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I actually didn’t read that much non-fiction while I was away from the blog, probably because my fuzzy brain was incapable of dealing with anything too complicated. But I did manage the following:

4259Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping vs the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money

These are the last volumes collecting together Hornby’s book columns from The Believer magazine. As I think I’ve said somewhere previously, whether you enjoy these or not will depend almost entirely on whether you like Hornby’s personality (at least as it comes across here) but I definitely do so I was very happy reading 4457297these. After all, this is a man who has been able to articulate why I have never got on with the works of Thomas Hardy, to wit:

Hardy’s prose is best consumed when you’re young, and your endless craving for misery is left unsatisfied by a diet of The Smiths and incessant parental misunderstanding.

It is worth mentioning that I never got The Smiths either.

24861532Val McDermid’s Forensics (subtitled The Anatomy of Crime)

I love Val McDermid. I am ashamed to say that I have not kept up with her novels but I think she is just fabulous, and I will remedy the book thing at some point (I have at least made a note of what I haven’t read so that i can do the thing.) This was a fascinating book; I can’t resist this sort of thing as my dedication to  watching CSI and related shows will testify, and this was a great introduction to the various techniques and how they have developed over time using key historical (and more recent) cases as illustration. So well written, I devoured this in a couple of sittings. You will notice that there is a fly on the cover. It appears in random places throughout the book and I can’t tell you the number of time I turned the page and forgot what it was and tried to brush it off the paper. Idiot that I am 😀

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Scan 26So, this is an odd little book. We are in the basement of the library where our unnamed narrator, one of the librarians, is setting up for the day and has found one of the library patrons who has managed to get himself locked in overnight (I’m pretty sure it’s a man though I can’t remember if that’s ever made explicit) and as she can’t let him out until the library is actually opened. She explains this but I’m not sure if it’s true or she just wants a captive audience for her to vent.

Because we are very much in the world of the unreliable narrator and she is going to let it all out, not just her view of her own position (disappointed in her career), her colleagues and the various strictures of librarianship but the passion she has developed for a young man called Martin who comes to the library to carry out research.

The Library of Unrequited Love is translated from the French and I’m not sure if that’s why the way in which the narrator spoke didn’t ring entirely true with me, but she certainly has a lot to say in such a small book.

dewey-300x300I have the feeling that she is older than Martin, not that that matters at all of course but it gave me a sense that her love would remain totally one-sided. Not sure I would like her in person but it was interesting to spend an hour in her company.

My fourth Readathon book.

Spring-Cleaning-785x1024This time it’s serious.

These are books that I started and then just stopped reading for whatever reason. Some of them have been lying around for absolutely AGES and a decision has to be made on whether to persevere or throw in the towel.

Sigh.

So here goes:

