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New Year: New Challenge

No more themes.
No more book buying!
Yes, in an attempt to halt the flow of books cascading through our house, I have vowed not to buy any more books for the whole of 2014. I intend to ‘watch less, read more’.

I'm trying to avoid too much of this...

I’m trying to avoid too much of this…

The ‘no book buying rules’ in full:
1) I shall not buy books for myself for the whole year;
2) I can (if necessary) buy books for others or my children (they cannot have birthdays or Christmas without new books!);
3) I can swap books;
4) There is no limit to the number of books I give away;
5) I can exchange books at Barter Books in Alnwick, as long as I do not pay for them with cash;
6) I cannot download titles I have to pay for;
7) I could download free classics if I don’t already have a paper copy (up for debate);
8) I can receive books as gifts;
9) I can order or reserve books from my local library;
10) There is no limit to the number of books I borrow from my local library.

By the way, as you’ll probably have gathered from the monthly photos of my home library, there is no concern that I will run out of reading material. My bookcases are overflowing, there are books in every room of the house; my Kindle(s) are packed with over 900 books and our local library is excellent.

I anticipate the first few weeks, even months to be difficult. Even the past few days have been tricky. I have been challenged when shopping or late-night browsing. I have disabled my Amazon account and have not gone into my local charity shops in the hope of keeping away from temptation.

However, I hope our finances are improved, my addiction is lessened, and some of those toppling towers of books are out of the house over the coming months.
I am also hoping that by ‘going public’ with my addiction, I will be supported in my resolution.

Do you ‘suffer’ with book-buying-compulsions? Do you seek the thrill of a new (second hand) book? Do you listen to/watch book-related programmes with pen in hand to jot down titles to then order online? Do you love the anticipation of a fresh book joining others on your shelves?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unread paper on your shelves? Do you just not know how to start reducing the number you buy? Do you not know where to start reading?
Do all your efforts at reducing the number you have end up in a half-hearted ‘prune’ of a few tens but with the discovery of more great reads you’d forgotten you had?
Do you have unintentional duplicate copies of novels you’ve not even read?
Welcome to Book-Addicts Anonymous!

The only difficulty now is just what to read?!

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Posted by on 05/01/2014 in Book-ish things, Life, Reading space

 

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A Victorian End of Year Review (of sorts)

ImageVaultHandler_aspxAnd so, the end of 2013 has passed… and so has my two-year themed reading challenge. It’s been such fun choosing a monthly theme then piling up the appropriate books with fevered anticipation. And then posting gratuitous pictures of my personal library. The total of books read thematically has been less than impressive, as seen on my Good Reads list.

Organising my reading thematically has given me focus, made me take books off my shelves (even if they’re just been piled up and reshelved after a couple of months), and challenged me to discover new authors and genres.

However, it has sometimes been restrictive and the blogging element of the experiment has fallen by the wayside a little. I haven’t reflected on the themes deeply enough, perhaps because the reading in the end hasn’t been so focused. I’m still distracted by all the books I haven’t read, and all the books which keep piling up in our house.

So October’s theme, which melded into November and (oops!) into December, was Victoriana. I loved the anticipation of this and found some delicious looking books on my shelves (see previous post). The few novels I managed to read were successfully atmospheric and (perhaps) overly dramatic. Some were set in brothels with suitable emphasis on sexual proclivities (The Crimson Petal and the White in particular; not too gratuitous but with an engaging narrative style. And stonking good plot). There was swirling fog, gorgeous dresses, and grisly murders (at times). They all seemed to be hefty tomes with complicated plots and lots of sex. Perhaps it’s an attempt to redress the balance of our mis-conception that the Victorians repressed everything. (see Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians to redress the balance)

Reading contemporary novels set in the Victorian era has been an interesting contrast to the style and content of the ‘real’ Victorian novels I’ve already read.  Some of the Victoriana was almost a self-conscious parody, seeking to recapture the thrills of a Victorian ‘sensationalist novel’ but failing. I’d rather read Wilkie Collins or Mary Braddon, thanks.

