Sunday, 17 January 2016

Currently Reading.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

During what has turned out to be an emotionally draining week, I've been spending as much time as possible retreating from my real life into the lives of others through books. I'm grateful to have rediscovered the joys of reading every single day, but even more so during difficult times when the right book can help ease heightened emotions and whisk reality away, even if it's just for a few minutes here and there.

'It's 1939 and Europe teeters on the brink of war. Ten strangers are invited to Soldier Island, an isolated rock near the Devon coast. Cut off from the mainland, with their generous hosts Mr and Mrs U.N. Owen mysteriously absent, they are each accused of a terrible crime. When one of the party dies suddenly they realise they may be harbouring a murderer among their number.'

This is a fairly new addition to my bookshelf after a quick rummage around The Works the other day, meaning it was so inexpensive it was almost free. Almost. I watched the BBC adaptation a few weeks ago and thought it was brilliant so I'm familiar with the story, but that isn't taking any enjoyment away from the book and I'm already beginning to see why it is so widely regarded as her masterpiece.

I'm currently about half way through and I already knew the plot would be intricately constructed, but I'm incredibly impressed with how well Christie has fleshed out each of the many characters in so few words. As I already know how the story unfolds I've been looking out for clues, but it's so tightly put together that if I didn't already know I'd have absolutely no idea. The sheer simplicity almost adds an extra layer of mystery. It's really very clever.

What are you currently reading? 



Friday, 8 January 2016

On 'The List'

I have a to-read shelf on Goodreads that I use to keep note of any book that particularly catches my attention, but I also have a notebook that has become affectionately known as 'The List'. The List contains book titles that I definitely don't want to forget about and titles that I would like to start reading very soon. Here are a few of the books sitting at the top of The List... 

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.
'When Lyra's friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon determine to find him.
The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies - and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.
Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her - something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights.
Northern Lights completely passed me by. I think I was a little too young when it was first published, and I had probably entered what I now refer to as my 'lost reading years' when I was about the age where it would have been something I would have wanted to read. After briefly reading a few reviews it seems to be quite a love/hate novel and I'm interested to see how I end up feeling about it. I don't really have any expectations and I have no real idea of the intricacies of the story - everything I know is from the blurb.

Human Acts by Han Kang.
'Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend's corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.'
Honestly I have very little idea of what this book is about, but I have seen it mentioned many times in various places over the last couple of days and it has stuck in my mind despite never seeming to have a pen when I was wanting to make a note of it.

From just those few lines it sounds like it's going to be a haunting story, told through (what I'm told is) Han Kang's poetic and incredibly vivid writing. It has also reminded me that I'm keen to begin exploring the world of translated work. I'm beginning to find my feet with understanding the kind of stories I think I'll enjoy (in a nutshell, anything that makes me feel something) and now I've figured that out, I'm ready to explore a whole world of voices I've been missing out on because I don't share their language.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
'Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.'
In theory this book and I should get on very well. A college setting, mildly pretentious sounding characters and writing that looks like I need to dig out my page flags so I can mark any particularly beautiful sentences. And I began with 'in theory' because I have become a little wary of hype. When a book begins receiving a lot of excellent reviews I usually tune out all the buzz so I don't get carried away, but when I first came across The Secret History I read lots and lots of (non spoiler) reviews. It has now, however, sat patiently on my shelf for a year or so, I think it's time to read it very soon.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. 
'On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
Aimee Bender's work has been recommended to me more times than I could even begin to count. What a concept this novel has though, right? Being able to taste emotions. I'm certainly particularly looking forward to delving into this one.

M Train by Patti Smith.
'M Train is a journey through eighteen "stations." It begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations. 

Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and on artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose untimely death was an irremediable loss. For it is loss, as well as the consolation we might salvage from it, that lies at the heart of this exquisitely told memoir, one augmented by stunning black-and-white Polaroids taken by Smith herself. M Train is a meditation on endings and on beginnings: a poetic tour de force by one of the most brilliant multiplatform artists at work today.'
Have you ever really wanted to read a book, but at the same time also not wanted to read it because you wanted to keep hold of those magical 'before reading feelings of anticipation that a book you know is going to be a bit special' seems to hold? I feel like that with this book. Patti Smith is a huge inspiration and I know I'm going to adore M Train. I mean, it's Patti Smith. I've learnt that she simply doesn't disappoint. She's built up such a cavernous wealth of knowledge and experience over her life, and her way of storytelling has such a beautiful, raw touch that I simply adore. I've started reading already and so far it's everything I had hoped it would be.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
'On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel. '
White Teeth has been sitting patiently on my shelf for a while now, maybe even over a year. I found it in my favourite charity shop and although occasionally I take it off the shelf & read the blurb, I find myself putting it back every time. I'm not sure why. I think it'll be a book I enjoy when I do pick it up, but I haven't quite managed to get started yet. This year will be the year, it must be.

What's on your 'must read soon' list?



Saturday, 2 January 2016

Let's Talk About Books.

First of all, hello, hello, hi - happy new year! I hope the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 have been kind to you. I haven't been around much for a couple of months, but it's time to plug back in. I've tried to spruce things up a little, made it look a little more homely around here, and I'm excited about it. Okay. Let's do this. Let's talk about books again.

Starting off with a few favourites from last year...

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara :: Broke me. Still not over it. Need to reread.
Lorali by Laura Dockrill :: Manages to be relatable AND about mermaids. At the same time. I know. Laura Dockrill is magic, there's no other explanation. 
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley :: British, gothic, unnerving. That's all you need to know, surely?
It Shouldn't Have Been Beautiful by Lia Purpura :: Something drew me to this little poetry collection in The Strand in New York and it's perfect.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath :: Why has it taken me so long to read Plath? I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself.
Morning Breaks in the Elevator by Lemn Sissay :: Beautiful, beautiful poetry.

I could go on and on (more over on #reallygoodbooksireadin2015) because I read some cracking books last year, but I shall leave it there.


Now, on to some reading goals for this year. This will be brief because, well, there aren't many...

One. My goodreads challenge is set to 10 books. Last year I set it at 100 books and seeing that number every week was too much pressure, so I stopped reading for a good chunk of the year in protest because that's just typical of me. So it's 10 this year to see whether it helps me read more. An experiment if you will. But even if I don't read more than last year, I at least want to read exactly what I want to, whenever I want to read it. And that's something I didn't really do fully last year, which is no fun at all.  

Two. Although I don't have a particular numerical goal, I do want to document the books I read here. Now whether that's a few words, a few sentences, or a few paragraphs I don't really mind. I just think it will be nice to have a series of posts I can look back on, see what I felt about a book in that moment, and see if my thoughts change or if I forget anything that I really liked/hated at the time.

I'm going to get started on that second one this weekend, starting with some of the books I read last year (those I can remember enough of to do justice, of course).

And so, let's get this reading year started. I finished Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith yesterday, which was a little disappointing but still readable. I'm not sure what my next read is going to be, perhaps M Train by Patti Smith?


Have you set any reading goals for yourself this year? 
What are you currently reading?