  1. The Thirties: An Intimate History by Juliet Gardiner – 98 pages (out of 763 (not including index, acknowledgements and bibliography). This starts out with the story of one of the great domestic disasters of the late 1920s which just so happened to take place win my home town. This was the Glen Cinema fire in Paisley on 31 December 1929 when 71 children were killed. This is the prologue to a general history of the 1930s which I really do want to read but will set aside for the moment. [Parked, to start again from the beginning]
  2. Wars I have Seen by Gertrude Stein – I think I started this because I was quite taken by the portrayal of Stein by Kathy Bates in  Midnight in Paris, a film I wasn’t otherwise terribly enamoured of. 8 pages plus introduction. May come back to this another time. [Abandoned]
  3. Paris After the Liberation by Antony Beevor & Artemis Cooper – no idea when or why I started this, momentum entirely lost. One for another time I think [Abandoned]
  4. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip – I feel like I’ve been reading this for years, and not getting any further with it. I’m 96 pages in, not quite halfway. I clearly have issues with high fantasy. It’s made it on to my reading lists for two previous Once Upon a Time Challenges. Other people speak very highly of it. One more chapter and then a decision [Read on then decide]
  5. When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson – hmm, loved Case Histories, liked One Good Turn, have bought Started Early, Took My Dog but stalled 56 pages into this one. deserves another chance though given it’s a mystery I think I need to go back to the beginning as I have (literally) lost the plot – [Restart]
  6. The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter – can’t remember why I picked this up other than general love for Carter – may have been triggered by one of the books I read during the 24 Hour Readathon in 2012. Hardly started. One for anther time [Abandon]
  7. Jigs & Reels by Joanne Harris – a book of short stories which I sort of stopped but as it’s stories easy to pick up again, about half way through and will continue [Keep going]
  8. Tales by HP Lovecraft – a re-read in a beautiful Library of America edition – will continue (stories again so easy to dip into) [Keep going]
  9. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk – triggered by either a TV programme or a lecture at the British Museum, either way can’t really remember why I started this so…. [Abandon]
  10. Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr – this was a planned re-read of the first three Bernie Gunther novels so I could start reading the rest in the series but I ran out of steam 178 pages into March Violets [Abandon]
  11. O Beloved Kids by Rudyard Kipling – went to visit his house a few years ago and came back with quite a few book. These are his letters to his children and easy to dip in and out of [Keep going]
  12. Snow White and the Seven Samurai – my second attempt at a Tom Holt comic fantasy novel (my first was a present and reviewed here).  Tried to start it twice, haven’t been able to get to grips with it at all [Abandon]
  13. At Day’s Close: A History of Night Time by A Roger Ekirch – read an article about first and second sleep a while back and remembered I had this on the shelves; only 12 pages in, set down and not picked up again [Abandon]
  14. Lovecraft Unbound – tales inspired by the works of Lovecraft, another book of short stories, can dip in and out as with others so [Keep going]
  15. Bone Song by John Meaney – highly regarded and strongly recommended by the Book God, I’m 150 pages in so not quite halfway. I accidentally read ahead (don’t ask, it’s too complicated to explain but ha a lot to do with where I park my bookmark while I’m reading) and came across a plot spoiler which sort of put me off. I need to give this another try though as I do remember I was enjoying it [Read on then decide]
  16. The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – similar to the Meaney, 112 pages so far [Read on then decide]
  17. The Great Year by Nicholas Campion – I bought this around 1999 as part of my great Y2K it’s all going to end reading binge but didn’t start it, only dipped into the introduction [Abandon]
  18. The Mandlebaum Gate by Muriel Spark – this is the one that causes me the most pain,  started a chronological re-read of Spark a few years ago and stalled on this one (I wrote about it here). I really feel I should give it another try and then I can move on to reading the rest of her works [Read on then decide]

(It’s all very embarrassing) (but also quite therapeutic)

 

Spring-Cleaning-785x1024The story so far……. can be found here

This lot is the pile of books where I remember when and/or why I started reading or why I want to read them for those ones which are part of my bad habit of pulling things out of the stacks because something was triggered by another book.

Really, it will all make sense, honestly.

Let’s go…..