I would recommend anyone to try a year, or a few months, reading within a certain theme; whether a particular author, setting, genre, subject matter. I have discovered some gems and authors I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. Get out of your comfort zone and look in a different part of your local bookshop or library.

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And so as I look ahead into 2014, I’m resolving to ‘watch less, read more.’ I have many books piled up waiting to be read and am looking forward to a year’s ‘free reading’, returning to my old habits of reading different books, whatever takes my fancy…
…. but with the twist that I cannot buy any more books for myself for the whole year.

Now, that’s an idea for a year’s worth of blog posts…

 

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Nordic Noir

Branagh's Kurt Wallander

Branagh’s Kurt Wallander

Although it’s springtime, the wintry weather seemed to be blasting us from the North throughout March, and so my reading theme chimed with the Nordic-based weather front.

A librarian friend jokingly suggested that I should spend each month dressed according to my reading theme; she was particularly looking forward to last month’s Regency theme with empire-line dresses, fans and smelling salts. I disappointed her, but suggested this month I might appear in the library wearing the same, cable-knit jumper, unbrushed hair and a permanently surly expression. I resisted.

And so I started with Henning Mankell. I have had every intention of watching the TV series (both the original Swedish and BBC versions) but only seem to have found the time to have watched one episode of one BBC series. Similarly, I had accumulated a few of Mankell’s crime novels and looked forward to ‘meeting’ Wallander in his original form.
I started with Sidetracked, only because it’s the earliest (fifth) in the series I have on my shelf. Faceless Killers is somewhere on my Kindle and The Dogs of Riga is issued to me from my local library.

Wallander is as darkly dour as I had been led to expect, with a typically troubled personal life. but in this novel, he seems able to embark on a new relationship, cares for his dementia-troubled father and has genuinely good working relationships with his team, I underestimated the facets of the character at first. The writing is good, introducing a few strands of the story in the first few chapters, describing a visually dramatic suicide early on, killing a character we’d been ‘observing’ in minute detail only pages before, and, in particular, beginning the narrative inside the head of the murderer. Of course, none of this is new, but these techniques quickly and effectively create psycholocial suspense and intrigue which might take longer or not be possible in a more ‘plodding’ crime narrative. The action takes place in particular geographic locations; the Swedish geography is described in detail; the MidSummer setting of Sidetracked provides an interesting counterpoint to the self-immolating suicide and the psychological darkness of the perpetrator.image

I confess, I like Harry Hole. Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast has introduced us and I’d like to spend more time in his company. This thriller is longer, denser and more complex than Sidetracked, the narrative jumping between Winter 1999-2000 (including a visit from the US President to Sweden) and events on the battlefield and camp hospitals in the late 1940s. issues of loyalty, justice, identity, love and retribution resonate through the years. Gripping and chilling.

Harry Hole is, as expected, a character in conflict; an unsatisfied personal life, unresolved issues, hidden depths waiting to be explored in further investigations. He has a network of relationships, both personal and profiessional; he antagonises and infuriates colleagues and superiors. And has a very particular dress sense. (He reminds me a little of a Swedish Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh-set novels)

Do you ever hang onto books ‘in case you might get round to reading it one day’? I do. I was reminded of this when I picked up my copy of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow when a charity shop receipt fluttered out. It was dated 2001. At least the book’s now off the shelf, being read. It’s a downbeat, dour, snow-laden mystery, although I’m only four chapters in; I doubt it’ll become an all-singing, all-dancing up-beat affair though. If, indeed, I finish it; it’s not gripped me yet, sadly.

 

imageThe wonderfully titled The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was, by happenstance, March’s reading group choice. I was looking forward to this best selling, quirky story of a centenarian’s journey (both literal and metaphorical) through his life. However, I didn’t warm to Allan Karlsson’s on his Forrest-Gump-ian adventures but I did make it to the end (too late for the group’s meeting) and was amused by some of the more bizarre situations he found himself in.

