Tag Archives: Books

MY 2014 READING YEAR


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2014 has not been a good Reading Year for me – I got off to a bad start with eyesight problems, which weren’t resolved until mid-May, so  I’ve not read as many books as usual. My list shows books which I read during 2014, and  is a mixture of Old & New. Some of them were published way, way before 2014; some of them in the late 1990s in fact, but I only had the pleasure of discovering them this year. One of my less obvious categories is ‘Books About Books’ : I’m hooked on books, and love reading  books about reading and books. We all have our quirks.

I hope  my list will introduce some new  suggestions for your own reading .

Best Book of 2014

The 40 Rules of Love – Elif Shafak

Not to be missed book : 2014

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

Most Original Book of 2014

We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Books About Books:2014

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair – Nina Sankovitch

Funniest Book: 2014

Nature Girl – Carl Hiaasen

Most Challenging Read of 2014

Living by Fiction – Annie Dillard

Best Gothic Novel : 2014

Marina – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Best Non-Fiction : 2014

12 Patients (Life & Death at Bellevue Hospital) – Dr E  Manheimer

Best Travel Book : 2014

The Way of Stars & Stones – Wilna Wilkinson

Best short stories: 2014

The Barnum Museum – Steven Millhauser

Best Crime 2014

Diamond Dove – Adrian Hyland

Great Reads (Novels): 2014

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simision

The World We Found – Thrirty Umnigar

Epic Fail/unreadable  2014

The Infatuation – Javier Marias

Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust

 

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BOOKS THAT DISAPPOINT


While browsing through the Quora site  – an excellent site, by the way, which frequently deals with two of my favourite topics : books and cats  – I came across an article inviting comments about books that disappointed, and read the first fifteen comments with a sense of absolute kinship. The Quora  readers list of Books that Disappoint was a mirror image of my own list. Top of the pops was The Monk who sold his Ferrari  closely followed by Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist.  My own personal top baddies, closely followed by rude remarks about The Celestine Prophecy.  Absolutely.

I was happy to note that Quora readers panned the Twilight series and the 50 Shades of Grey series for really bad writing, and one brave soul even had a go at the sainted David Foster Wallace, who is usually lauded to the skies.

One surprise on the list was the inclusion of Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance which is by now a cult classic, but it failed to meet a new reader’s expectations. I recall reading the book many years ago and being blown away at the time.

I n 2012 I bought From Elvish to Klingon, an on-line purchase that was a major mistake. With on-line purchases, this occasionally can happen. One reader’s review can be another reader’s poison (to mangle a common catch-phrase).When I was a kid I read ALL the Dr Doolittle books and was inspired to be a polyglot, just like him. Granted, he was talking to animals, but it’s the idea that counts. Because I absorbed the local Chichewa language through my pores as a toddler, and because my first school was a convent run by French speaking nuns, who were determined to drum French into our uncomprehending little skulls, and because I learned Latin and Afrikaans at high school, and because I knew at least six Portuguese words, I thought I was well on my way to achieving my youthful goal. Later in life I learnt Italian and re-learnt French (use it or lose it, and the saying is true) and even later on, had an unsuccessful stab at Mandarin, so a book on languages intrigued me no end. lIj daj . And that’s Klingon for ‘forget it’(If I’ve looked up the correct phrase). It was a Bad Idea.

Another new, hot favourite on my list is Graham Swift. I read Wish you Were Here,  and deeply wished I wasn’t. I had to force myself to finish the book, spurred on by the chorus of praise from other Book Club members. Swift may be a Booker Prize winner (1996 – Last Orders) but he ain’t my cup of tea. His endless repetition and circular movement through his characters’ heads, the minute examination of every thought, the replay – OVER & OVER AGAIN – of events and dialogue, on and on and on: just exhausted me.

The story lumbered to a climax, which I couldn’t call gripping – it just came as a relief that the whole dreary saga was at an end. I deeply dis-enjoyed the book.

Which goes to prove that you can’t win them all, in the world of books and reading. Not to mention life!

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READING TO ORDER


The urgent hangman

The urgent hangman (Photo credit: Christian von Schack)

I’ve recently come across a couple of articles talking about the author’s Reading Targets for 2013: to read more books, to read less books, to read a specific number of books – oh, the categories are endless. It’s clear that some New Year’s Resolutions are being put into action. Unlike most NY’s resolutions, which usually die around January 3rd

Must say I’m intrigued – piqued – puzzled –  by the concept. I’ve never set myself a reading target, and probably never will. I’ve been an avid reader all my life. To me reading is as natural as breathing, or blinking. It’s something I automatically do. If anything, I suppose my target should be to read less and pay more attention to outstanding chores and repairs. But, as I’ve said before on this blog, I’d rather read than just about any other activity – see July 2012.