  1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Blimey, this was obviously meant to be a re-read, and almost certainly planned to be finished before the first of the Peter Jackson films came out which means I must have started this sometime during 2012? Reading the Book God’s lovely hardback copy (the 1974 ninth impression of the 1966 third edition). 54 pages in which means I have just got past the Trolls. I think I’ll tidy this one away for another day [abandoned]
  2. Sir John Hawkins by Harry Kelsey – subtitled “Queen Elizabeth’s Slave Trader”, I picked this up because I so enjoyed The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd which I reviewed here. 28 pages in, would like to have another go at this because of my general interest in 16th century history (it’s what I studied for my degree) [keep going]
  3. Empires of Light by Jill Jonnes – “Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World”. Another Book God volume, this is all to do with the novel I’m reading about Tesla mention in my first spring cleaning post. Not yet started, back on the stacks until I’m ready [parked]
  4. Moon Palace by Paul Auster. I have had this book for goodness knows how long but picked it up for the same reason as Empires of Light (Tesla is in it apparently). Not yet started, same fate as the Jonnes [parked]
  5. Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen – “Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe”. Yet another Book God volume, pulled off the shelf because of the excellent series about Byzantium we saw on BBC Four earlier this year. One for later [parked]
  6. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – book 2 of The Hunger Games, another one to be read before the film. Only got 20 pages in and didn’t get round to the movie either so we can all see how well that worked out! Do still intend to read this, especially as I also have Mockingjay tucked away somewhere, so stays on the pile [keep going].
  7. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith – I struggled with this one all the way through to page 148 which is where I stopped. I feel I need to try to finish this as it’s such an influential novel and Highsmith is so well-rgarded. Only 100 pages to the end so…. [keep going].
  8. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood. I was lucky enough to see her speak about MaddAddam in August last year (and to get my copy of the book signed – lots of stuff about that here) and I am really interested in her thoughts on SF given the occasional bad press she has had in that space. So far I’ve only read the introduction but want to work my way through this one [keep going]
  9. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was the book I identified for my participation on the Long Awaited Reads event in January which came to absolutely nothing. I really really want to read this but just haven’t been in the right frame of mind. Everyone tells me to persevere and who am I to argue so though I’m only 92 pages in and its an absolute chunkster I will [keep going]
  10. Blow by Blow – the biography of the fashionista Isabella Blow which I’ve had for ages and picked up after I went to the eponymous exhibition at Somerset House on my birthday. It’s a super breathless gossipy magazine-type biography written by her husband with a ghostwriter and I will definitely be finishing this one. [keep going]
  11. The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan – the third and final book in The Strain Trilogy. The law of diminishing returns is seemingly in play here. I stopped reading this at page 80 in the middle of a chapter because I was getting very exasperated, and that was warring with my natural desire to find out how the story ends. Most annoying. [50 more pages then decide]

So not as conclusive as it might have been but at least I have a plan. But this isn’t all of it by any means, oh no! Wait for Part 3……

Spring-Cleaning-785x1024So, I’ve not been hitting the books quite as much lately. This isn’t a reading slump as such (or at least I don’t think so) but is partly due to the fact that there are just so many books in the house, leading to a TBR pile the size of Ben Nevis and too much choice. And that’s before I even get to the Kindle app.

I’ve always been someone who reads more than one book at a time because I like to ring the changes but I think things have got a tiny wee bit out of control.

Time for some bookish spring cleaning.

I’m going to go through the pile of stuff I’ve started and try to work out whether I’m just resting from that particular story or I really need to take the decision to *gulp* abandon the book.

So, Part 1 – the stuff I’m really seriously trying to read at the moment:

  1. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt – the last days of Nikola Tesla alongside the story of Louise, a chambermaid in the hotel in which he is a resident. 166 pages in. Lovely story, just need to get on with it
  2. Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler – the 11th and almost certainly penultimate adventures of the Peculiar Crime Unit; bought this on the day it came out, expected to read it in a couple of sittings, not sure what happened. Likely to try to finish this one first. 86 pages in.
  3. Kraken by China Mieville – galloping ahead with this one and then stalled for some reason. 198 pages in, really want to know how this works out

Those are all physical books. On the Kindle app:

  1. LA Noir by John Buntin – picked up because the Book God and I thoroughly enjoyed the Frank Darabont mini-series Mob City which took its main plot from this non-fiction work. 21% read.
  2. The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers – like lots of other people I picked this up because of the references to it in True Detective (to which I am fairly addicted and looking forward to the final episode next Saturday….), though I think I’ve actually had it for ages. Only 3% in (which basically means I’ve read the introduction)
  3. The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts – an e-book supplied by the author for an honest review, all I’ve got to do is sit down and make a proper start. 5% in, really want to read this as hearing good things.

So, not that embarrassing in the end. Oh, but just you wait……

ImageI was very lucky to get a ticket to hear Margaret Atwood speak about her new novel MaddAddam at the Hatchards Bloomsbury Book Club in Bedford Square at the end of August (and of course to get my copy of the book signed). (Apologies for the fuzzy photo!)