(A further confession: the final few days of March found me gripped by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: apparently, ‘the addictive no.1 US best seller that everyone is talking about’. It was gripping; a rollercoaster ride of a thriller, with many twists and turns, dips and peaks which kept my light on well past my bedtime.)image

I ran out of time for the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander, any of Anne Holt’s crime thrillers, John Ajvide Lindqvist or the novelisation of The Killing. A slightly disappointing reading tally this month, certainly compared to last month’s Regency romp, but my reading appetite is whetted to venture north again to hook up with Harry Hole, Lisbeth Salander, Kurt Wallander and Oskar & Eli. Hej da…

 

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On Anticipation

My ambitious pile of reading for March's Nordic Noir theme.

My ambitious pile of reading for March’s Nordic Noir theme.

Too many books?!
This pile represents my bookshelf gleanings for March’s ‘Nordic Noir’ theme. Yes, I know the month’s almost finished, but I wanted to record my ambitious hopes for the month’s reading before the moment had passed. My Kindle’s poised on the top as I have almost ten other appropriate books on it.

A few of these titles are from our local library; some recommended by an enthusiastic librarian, others just leapt off the shelves at me. Those that I own are likely to be joining the ever-increasing pile of books awaiting their new home in Barter Books; just need to read them first.

I haven’t read much of this pile, and am aware that we’re in the last week of the month, but I am enjoying having about five of them currently on the go. Once I log off, I’m off to my reading group to discuss ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared’; not quite Nordic Noir but set in the right geographical area with a crime driving the plot. Admittedly (and rather shamefully) I’m only about half way through it and haven’t warmed to the central centenarian ‘hero’. I shall persevere with this ‘Forrest Gump’ style novel. It’s quirky, unusual and has been getting rave reviews. Let’s see how tonight’s discussion progresses.

More musings on my foray into ‘Nordic Noir’ at the end of the month; as long as I can find some more time to get stuck into this pile…

 

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My 2012 Olympic Reading Challenge

 This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of NewBooks Magazine; see newbooksmag.com for more…

In this year of sporting achievement, I set myself a typically sedentary challenge: to read a different theme or genre each month. Although voracious, I usually vary styles and subjects, avoiding repetition. This year, I wanted to challenge myself to read more widely, to pull more books off my groaning shelves, to see what gems I’ve been ignoring. I sketched out twelve themes to explore with a rough idea of which books to include, allowing reading group commitments and impulsive choices to slip in; permitting certain books to ‘hangover’ into other months.

 

I had an easy start to the year, reading female romantic fiction in January: from Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man to More Than Love Letters and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (amongst others), I was surprised at the quality and variety of writing but was ready for ‘meatier’ stuff in February:

‘male adventure and historical fiction’. Bernard Cornwall’s The Winter King and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth were both rollicking adventure romps with a definite male flavour; nubile women in diaphanous robes; strong and resolute male heroes. Before I Go To Sleep snuck in, as did Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, a great alternative pair for half-term holidays.

 

March’s non-fiction was a non-starter, despite my enthusiastic pile to read: If Walls Could Talk, She-Wolves, The Diamond Queen, and Watching the English were all dipped into. It whetted my thirst to vary my ‘diet’ with a few more factual reads.

 

April is a cruel month so I enjoyed ‘murder in my library’ with classic British crime. By side-stepping Christie, I discovered the delights of Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham and Gladys Mitchell with some MC Beaton slipping in. (My notes also say I read Fifty Shades of Grey this month; less said the better!)

 

May was ‘merrie’ with historical fiction, moving from Tey’s Richard III’s ‘mystery’, The Daughter of Time to Phillipa Gregory’s The White and Red Queens. H.Rider Haggard’s She was finally finished by Kindle and A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hoare was a quick weekend-away treat.

 

June welcomed Stephen King. He’s written so much; I’ve read so little. I read parts one and two of The Dark Tower; they were sufficient. Under The Dome was quickly aborted for August’s ‘Another Country’ theme.

Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows was a beautifully lyrical family and national saga; The Song of Achillies an ancient but fast-paced love story; The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency an amusing, light start to a series, counteracted by Winter in Madrid with tales of spying, love and nationalism. The much anticipated The Far Pavilions remained far off…

 

With a deep breath, I launched into September’s sci-fi/fantasy month. I started on familiar ground with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (Edwardian visionary thrills) and Alan Garner (Welsh/Cheshire myths and adventures). I found gems in Julie Myerson’s beautifully disturbing Then, Adam Roberts’ bleak Snow, Erin Morgenstern’s magical The Night Circus, but was deadened by (and gave up on) Iain M Banks’ Culture novels. I’ll save the Game of Thrones for another time.

 

October felt academic with ‘unread classics’: dipping into Shirley, Lady Audley’s Secret, Anna Karenina, The Scarlet Letter, and Persuasion.

November (at the time of writing) will be a combination of ghost stories with vampires: MR James, Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe, Let the Right One In, The Passage.

I’ll round the year off, appropriately, with Dickens.

 

I’ve relished following up recommendations and discovering books I’ve always wanted to read. I’ve been more disciplined in my reading choices and reflected on why I like what I usually choose. Each month, I’ve run out of time; my children, husband, and life make loud demands! Having only skimmed the surface of genres and authors this year, I look forward to continuing the experiment into 2013.

What would you suggest I try next: Nordic Noir? Regency? Iris Murdoch? Hilary Mantel? Both Trollopes? Do let me know!

 

Amabel Craig (@bookworm78) will continue to blog about her experiment at https://bookwormmum.wordpress.com.

 
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Posted by on 31/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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2012: My Year In Books

No comment or reflection, just a list of the 70 books I’ve found time to read this year. Marks are given out of 5. RG = Reading Group book; K = read on Kindle. As you’ll see, I wasn’t very strict with my themed reading; will try harder next year.

January

  1. Requiem for a Mezzo    – Carola Dunn (4)
  2. Secrets – Jaqueline Wilson (5)
  3. The Boy In the Dress – David Walliams (5)
  4. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict  – Laurie Rigler (3)
  5. Don’t You Want Me? – India Knight (3)
  6. More Than Love Letters  – Rosie Thornton (3)
  7. Snowdrops – A D MIller  (3) (K, RG)
  8. Mistress of Mellyn – Victoria Holt (4)
  9. There But For The – Ali Smith (5)
  10. Emily Goes to Exeter – M C Beaton (4) (K)
  11. This Charming Man – Marian Keyes (3)

February

  1. The Winter King – Bernard Cornwall (3)
  2. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson (5)
  3. The Wives of Henry Oades – Johanna Moran (4) (RG)
  4. Before I Go To  Sleep – S J Watson (5) (K)
  5. The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett (4)
  6. The Library Book – Various (5)

March

  1. Dark Matter: A Ghost Story – Michelle Paver (3) (RG)
  2. Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! – Various (5)

April

  1. The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (3)
  2. The Paris Wife – Paula McLaine (4) (RG)
  3. Minerva – M C Beaton (4)
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James (2)
  5. And Now The Shipping Forecast – Peter Jefferson (3)
  6. Half of the Human Race – Anthony Quinn (4)
  7. The Taming of Annabelle – M C Beaton (4)

May

  1. The White Queen – Philippa Gregory (4)
  2. The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey (4)
  3. Sweet Danger  – Margery Allingham (3)

June

  1. The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell (4)
  2. The Chinese Shawl – Patricia Wentworth (4)
  3. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – Agatha Christie (4)
  4. The Case of the Guilded Fly – Edmund Crispin (4)
  5. She – H. Rider Haggard (4) (K)
  6. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (2) (RG)
  7. A Gathering Storm – Rachel Hoare (3)
  8. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Stephen King (3)
  9. The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King (3)

July

  1. The Song of Achillies – Madeline Miller (5) (K)
  2. Into the Darkest Corner  – Elizabeth Haynes (5)
  3. Cameron on Cameron – Dylan Jones (3)
  4. The Revelations – Alex Preston (2) (K)
  5. Death At Pemberley – P D James (5) (K)

