Archive for the ‘chat’ Category

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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Simon and Karen are once more hosting an event based on the books written in one particular year.  This time it’s 1951.   I’ve read a selection of books from that year, though it appears most were pre-blog. For example:

Suspicion – Friedrich Dürrenmatt

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Mist over Pendle – Robert Neill (Must read for Lancastrians.)

The Catcher in the Rye – R D Salinger

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

1951 was also the year in which Dennis the Menace made his first appearance!

And yet, I don’t get the impression that it was such a tremendous year for fiction. Only the Wyndham in the list above knocked my socks off.  Many of the authors I’m interested in didn’t publish that year.  Neither have Persephone Books published anything from 1951. Still I have put together a capsule TBR now vying for my attention.  Perhaps these books will change my mind about 1951 in general.

Given the imminent film release, I’ve started with Du Maurier ….

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I have returned to the cold, grey skies of Scotland after a hectic but satisfying fortnight in the warm, blue skies of Germany where there is a beautiful spring in progress. (Sigh) You guessed that much, but to which cities did my four travelling companions accompany me?

1) Berlin – Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of A Polar Bear is partly set in Berlin, and you could say that I was partly there too. My stop-over lasted a couple of hours – enough time to transfer from airport to railway station, grab lunch and snap a covert picture of the Reichstag. It’s there on the left.


2) Leipzig – I was on my way to the Leipzig Book Fair, which is quite unlike any Book Fair I’ve previously visited. Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Sand was the 2012 winner of The Leipzig Book Fair Prize and Clara Schumann, the heroine (for heroine she was) of Janice Galloway’s Clara was born there.


3) Bonn – Clara’s husband, Robert Schumann, died in a mental instition in Endenich, Bonn. The city is also the location of Heinrich Böll”s most popular novel The Clown (and the Bönnscher Brewery. 😊 )


Reviews of the Leipzig Book Fair and three novels to follow.

I reviewed Clara back in 2007  when it deservedly became my Book of the Year. In the meantime I have travelled extensively round Germany and seen many of the places Clara Schumann lived and worked, and that really augmented this long overdue reread. I didn’t intend for this trip to become a Clara Schumann memorial tour, but in many ways that is what it became. Places I visited in Leipzig: the Gewandhaus, the concert hall where she played her first concert at age 9; the church where she married in Schönefeld, and her first marital home at Inselstrasse 32. In Düsseldorf her final marital home at Bilker Strasse 15.

Not that you need to have seen these places to appreciate Galloway’s wonderful novel, but they show how modestly the Schumanns and their huge brood lived despite their superstar status,  and how their histories have been sanitised. You’d be hard pressed to detect any kind of struggle in their lives at all. I can only recommend you read Galloway’s novel to discover the real-life passion and the pain in the life of a creative genius.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

imagePublisher’s synopsis
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.


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.)

imagePublisher’s synopsis
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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