As a child I was starved of playmates and entertainment – so I read, and I read anything that was printed on paper and within my voracious grasp.  I read magazines, newspapers, books, and the back of cereal boxes. I read the label on HP sauce bottles, I read children’s books, adult’s books, I read cookery books (my Mother owned an antique copy of the famous Mrs Beeton’s guide to  Household Management; while it wasn’t a first edition it was old and tattered when I found in during the late 1940s). I read anything I could lay my hands on.

Over the years I passed through a host of reading phases: Peter Cheyney and Agatha Christie (thanks, Dad!), Science Fiction novels and stories, during Ray Bradbury ‘s heyday. I read ALL Georgette Heyer’s historical Regency romances, and all Zane Grey’s Westerns. Yes, I kid you not, all of them.  My taste was – and still is – splendidly catholic. Nowadays I read across a wide spectrum. I love my two Book Clubs, which expose me to a wide range of books, some of which I wouldn’t otherwise have tried, and nearly always receive a delightful surprise on my adventures through uncharted territory.

About two years ago I joined Goodreads and found a vast universe of fellow book-aholics. Oh joy! Fresh info and inspiration. It’s an on-line web-site, and not to be missed, if you’re as besotted with books as I am.

I have read in bed, in the bath, at the stove while cooking supper, on the kitchen back step – wickedly ignoring my screaming baby in her pram – War & Peace took a lot of effort for a young, sleep-deprived mother, let me tell you. I’ve read on trains, aeroplanes, ocean liners but not in cars – the motion  jiggles the print too much and gives me headaches. I’ve read whilst standing in queues, in dentist’s waiting rooms, inside cinemas, at work during my lunch-break, in bus queues, in hotels, hospitals, retreat centres, in chalets in game reserves. And I’m sure I’ve left out some locations, some occasions. But I’ve never read to order, apart from the hefty classical novels demanded by the school syllabus.

I did some rough calculations and calculated that if I had read 2 books per week, on average, that gave me approximately 100 books per year. Taking the age of ten as my baseline (and I learnt to read when I was five years old) and doing some multiplication, it seems probable that I’ve read at least 6000 books to date. Not to brag or anything, just saying.

Over the last ten years I’ve kept a Reading Diary, in which I write reviews, or short comments about my reading, and these have been invaluable in shaping this blog. But: Reading Targets? Whatever can they mean?

(POSTSCRIPT: I tidied my cupboards today & have to confess I found 48 books in my To-Be-Read Pile. I suppose I should declare an official target to work my way through the pile by the end of 2013. Only problem is, I keep acquiring more books. Hmmm …..)

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A YEAR IN READING – 2012 – BEST/WORST etc


Cover of "Reading Like a Writer: A Guide ...

Cover via Amazon

BEST READS OF 2012 – Fiction

  • The Garden of Evening Mists –  Tan Twan Eng
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry –  Rachel Joyce
  • The Glass Castle – Janette Walls
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint –  Brady  Udall
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherAmy Chua
  • Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
  • Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Cat’s Table –  Michael Ondaatjie
  • My Brother’s Book – Jo-Anne Richards
  • Pops and the Nearly dead –  Edyth Bulbring

 

Non-Fiction

SURPRISINGLY ENJOYAB LE

  • Restoration –  Rose Tremain
  • 29 Gifts – Cami Walker
  • A Wild Herb Soup – Life of a French Countrywoman, by Emilie Carles

MOST DISAPPOINTING READS OF 2012

  • When Hoopoe Went to Heaven – Gail Goodwin
  • Lightning Rods –   Helen de Witt

JUST AWFUL

Amrita –  Banana Yamamoto

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobsen

WHAT POSSESSED ME TO BUY THIS? ? From Elvish to Klingon – Michael Adams

Cover of "Kafka on the Shore"

Cover of Kafka on the Shore

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RECENT READS # : BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS


The City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers 12/6/09 – my first review:

One of my best reads EVER.

• It’s totally original. Moers is incredibly inventive. He takes his hero, Optimus Yarnspinner, to the City of Dreaming Books, a book-obsessed metropolis, where he falls into the clutches of its evil genius, Pfistomel Smyke, who treacherously maroons him in the city’s labyrinthine catacombs. Constructed from books (naturally) and inhabited by one-eyed creatures called Booklings., whose vast library includes live books equipped with teeth and claws. Yarnspinner is in a subterranean world where reading books can be genuinely dangerous, where ruthless Bookhunters fight to the death for literary gems, and the mysterious Shadow King rules …..

• It has adventure, horror, mysteries, thrills, puzzles, humour, villainous villains, heroic heroes. AND it contains dark line illustrations – what more could anyone want? All this glorious fantasy, and pictures too!

• The one missing ingredient is romance.

• It was such a meaty, satisfying read, as soon as I finished I turned to page 1 again, and had to stop myself from starting over.

• Halfway through I realised some of the weird names were anagrams of famous writers e.g. William Shakespeare who we meet as Aleisha Wimpersleake.

• His entire back-story is congruent – I haven’t read such a fully realised universe since I read Dune. The theme, tone and execution are all book related.

