Monday, 16 March 2015

Penguin Little Black Classics

Penguin Little Black Classics

Penguin certainly know how to celebrate in style! To commemorate their 80th anniversary they have released 80 of their classic titles in a compact format that are retailing for just 80p each. Offering little snippets of classic literature at an affordable-for-all price, these little books (to refer to them as booklets would be doing them a bit of a disservice, I think!) are so incredibly charming and they're proving tricky to resist. I was so close to buying the whole collection, but I've settled on ten titles...for now. They've sneakily included the number of each book on the spine, making it even more tempting to complete the set. Very clever Penguin, very clever - I see what you did there!

No.05 | Aphorisms on Love by Friedrich Nietzsche 
  • "The iconoclastic German philosopher's blazing maxims on revenge, false pity and the drawbacks of marriage" 

No.07 | Wailing Ghosts by Pu Songling 
  • "These delightful miniature tales of macabre hauntings, monsters and magic tricks are Classical China's greatest stories" 

No.10 | On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman 
  • "The visionary nineteenth-century American poet celebrates nature and the human spirit in these verses from Leaves of Grass" 

No.23 | The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen 
  • "Andersen's bittersweet fairy tales propelled their troubled author to international fame and revolutionized children's writing" 

No.25 | Circles of Hell by Dante
  • "A terrifying depiction of sin and eternal damnation from Dante's Inferno, the medieval epic that revolutionized the Italian language"

No.34 | Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov
  • "Chekhov perfected the short story, as shown in these three moving miniature dramas of love, dread and lies"

No.36 | Sketchy, Doubtful, Incomplete Jottings by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • "The great nineteenth-century German thinker's musings on self-deceit, superstition, art and ambition"

No.60 | The Old Man of the Moon by Shen Fu
"A moving nineteenth-century account - lost for many decades - of a Chinese official's all-consuming love for his wife"

No.66 | A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin
  • "From Louisiana's remote bayous to its gilded cities, five startling stories of awakening by one of fin-de-siecle America's most daring writers"

No.68 | The Robber Bridegroom by Brothers Grimm
  • "Drawn from German folklore, dark, fantastical fairy tales of wicked deeds, gruesome punishment and just rewards"

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Even though I don't think the collection is perfect, I appreciate that having to narrow it down to just 80 titles must have been quite the task and I think it's a truly wonderful way to explore classic literature in bite-size segments for less than the cost of a cup of takeaway coffee. It's like I'm about to make my way through a box of chocolates and I'm very much looking forward to discovering which ones are my favourites.

I think it would be wonderful if Penguin could keep doing similar things; perhaps releasing different titles every now and again for a few pounds each. Literature should feel accessible for everyone and I really do think there is a place for these little paperbacks alongside the more elaborately designed hardback editions that look beautiful on a shelf. After all, these little editions have an irreplaceable charm all of their own.

* * *

Have you picked up anything from the collection?

Friday, 6 March 2015

Soil by Jamie Kornegay | Reading this Weekend #3

Hello and happy Friday!

The weekend is almost upon us and I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some down time. After reading quite a few short story collections, some poetry and some non-fiction in the form of The Boy in the Book by Nathan Penlington (which is a really good read!), I'm ready to get stuck into a novel again. Two Roads have been very kind and given me this copy for review. They're a new-to-me publishing house but I thoroughly enjoyed Corpus Christi by Bret Anthony Johnston and I have a feeling they're on the way to becoming one of my favourites.

Soil by Jamie Kornegay

* * *
"It begins as a simple dream. 

An idealistic environmental scientist moves his wife and young son off the grid, to a stretch of river bottom farmland in the Mississippi hills, hoping to position himself at the forefront of a revolution in agriculture. 

Within a year, he is ruined.

When a corpse appears on his family's property, the farmer is convinced he's being set up. And so begins a journey into a maze of misperceptions and personal obsessions, as the farmer, his now-estranged wife, a predatory deputy, and a backwoods wanderer, all try to uphold a personal sense of honour. 

By turns darkly comic and disturbing, Soil traces one man's apocalypse to its epic showdown in the Mississippi mudflats. "
* * *

When a book is described as being 'the Coen Brothers meets Crime and Punishment with a Mississippi twist' it's got to be worth a read, right?! I don't have any wild expectations because beyond the short blurb on the inside flap I really don't know anything else about it or about the author, Jamie Kornegay. Sometimes I like knowing a little about a book before I pick it up, but generally I love the not knowing; the diving into something that could turn out to be anything. I'm hoping for some rich descriptions of Mississippi (incidentally, how fun is that to type out?!) and some real character development as the main protagonist is gripped by paranoia as the narrative progresses.