August

  1. A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (5)
  2. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing – Jasper Fforde (5)
  3. Daughters in Law – Joanna Trollope (4)
  4. Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham (4)
  5. Jubilee – Shelly Harris (3) (RG)
  6. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency  – Alexander McCall Smith (4)
  7. Pure – Andrew Miller  (4) (RG)
  8. Winter In Madrid – C J Sansom (5) (K)

September

  1. The Weirdstone of Brisingamon – Alan Garder (5)
  2. The Night Circus – Erin Mortgenstern (4) (RG)
  3. Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (5)
  4. Poetry: Fierie – Jackie Kay (5) / Family Album – Sheree Mack (5)/ Out of the Blue – Simon Armitage (5)

October

  1. The War of the Worlds – H G Wells (5) (K)
  2. Then – Julie Myerson (5)
  3. Zoo Time – Howard Jacobson (4)
  4. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner (4)
  5. The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore (5)

November

  1. The Last Weekend – Blake Morrison (5)
  2. Shirley – Charlotte Bronte (4)
  3. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon (5) (K)
  4. Emma Brown – Clare Boylan (3)
  5. The Betrayal of Trust – Susan Hill (5)

December

  1. One Night Of Love – Mary Balough (4)
  2. A Weekend With Mr Darcy – Victoria Connolley (4) (K)
  3. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals – Wendy Jones (4)  (RG)
  4. The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend (4)
  5. Crocodile on the Sandbanks – Elizabeth Peters (4) (K)

So, that was my year. Not a particuarly large number, but respectable for a mum of 2. More comment to follow, along with plans for more themed reading in 2013…

 
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Posted by on 31/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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On giving away books

Every few months we enjoy a day out to Barter Books in Alnwick; a beautiful market town on the North East coast with amazing gardens, castle and one of the best second hand bookshops -ever. It’s a family favourite: husband sees books leaving the house ( they run a barter system), children watch trains running above the bookshelves (it’s in the old railway station), they ‘drive’ the book bus while browsing for their own books, we get to rummage through shelves and shelves of books of all descriptions; to top it all off, we can warm ourselves by the fire and rejuvenate in the restored cafe.
As I handed over my bag a few weeks’ ago, bulging with about 30 books to offer for barter, I found myself wondering (again) why I find it so hard to give books away. Why am I so attached to them? Why do I always hesitate before handing them over?

I don’t see myself as a particularly materialistic person. But I find it difficult to resist buying another book to add to my ‘must read’ shelves. Books represent an indulgence; I don’t buy lots of shoes, jewellery, clothes, go on expensive holidays, etc. so buying a book, whether from a charity shop, at a reduced price, or throwing the latest bestseller into the basket with the shopping, is only a minor, insignificant indulgence. Isn’t it?

Buying a book represents so much. Having a book indicates the intention to read it. I have promised myself the time to enjoy reading this book; it represents ‘me time’; a moment to be selfish, to sit down, enjoy an escape from daily demands and responsibilities, to listen to and experience another person’s stories, experiences or knowledge.

I know I can achieve all this by borrowing from my local library (which I do, very regularly), but owning my own copy makes the contents more personal. I can read it in my own time, without a renewal deadline. I can lend it, enjoy receiving it back, chat about it, return it to my shelves. I also become attached to certain editions, remembering where I was when I read it, occasionally leaving a memento of a particular time in the books’ leaves.

So often though, a book on my shelves represents a desire to read it. I often fill my shelves with books I either want to read or feel I should read. My bookcases are aspirational!

But, of course, there comes a moment when I realise I can pass on a book.

I can give it a new life, save it from languishing, un read on our shelves. I might have read it before but not fallen so in love with it that I cannot see it go; in fact, I might not have read it at all (yet). It is my responsibility as a bibliophile to pass books on, to share their physicality and their contents.

And so, farewell (some) beloved books. Live again…

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Posted by on 17/11/2012 in Uncategorized

 

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