I have been an Atwood devotee since I was a teenager but this is the first time I’ve heard her speak in person, and what a thrill it was. She is such a presence, so articulate and willing to engage and debate, and I took piles of notes which I don’t intend to repeat here you’ll be relieved to note.

  • I was interested to hear that she hadn’t originally intended Oryx & Crake to be the first in a trilogy but when she finished it she realised that the abrupt ending would lead to questions and that she would have to revisit the world she had created.
  • She talked about the distinction between speculative and science fiction. She said this wasn’t about one being better than the other but about accurate labelling; when she sees something described as science fiction she expects rockets and planets and feels cheated if they aren’t present. She distinguished between two pioneers – Jules Verne (close to reality, might happen, potentially true) and HG Wells (fantastic, not real).
  • She reads the back pages of science journals to see what people are working on (and encourages us to do so too)
  • One of humanity’s first technologies was telling stories, and the ability to understand stories begins in children at an early stage, within the first year.
  • “We speculate what Spot the Dog is thinking, but he’s probably not thinking about who makes dogs”

All fascinating stuff, and the promise of more to come. I left the event even more of a fangirl than when I went in!

ScanAs part of my current mild obsession with all things Gatsby and Fitzgerald related (and yes, this year I really really am going to read Tender is the Night after nearly thirty years of thinking about it) caused by the release of the latest film version (reviewed here) I have been keeping my eye out for any other books that touch on the subject matter.

Towards the end of May I happened to be meeting Silvery Dude for drink after work and agreed for a change to rendezvous in the rather nice little Foyles bookshop under the Royal Festival Hall. As is often the case His Dudeness was delayed by work and so I found myself in the shop by myself and because where books are concerned I have no self-control I ended up buying quite a few volumes, including Careless People by Sarah Churchwell – the eye-catching cover and the subtitle “murder, mayhem and the invention of The Great Gatsby were totally irresistible even though I’m not supposed to be buying hardbacks in more (for reasons of space, you understand).

This is one of those books where you want to grab the attention of the person sitting next to you, say “did you now…” and then read them a quote. It is full of fascinating information about all sorts of things. The structure is interesting, alternating  as it does between Scott and Zelda and their move east so that he can write what would become Gatsby and a notorious unsolved murder case which may possibly have had some influence on the novel. I will admit that I found the switch between the two elements a bit distracting at first but soon warmed to it and enjoyed the juxtaposition of the Fitzgeralds’ lifestyle and the incredibly casual and astonishingly incompetent approach to investigating the death of Eleanor Mills and her married lover. It has the proverbial cast of thousands so definitely a book to dip into or read in small chunks as it ranges widely across all sorts of subjects .

On women drinking in the age of the speakeasy;

You were thought to be good at holding your liquor in those days if you could make it to the ladies before throwing up

On love:

There are all kinds of love in the world but never the same love twice

On fact versus fiction:

Unlike fiction, reality has no obligation to be realistic.

However my personal favourite snippet of information, fact fans, is that the first recorded use of the word “motherfucker” was in 1918. That probably says a lot about me.

Although the book focusses on the period around the writing of Gatsby there is an epilogue which looks at Fitzgerald from 1925 to 1940 when he died suddenly just before Christmas, far too young and if indeed he didn’t fulfil his early promise he did leave us a with a masterpiece, for which we should all be grateful.

Oh and when I tried to blame the Silvery One for my purchases the Book God pointed out that I should have stood outside the shop with my face pressed against the glass. Go figure.

I am so, so far behind on my reviews that I seriously thought about skipping some (heresy) or having more than one (unrelated) book in a post (anathema). So I’ve decided to do the next best thing and crank out some mini-reviews. no disrespect intended to any of the books at all, of course.

First up is a tiny wee (in size not substance) memoir by Susannah Clapp; she was a long-time friend of Angela Carter, and A Card From…. is her attempt to capture the personality, interests, passions and life of an intelligent and versatile author by using the postcards she sent through her lifetime as a jumping off point for anecdotes and remembrances. The postcards themselves are often odd but it makes sense that Angela Carter would not have taken a traditional approach to dropping a note to her friends, and they make an interesting gateway into aspects of her life.