All in all, I'm pretty excited for this one!

* * *

What are you going to be reading this weekend?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Book of the Month | February 2015

Corpus Christi: Stories by Bret Anthony Johnson | ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I must admit that I don't think I'm looking forward to a month where choosing my favourite book is a difficult decision. Thankfully February was not one of those months. As I explore short story collections a little further I am beginning to sense that they either work beautifully or they fall a little flat, and Corpus Christi most certainly falls into the former. I can't yet accurately explain what makes a good short story collection so powerful, but whatever it is, this one has it.

Each of the ten stories in this collection takes place in Corpus Christi, a town in Texas often hit by hurricanes, and where relationships between people can be as tumultuous as the stormy winds that so often bluster their way through. After just the first few stories it became clear that Johnston's characters didn't feel like characters at all. In my mind they were real and on the other side of the world from the sofa in my living room where I read about them, they were living their lives in Corpus Christi.

There are now five sticky notes in my copy, each marking a sentence or a feeling that I don't want to forget about. This is the first book I have ever done that with and I have now discovered the joy that comes with looking back through and remembering them all over again. I thought that perhaps they wouldn't quite have the same impact when taken out of context, but that's the wonderful thing about Johnston's stories, their context is life in all its happy, sad, complex, heartbreaking, tender, devastating, beautiful glory. And we all have a shared experience of life.

I smiled. I cried. I sobbed. I felt. I understood.
Thank you Bret, for breaking my heart and patching it all back together again. 

* * *

Have you read any short story collections recently?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Read in February 2015.

February was a bit of a slow reading month, but that wasn't unexpected so I'm okay with it. Although I've set a reading goal I don't want to feel like I have to read when I'm not really feeling it, and I keep reminding myself that it's okay to want to do other things too. I had an assignment to write on Brecht so I reread Life of Galileo approximately a zillion times and these three...

How to make a Friend by Fleur Smithwick | ☆☆
This copy was kindly gifted to me by the publisher and it's a book I have really mixed feelings about. Sometimes I struggle with establishing a balance between my (sometimes unfair) expectations of a book and what the book actually is in order to give it a fair rating. Because it can only be what it already is.

As a child Alice invented an imaginary friend called Sam as a way to help her cope with loneliness until one day, he went away. Now an adult Alice is involved in an accident that brings Sam back into her life and he feels more like a real person than ever. In the end I thought that it was okay. I suppose I was expecting a bit more of a disconcerting atmosphere but I couldn't really begin to explain why I was expecting that.

If you like novels that explore family dynamics and the effects those relationships can have, this might be one to pick up. I just feel that it didn't have the depth I was hoping for; everything felt a little bit surface level.

* * *

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher | ☆☆☆
This copy unexpectedly turned up on my doorstep one day last month and I did wonder if I'd been buying books in my sleep until I saw a press release tucked inside. I have absolutely no idea who sent it or where it came from, but I happily delved inside regardless.

I really admire how Schumacher sustained a narrative through a series of letters and emails to different people about entirely different topics without also being able to read the replies. It's a really clever book that could easily have felt disjointed. Jason Fitger's letters are packed full of wry wit, they're extraordinarily passive aggressive in places and I was left with a pretty good idea of his character. He very rightly earned the nickname of Jay-the-Obtuse and one of those wonderfully flawed people I can't help but feel drawn to.

At just 180 pages it was a really quick read, perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon. There are humorous insights into academia, interdepartmental ill-feeling and the aftermath of saying exactly what you want to even if it's probably best not to. Not laugh out loud hilarious, but witty and really smart. 

* * *

Corpus Christi: Stories by Bret Anthony Johnston | ☆☆☆☆
I was perusing Bookbridgr for the first time in a really long time and this collection of short stories caught my eye. I requested it not really expecting to be approved but a few days later this copy landed on my doorstep and I almost immediately got stuck in. This is my book of the month by a long way, so I'll be back tomorrow morning if you'd like to know why I think it's a truly fabulous collection!

What was your favourite read during February?