Posted on | August 1, 2011 | 15 Comments
This is becoming a habit…
In July I was in Florida, on the Gulf Coast reading and rejuvenating; in Orlando wrapped in the magic of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney. I now aspire to having my own lazy river that I can float around on a inflatable ring all day every day, with a book in hand, of course.
Or, would that be a Kindle? One of the life-changing moments of turning thirty was becoming the proud and delighted owner of a Kindle. I shall never give up on print books; I work in the publishing industry, for a start, and I’m also a collector of books, but the Kindle has revolutionised my approach to reading. Not least was the novelty of traveling with one and loading all of my summer reading onto one light device. It was so liberating to not have to worry about the weight of books in my luggage and be restricted in my choices due to space.
In June I was still coming to grips with my new job and schedule. The job became permanent as of last week so now it’s a matter of finding and maintaining the balance between work, play and blogging. Something had to give over the last few months and regrettably it was Paperback Reader. I’m not sure what the future holds for the site but I do miss it and you.
Posted on | June 4, 2011 | 18 Comments
Even though I am now two months into my thirties, I thought I would continue with my Thirty for Thirty series as you were so receptive to it. Thank you to those who reassured me how liberating I would find turning thirty as I can now say that -so far- my thirties rock! I really don’t know why I was so worried. So, more books that have made an impact on my first thirty years…
Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis: to all those Amis haters out there, you must read this; it probably won’t change your opinion of the man but it will his writing. I studied this novel and was blown away by how powerful and clever it was and been haunted by it since. It tells, in reverse chronological order, the story of a Nazi doctor so is obviously far less funny than some of Amis’ other novels. The reverse chronology can be disorientating but it is very effective; the reader is not passive but instead complicit in the acts as they have to be reversed to see the narrator’s culpability/untangle his false memories. For example, one of the stand-out images that I have retained is of the narrator helping a Jew out of a pit. What you probably don’t know about me is that I have a morbid fascination with the Holocaust and with devastating reads in general; sometimes, in a perverted way, I crave an emotionally-draining read to remember what’s important and what should never, ever happen again.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Hm, what was I just saying about my interest in Holocaust literature? Read this; it is an astonishing debut novel. Safran Foer’s prose is sublime and he has an intelligent yet quirky humour that is a joy to read. I’m amused all over again when I think of Alex’s thesaurus-learned English and how that is so often lost in translation.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham is another example of my love for depressing subject matter. This is such a fantastic novel but I am especially fond of it because of the love it gave me for Virginia Woolf. I studied Mrs Dalloway, my first Virginia Woolf novel, in my first year at uni and didn’t enjoy or appreciate it until I then followed it up by reading The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize the previous year; Cunningham’s take on Mrs Dalloway and how it affected three generations of women had a considerable effect on me and my understanding and liking of Woolf.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn best exhibits my love for the bizarre in literature and life. This is a real cult novel and deserving of being sought out if you too love the wacky. The novel is the story of a travelling carnival and family of “freaks”; the children are all genetically modified in utero by their parents through extensive drug use and exposure to radioactive materials and is narrated by one of the children, Olympia, a hunch-backed albino dwarf.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides yet again shows my love for dark subject matter (although often told in blackly comic ways). Personally I was underwhelmed by Eugenides’ Middlesex but I know I am in the minority; I read it many years after first reading The Virgin Suicides and it failed to meet my high expectations. The Virgin Suicides is a book I have picked up to reread on a rainy afternoon as it so readable and atmospheric, offering something new each time. My first reading of it was as an angsty eighteen year old just as the Sofia Coppola adaptation was released; I have a fabulously retro-like edition with floral cover and a dust-jacket with a rosy still from the film. The Virgin Suicides was, for me, my generation’s equivalent to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Wise Children by Angela Carter. I could not have a thirty year retrospective of formative books without including one by Angela Carter; Wise Children is a less obvious choice than some of her other work but I adore this book for its playfulness, raucous humour and because it was her last novel. Wise Children is a bawdy romp about several sets of twins, Shakespeare and of authorship and legitimacy. Such a fun, fun book that has a lightness (in tone) to it that is particularly poignant knowing that Carter wrote it after she had been diagnosed with cancer. It embodies so much that I love about literature: magical realism, literary allusion, the carnivalesque, Shakespeare and also has a London setting so what is not to love?
Posted on | May 12, 2011 | 26 Comments
Hello. Apologies for the unscheduled -and lengthy- blogging break and thank you for all of the concerned and thoughtful messages I have received. I have missed you but have been missing-in-action because I started a new, long-term job at DK, which has been both exhilarating and exhausting. However, I am striving to find a balance between my new working life and my blogging one and normal regular service will now resume.