• There was a fascinating list of obsolete words which I wanted to look up and now can’t find. Will just have to read it again!

 

I re-read ( 31/5/2010 and by this time, my very own copy – yay!) this marvellously inventive fantasy with its anagrammatic fake authors’ names – only managed to unscramble five of them. The book provides all that a good book should: mystery, suspense, horror, comic interludes, adventure , and ends with a satisfactory conclusion where the villains are defeated and the victim of their plot voluntarily seeks a heroic martyr’s finale: great glorious grand stuff! Definitely one of my all time favourite books.

And P.S.  I can’t for the life of me work out who Pfistomel Smykes might be – any suggestions?

 

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10 TREATS IN STORE JUST WAITING TO BE READ


I thought I’d haul the first ten books off the top of the pile that is lurking behind my shirts in my bedroom cupboard – it’s my guilty trove of books that I’ve bought on sales, succumbed to on-line temptations – what can I say? Other people are hooked on booze and nicotine, I’m hooked on books.

  • Amrita – Banana Yoshimoto : I just couldn’t resist her name and it was a sale book, plus I’m in a Japanese novel phase
  • Double Negative – Ivan Vladislavic: Despite his name, a South African novelist with Yugoslav origins; he’s so good he makes me breathless; both his talent and his lovely blue eyes ….
  • Pulphead John Jeremiah Sullivan : much lauded American essayist; I wanted to find out what the fuss was about
  • How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive Christopher Boucher: there’s crazy, & then there’s this writer. I read the first 50 pages, and thoroughly bemused, put it back on the pile; I need to dive into his special brand of lunacy again, and swim bravely for the shore
  • Saraswati Park Anjali Joseph; an Indian novel, a debut; I love Indian novels, for the colour, the characters, the foreignness
  • Game Control – Lionel Shriver: can’t wait to see what this powerful novelist does with modern Africa
  • In the Company of Cheerful Ladies – Alexander McCall Smith: I always enjoy his books on Africa; he’s an instant tonic
  • The Savage Detectives Roberto  Bolano: I keep reading rave reviews about this Mexican writer and want to give him a try
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Amy Chua: the famous/infamous Chinese/American mum with the Boot Camp approach to child rearing. Again – I’m curious
  • Alan Sugar What you see is what you get: Rough diamond industrialist, British peer, cracker of whips on the British version of The Apprentice: I was mightily diverted by him on TV and interested to learn what makes him tick

Now if only I had more time to read, I could get stuck into some of these prospective treats.  Watch this space.

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BI-ANNUAL DEMENTIA


 

It’s that time of year again: SALE TIME!  I can’t resist a Sale.  Now starts the customary inner tug-of-war: you don’t need any more books – don’t go.

Yes but: there are such bargains.

No: your credit card has smoke gushing out of it after the annual Christmas splurge.

Yes but: I can buy wonderful bargain books in preparation for Christmas 2011 and save money. This would be a good thing, wouldn’t it ?  A responsible and thrifty thing to do. Of course it would.

And so the battle rages, as I surreptitiously mark the day & time of the Loyalty Members Only Pre-Sale Opportunity into my diary. I tell myself that I’ll just go and look;  I won’t actually buy anything, not unless its marked down to R10 and its a book I’ve waited for all my life.

Yeah – right. Who are you kidding?

No, really.  This year I mean it.  I will be strong.  I will resist temptation.  Look how I keep a slab of chocolate in the cupboard and only have one square approximately every six week – see ? If that isn’t willpower, I don’t know what is. I can be strong.  And how about last year – I never even went to the November sale. I ignored it completely.

Yes but : only because you were on crutches after undergoing  major surgery!

I contemplate leaving my credit cards at home and going to the sale. No: I’m stronger than that.  I will take them with me.  What if I have some unforeseen emergency?  I seldom carry cash.  It would be foolish to venture forth, card-less.  It will be fine.  I will not succumb.

LATER ……

This year I did rather well, I thought.  I completely ignored the novels. I know I can access them via the Library, my Book Club and friend’s bookshelves. Travel guides, cookery books, art and decor books were fun to flip through but I resolutely put them back onto the piles. Self-help, religion, politics, biography :NWOV (not wanted on voyage) .

My resolve wavered  when I found a fat paperback that I’d been dying to read and my Book Club had rejected. It was only R40-00; if that wasn’t a bargain what was?  My good resolutions crumbled when I found a solid hardcover BBC book from the TV series Around the World in 80 Gardens – unbelievable price at R80-00. And then there was the oversized format Bizarre Buildings with gorgeous colour photos on every page – I mean, at R75-00 it would have been a crime not to buy it. I bought two books as gifts for friends – I just know they’ll love them.  Plus I did have that helpful R20 discount coupon, thoughtfully mailed to me by the bookstore  prior to the January sale, so all in all, it was an economical outing.  I managed to coax R198 out of my credit card, and gleefully carted my bargain purchases home.

Let me see: five books for under R200-00. Personally I think that was a triumph, don’t you?

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