a series of surprises regarding the number of books that are failing to float my boat!

I will update  tournament outcomes in due course (i.e when and if my poorly ipad ever recovers its health).

Books of May 2017

Nevertheless I find I completed 10 books during May, and posted thoughts – if not fully-fledged reviews –

on 5 plus 3 books read in April. As it has been such a month of contrasts, I’m highlighting review links below with emojis.  Just so you know exactly how I feel.

Confessions of the Lioness – Mia Couto 😣

The Story of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli 😐

Paradise Lodge – Nina Stibbe 😄

To Be Continued – James Robertson 😄

The Wednesday Club – Kjell Westö 😙

Compass – Mattias Enard (DNF)

The Sport of Kings – C E Morgan (On hold)

Fever Dream – Samatha Schweblin 😊

Book of the Month

Much as I enjoyed some of the fiction reviewed above (in particular, Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club), The Moth- 50 Extraordinary True Stories takes this month’s accolade .  I’m waiting to review it because The Moth II has just landed on my TBR, where it will not be collecting any dust.  I will feature both books in a future post.

So the final score on the door at the end of May looks like this:

Total YTD: 47 read, 6 audio books, 6 DNF
Total for May 2017:  8 read, 2 audio books, 2 DNF

Plans for June

Hopefully problems with the ipad will be resolved soon, otherwise blogging will become even more sporadic during June, as travels interrupt an already interrupted blogging flow!

Not that this has stopped me from making my list for Cathy’s #20booksofsummer.  I’m not restricting my list to 20 books though.  I need to cater to my whims, and the list below reflects current reading projects,  interests, new releases jumping to the top of the TBR and the assumption that there will be a #spanishlitmonth in July. Ah, you say, Lizzy there are gaps.  This is true, but I cannot finalise the list until the Edinburgh International Book Festival Programe is published on 13th June.  At which point we will see whether the current list of 30 stretches to become a list of 35 or even 40 …. hopefully with titles already to hand!

20 Books of Summer Provisional List

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So my tournament of books pitched two novellas against two long epic novels, and in both cases the novella KO’d its opponent.  It’s a knock-out when one competitor  doesn’t make it to the final bell page, isn’t it?

Now this surprised me because I’ve been in the mood all year to immerse myself in a    long epic read (450+) pages, but it’s just not happening.  In fact as hinted above, both tournamented epics were DNF, for different reasons.

C E Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Pulitzer Prize finalist, shortlisted for the Rathbone Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and The Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction) came with such resoundingly positive reviews that I was sure that immersed I would be.  And yet at 200 pages, feeling impatient, and with absolutely no investment or even interest in where things were headed, I stopped. For now.  I will revisit this as it’s one of the novels to be discussed on this summer’s online How to Read A Novel reading course (free from the University of Edinburgh). Perhaps I will even finish it.

The second DNF – after only 70 pages – surprised me even more, particularly after the anticipation following my visit to the Leipzig Book Fair earlier this year.  Matthias Enard’s Compass, winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Leipzig Prize for European Understanding, is surely the favourite to win this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Even after only 70 pages I could recognise the intelligence of Enard’s writing, the erudition resulting from his research and the worthiness of the novel.  Compass is a plea for better understanding and cooperation between East and West, and  seemed to be gearing up to encompass a complete history of occidental literary and musical culture within the stream of consciousness of a terminally-ill man. It’s an interesting concept and not necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t entertaining me.  As I am no longer a student, I abandoned it – probably for good.

Interestingly Enard’s opponent in the tournament also features the stream of consciousness of a terminally ill patient and a worthy cause.  But Samatha Schweblin’s Fever Dream is altogether much more – oh, dare I use this word – readable with a page-turning quality that satisfies my need for pleasure, not just instruction.

A full review of Fever Dream will follow in due course  (i.e when the sun stops shining, which won’t be long, knowing Scotland as I do). As will a review of the second giant-killing novella, China Miéville’s This Census Taker.   I don’t know what has taken me this long to return to Miéville; it’s 6.5 years since The City and The City blew me away for goodness sake!  Still I’m here now.  Nor will it be 6.5 years before I read him again.



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Wrap-Up: March/April 2017

I was on the road March into April, and so I have two months of wrap-up outstanding.

I attended not 1, not 2, but 3 book festivals: Glasgow Aye Write!, the Leipzig Book Fair in conjunction with Leipzig Liest, and I’m just back from Newcastle Noir. (More on that later in the week.)

I read or listened to a total of 22 books during that time and I have reviewed only 10, which is not surprising given all the travelling.  A batch of mini-reviews will help me catchup on the thus-far-unreviewed.


Books Read March 2017

Total YTD: 39 read, 4 DNF, 3 audio books
Total for March 2017:  Read 7 plus 1 audio book
Total for April 2017: Read 11 plus 2 audio books


Books Read April 2017

Reviews March/April 2017: 10

What’s to Become of the Boy? – Heinrich Böll
 Mini-Reviews: Under A Pole Star – Stef Penney,  Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak, Billionaire’s Banquet – Ron Butlin, The Intrusions- Stav Sherez
Sand – Wolfgang Herrndorf
My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
Maigret’s Memoirs – Georges Simenon
Where Were You, Adam? – Heinrich Böll
The Hour of the Jackal – Bernhard Jaumann

Book of the Month March 2017: Stav Sherez’s zeitgeisty and scarey The Intrusions

Book of the Month April 2017: I’m excluding Janice Galloway’s Clara as it was my Book of the Year in 2007.  Nevertheless, this is still a tough call because 2 of the books I read for the 1951 club were superb: Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel or Böll’s Where were you, Adam? It’s neck and neck until Böll steals it with the power of the final image.

Finally an update on purchasing targets.  I have bought more than I intended over the first four months of the year, BUT I have also culled many more than I thought I would.  The upshot of this is that according to my 2017 allowance equation,  I start May with an outstanding purchase allowance of 5 (and a wishlist of 205!)  Next update in August Wrap-Up – following the danger that is the Edinburgh Book Festival!

(2017 purchase allowance = 2 per month + (total books read + total books culled)/5)

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It’s shortlist season!

With last night’s announcement of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, I think all shortlists of interest have been declared.

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (1)

Best Translated Book Award (1)

Bolinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2)

International Dublin Literary Award (2)

Man Booker International Prize (3)

The Petrona Award (1)

Rathbones Folio Prize (2)

Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (4 plus 2 already read)

The numbers in brackets indicate the number of shortlist titles in my TBR.  It’s clear that some judging panels didn’t take that into account when making their choices! 😂 Nevertheless, with some crossovers (titles appearing on more than one shortlist), and 1 or 2 purchases (OK 3), I now have 16 shortlisted titles.  Just enough for a tournament to keep me entertained and away from further purchases until publication of the Edinburgh Book Festival Programme on June 8th ( following which there will be a flurry of acquisitions.)

Where possible books competing for the same prize are paired with each other in the first round.  Otherwise my logic – just go with it.  The resulting draw (edited on 22.04 with the late inclusion of two titles from the Helen and Kurt Wolff translation prize shortlist) is as follows.  I’m quite pleased with this.  Two groups: one for Anglophone fiction, the second for translated.  The two meeting only in the finaL

The Barry vs Tremain bout has been settled as I read both novels for the Costa Prize in January. I’m reversing the decision I made then, because Days without End has simply stayed with me better than The Gustav Sonata, and Walter Scott Prize Winners are always memorable!

Onwards …

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