I really enjoyed reading this for two reasons:

(1) I hugely admire Angela’s work; I read and adored The Bloody Chamber when I was a student and every time I read something about her it makes me regret that I haven’t read more. I have thirteen of her books as far as I can tell and seem to skew towards her non-fiction. I’m mildly astonished (and a bit appalled) that I haven’t read either Wise Children or *gasps* The Magic Toyshop.

(2) I am incredibly nosey about people, I love reading diaries and letters and reminiscences so this was right up my street. She sounds like she must have been a challenging friend but they are often the best kind.

Very enjoyable, though this is the second time this week I’ve felt that the English Lit police will be after me (I may have disrespected Falstaff in a Facebook status update). and this hasn’t turned out to be such a mini after all…

This was my third Readathon read.

The Baskerville Legacy was not at all what I expected. When I saw it in the book shop I was immediately attracted by the cover and the subtitle “A Confession”. Ah ha, I thought, this is going to be a lovely Holmesian pastiche telling the true story of the Hound of the Baskervilles; not a straight retelling because Conan Doyle himself appears all the way through, so not a version of Holmes but a “how it came to be”. Which it was and wasn’t.

There isn’t actually a mystery here. It’s the story of how The Hound came to be written; the germ of an idea by a friend of Conan Doyle, a man called Bertram Fletcher Robinson, worked on jointly or so it would appear. But in many ways the tale being written is incidental, as this is a book about friendship, writing, collaboration, professional jealousy, talent or the lack of it and the impact of a dissolute lifestyle. Oh and of course there is spiritualism.

It’s a really enjoyable short book, and one of the most interesting things (apart from the portrait of Conan Doyle who isn’t always the jovial chap he was often portrayed as) is where the author has taken real events and changed or elaborated on them to produce his novel. because Robinson and Doyle were friends, holidayed together, and appeared to have collaborated though Doyle is the sole author on all published versions. there seems to have been a real controversy over this though as the author says none of the correspondence between the two men (if it still exists) has ever been made public. The author’s note at the end is a fascinating read all by itself.

I very much enjoyed this story, with its unsettling air of creepiness, of jealousy and strong feelings, and would recommend it as something a little bit different on the whole Holmesian thing. So not what I expected as I said, but a very happy accident.

This was my second Readathon read.

The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge is the first Patricia Duncker book I have read, though I do have another novel and a book of short stories somewhere in the stacks, and I got a hold of this one via the good offices of the very nice people at Bloomsbury ages ago. So something I meant to read and review a while back but the Curse of the Slump took hold, and here we are months and months later finally getting around to reading it.

So, it’s New Year’s Day 2000 and hunters in the Jura region of France find bodies lying in the snow, the result of what appears to be a mass suicide by a cult, not the first time this particular group, The Faith, has done something like this. The investigating judge, Dominique Carpentier, a specialist in religious sects both real and fake, is determined to get to the bottom of this though in some ways, apart from the tragic deaths of the children, it isn’t clear whether any crime has been committed. In pursuing this, Dominique comes across the composer Friedrich Grosz who knows more than he at first lets on. And a battle of wills gets underway.

I absolutely fell in love with Dominique, a woman of intellect and strong convictions, and at first it seems strange when she falls under the spell of Grosz, but he is also a fascinating and powerful character and I could absolutely see why she might be drawn to him.

This is a hugely enjoyable and clever (in the right way) novel which I found difficult to put down. The sense of place is very strong, especially when we are on Dominique’s home turf, and the mixture of religious belief, astronomy and music is very seductive. I wished the ending had been different but it absolutely made sense.

Beautifully written and very enjoyable, I’ve been recommending it to the Book God and Silvery Dude and frankly anyone else who will listen to see what they might think of it. No takers as yet, though.

For another perspective on this book you should visit Paul Magr’s blog where he talks through his reaction.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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