What better way to dip my toes back into post-writing by participating in the meme that Simon of Stuck in A Book created. Regrettably my offer will not be as visually stunning as 1) my blog theme -which I love in every other way- only allows one photograph per post 2) I cannot take a drool-worthy photograph of the entire stack because two of the books are, shock horror, digital editions (more about that -and a continuation of my Thirty for Thirty series- in upcoming posts).,
1.) The book I’m currently reading:
The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer, recently reissued by NYRB Classics. I excitedly waited for its publication as I was itching to read this “surreal black comedy about the wages of adulthood and the pitfalls of parenthood”; so far it is living up to my expectations. I am tempted to follow it up by Mortimer’s Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, published by Persephone Books.
2.) The last book I finished:
I finally read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King, the first in the highly popular Mary Russell (featuring Sherlock Holmes). To those of you who brought this series to my attention: thank you. It did not disappoint. I knew it was a wise decision to buy the books for my boyfriend (he has similarly loved the first four books he has read in the series).
3.) The next book I want to read:
There are several books vying for my attention at present but I am enjoying choosing my next book, and the one after that, on a whim. Saying that, I have to read my book group choice for the beginning of next month, one I have been desperately wanting to read for while (hence choosing it, to give me a persistent nudge to read it). Hayley recommended Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara to me when I was going through a Jazz-Age literature phase earlier this year and suggested it provoked discussion, making it ideal for a book group setting.
4.) The last book I bought:
Embassytown by China Miéville. After discovering -thanks to a Christmas gift from Sakura- The City and the City and being blown away by it, I then read the absorbing, Kraken, last month; I now want to read Miéville’s backlist and his latest, Embassytown. Last week Sakura and I attended a China Miéville reading and signing at Foyles and it was incredibly entertaining and enlightening. I was impressed by how articulate and engaging Miéville is; rarely have I come across a writer as intelligent and interesting in person as they are in prose.
5.) The last book I was given:
The Sack of Bath by Adam Ferguson is one of this Spring/Summer’s offerings from Persephone Books. I have to say that this polemic did not strike me as a Persephone that I particularly wanted to read but when Verity very kindly gave me a spare copy she managed to acquire, I was not one to look a gift-friend in the mouth. The book is incredibly short -a mere 80 pages- so I may pick this long pamphlet up earlier than expected.
It seems apt that many of these answers featured recommendations or gifts from bloggers! Thank you to Simon for the final push to resume blogging.
Posted on | March 13, 2011 | 35 Comments
I turn thirty years old this month and there are a myriad of reasons why I am not okay with that but, making lemonade from lemons, it inspired a new feature for my blog. In my twenty-nine years so far I have read a lot of books and obviously only books from two of those years have been shared with you in Paperback Reader posts. In Thirty for Thirty I am going to take thirty books read during my almost-thirty years that have made an impression and highlight them. This is the first of five installments.
I consider the top four books in the pile to be among the very best novellas I have read and have probably recommended them as such whenever some of you have been seeking out novellas to read, whether that be for general reading or for challenge or novella weekend reading. I have a deep love for Irish literature and both Maeve Brennan and Keith Ridgway are Irish; the former I came across reference to when I was researching Angela Carter for my thesis and Horses was a set text for an Irish literature (since the 1950s) course. Both are original and difficult to define but have been written about by Simon and Kim, who has written about both, and who have fresher, more recent insights. The same Irish professor who taught that course recommended TC Boyle and Drop City to me and gave a lecture on The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark earlier in my university career. As you may know, I am a huge fan of Muriel Spark and The Driver’s Seat is her darkest subject matter and most thought-provoking of novellas; it was also adapted into a film with Elizabeth Taylor. The Loved One is also a blackly humorous novella set in Los Angelean funeral home, Whispering Glades (I think I first came across mention of the novella looking at DVD boxsets of Six Feet Under years ago). A satire on the (then) Anglo-American cultural divide and on glamorous Hollywood, The Loved One is refreshing and quintessentially Waugh with its dry wit.
I was reminded recently of Drop City by T. C. Boyle when I read Caribou Island by David Vann (review forthcoming), not only because of their mutual Alaskan setting or because of the direct reference to Boyle early on -uncanny when I was at that stage thinking the novel was reminiscent of him – but an overall similarity in tone and a deft balancing of light and dark themes. Both Boyle and Vann are thoroughly absorbing and compel you to read on. Drop City is about a commune of artists in the 1970s who relocate from California to remote Alaska but there is only so much free love and tree-hugging one can indulge in with bears in the vicinity and subzero conditions. If you have not read any T.C. Boyle then I cannot recommend Drop City highly enough but the same applies to all of my thirty for thirty selections.
Trumpet by Jackie Kay is a novel that you may not have heard about (for the most part I have tried to focus upon the lesser-reviewed works that have impacted me rather than add my voice to the large chorus of fans of Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca and Midnight’s Children, for example) although it won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1998 and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2000. Jackie Kay is a Scottish writer (half-Nigerian), brought up in Glasgow, and I enjoy her poetry because of the shared cultural identity and its focus on race. Trumpet was her debut novel and is jointly set in London and -through memory flashbacks- in 1960s Glasgow and tells the story of acclaimed trumpeter, Joss Moody, who is revealed upon his death to have been a woman living as a man. Exceptionally poignant, Trumpet explores the aftermath of the revelation of Joss Moody’s true sex and the impact that has on his adopted son, Colman, who is both grieving and struggling to accept his father’s huge secret. It features on LGBT literature lists often and was recommended to me by a friend who grew up in the same suburb of North Glasgow as Jackie Kay. Trumpet is an emotive exploration of transgenderism, race and loss/grief and is a beautiful, gentle alternative (or additional read, of course) to Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
There you have it: the first six of thirty books that make up (almost) thirty years of impressionable reading -including being read to, if you want to be technical about it (seeing as I didn’t read alone for the first few years).
Posted on | March 7, 2011 | 14 Comments
Early last month I was invited (thanks to Simon, who likes to have company to these types of things) to attend the recording session of The TV Book Club, which took place on February 22nd. This was the first time that the filming had been open to a private audience and I was thrilled to be one of a small group of five bloggers to attend the first open session. More photos can be seen on the Specsavers (the sponsors of The TV Book Club) Facebook fan page including one of the exciting goodie bag we were given; there were also further books from previous shows that were given by the studio (I now have my own copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, both fantastic books and both I had borrowed from the library).
Following a meet and greet in the Green Room we watched a recording of The TV Book Group with the presenters and guest book club panelist, actor Nigel Havers. The book being discussed was Bleed for Me byMichael Robotham, a thriller that initially did not appeal to me but that the panel persuaded me may make a riveting beach read (in fact, Meera Syal had read it on a beach in Egypt and Nigel Havers in one sitting on holiday). I have attended a filming session before but that was a different experience; I was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at how things come together and the TV show is actually made. The set itself is quite small and shares a studio with the set for The Saturday Kitchen, which was illuminating in itself. Following being spectators for the discussion we were also given a tour of the production room where the programme is actually produced by the director, producers, editing and sound technicians, whilst the cast/panelists re-shot some takes.
I am not a regular watcher of The TV Book Club (rarely a regular watcher of anything on terrestrial TV, preferring to watch DVDs to my own timetable) so cannot say how the recording session fully compares to watching it at home but, from what I have watched, it was fascinating to see how the different segments of the show slot into place to become a cohesive half hour of material. The discussion at the episode’s heart occurs as it does onscreen -even taking the break time- so there is still a sensation of a “live” book group meet and all of the thoughts expressed are the presenters’ and guests’ own. I was struck too by how enthusiastic they all were, engaging with the book, and how similar their impressions were to that of the real-life book group whose video interview ran at one stage in between takes.
We also learned from Charlotte from Cactus Studios that there are a staggering amount of books submitted by publishers to feature on the show but that they can also “call in” titles, much like the Booker prize -as well as other literary prizes- do when deciding on a shortlist. Charlotte and the rest of the team then read all of the submissions before deciding what will go forward in that season to be discussed by the presenters; guests are often chosen for each show depending on their preferences for the books (in the case of the recording session I witnessed, Nigel Havers is a fan of author Michael Robotham). All in all, an interesting process.
Before we wrapped for the day we returned to the Green Room where we had after-show drinks with the presenters and the team at Cactus Studios. Sadly I did not have the opportunity to gush like the fan-girl I am meet Nigel Havers (I have enjoyed his acting for years, especially his performance of Max de Winter in a theatrical production of Rebecca several years ago) but I did thoroughly enjoy meeting three of the presenters: Jo Brand, Meera Syal and Dave Spikey, who were all gracious and entertaining. Candice and Richard of MEC, the social media managers for MEC Media advertising who arranged the event with their client Specsavers, were enthusiastic and excited about the possibility of working with book bloggers in the future and the potential that may hold. I hope that there are further events like this in my book blogging career as I found it a lot of fun and very interesting so thank you to Richard for extending the invite. The canapés and chocolate birthday cake (for the lovely Charlotte of Cactus Studios) were also very much enjoyed (if there is something I enjoy more than books, it is good food and wine but so often I enjoy them together).« go back — keep looking »