Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

End-of-year reading meme

January 1, 2019

How many books read in 2018?
85. Down on last year, but that’s because several of the books I read took three or four weeks to get through.


Male/female authors?
OK, I’ve read only 12 books by women, but I decided it was acceptable to have had a Bad Women Reading Year, to use the accepted terminology, because I know a woman who’s done the same thing but the other way round, and her taste in books is abysmal so I must be doing a better job than she is.

Favourite book read?
I suppose Ulysses, though I’m not sure I’d have coped without Harry Blamires’ New Bloomsday Book to guide me. But did I derive any less pleasure from any of the several other brilliant books that took less effort? Perhaps Ulysses just feels like the best because I had to put more work into it. You and your silly questions.

Least favourite?
Tom Waits’ album Swordfishtrombones is one of my favourites, but reading David Smay’s book about it was a misstep.

Don’t expect me to tell you the truth about Tom Waits. I know you want the truth, and I don’t blame you. The truth looks fetching sprawled out on her revolving, heart-shaped bed in a cut-off Ramones t-shirt. Her breath smells like Yoo-hoo and she’s flipping through a stack of Sugarpie Desanto 45s … To enter Swordfishtrombones you need to stretch the truth, fabricate, extemporize, distort, tell tales and indulge conceits … [continues for 100 fucking pages]

Oldest book read?
At nearly 3,000 years old, I suppose it has to be Homer’s Odyssey, albeit in Emily Wilson’s brand spanking new translation.

Newest book read?
Eight that came out this year: The Quiet Side of Passion (Alexander McCall Smith), Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces (Michael Chabon), The Final Retreat (Stephen Hough), The Inheritance (Matthew Lopez), Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Adventures in the Ordinary (Rebecca Front), Filming If…. (David Wood), Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography (Brian Slade), and the posthumous collection The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments (Ann Quin).

Longest book title?
As has happened previously, this accolade goes to a Molesworth book, namely Whizz for Atomms: A Guide to Survival in the 20th Century for Fellow Pupils, their Doting Maters, Pompous Paters and Any Others who are Interested.

Shortest book title?
That depends on whether you include full stops or not. I read for the first time David Sherwin’s brilliant quasi-novelistic treatment of his screenplay for If…., but you might argue that Nicholson Baker’s phone-sex masterpiece Vox qualifies too.

How many rereads?
Ten! A sensible number. And a pretty good ten too: Lolita, Howards End, The Swimming-Pool Library, The Devil in the Flesh, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Antony and Cleopatra, Oliver Twist, Maurice, and The Lost Language of Cranes.

Most books read by a single author?
Seven, if you count the Prousts individually, which I am certainly doing for this purpose given how bloody long they took me to read. Four Hollinghursts, [three French hens], and two each by E.M. Forster, Michael Frayn, David Leavitt, Tony Parker and Ann Quin.

How many books were borrowed from the library?
42, so nearly half. And one of the others was an ebook I downloaded from a university subscription, so probably 43.

I had no clue what was going on:
After loving Ann Quin’s brilliant Berg earlier in the year I felt emboldened to try the Jennifer Hodgson-edited anthology of Quin’s shorter writings The Unmapped Country, but with the exception of maybe three pieces, which I loved, I felt lost. They crossed the line between experimentalism and incomprehensibility. Also I was knackered and probably couldn’t be arsed to put the effort in.

Any in translation?
Well, all the Prousts; I’m not good enough at French to cope with the original (and barely good enough at English to cope with the translation). And also books by Raymond Radiguet, Sholem Aleichem, Robert Walser and Erich Kästner. But a step back after 2017’s EU-athon.

Favourite character encountered this year:
Hard to see past Leopold Bloom, when it comes down to it, but I loved all the characters in Doreen by Barbara Noble.

What next?
I don’t have grand plans for 2019, but I think The Magic Mountain has probably waited long enough now. A reread of Moby-Dick too, not that it’s been long since the last one. Edward St Aubyn, whom I meant to get around to in 2018 but didn’t. And probably some books by women. And perhaps it’s time for War and Peace, but I’ll play that by ear.


End-of-year reading meme

January 6, 2018

This bloody thing again.

How many books read in 2017?
121. An all-time record that will surely not be surpassed, and a sign that I’ve been reading far too fast.

82 fiction, 35 non-fiction, 4 a bit of both.

Male/female authors?
70 male, 47 female, 3 both, 1 neither.

Favourite book read?
A tough call, but let’s say Erich Kästner’s The Flying Classroom. I had something in my eye towards the end. I usually find, reading them as an adult, that children’s books lack magic; not this one.

Least favourite?
When you read 121 books there are bound to be some letdowns. The worst book I read was an abysmal fantasy novel written by someone I know and published through a vanity firm. It should never have seen the light of day. But authorial incompetence didn’t stop me enjoying it (rather enhanced my enjoyment, if truth be told), and there were certainly books I liked less. Emily Witt’s initially engaging but eventually tedious Future Sex, for example, or (though I don’t like to admit it) Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.

Oldest book read?
Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1593ish), though a couple of Shakespeares weren’t far behind.

Newest book read?
I read five books published in 2017, namely A Distant View of Everything and A Time of Love and Tartan, both by Alexander McCall Smith, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, and Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.

Longest book title?
That honour goes to Michael Blakemore’s super Stage Blood: Five Tempestuous Years in the Early Life of the National Theatre.

Shortest book title?
Romain Rolland’s Dawn, though if you take its French title, L’Aube, it ties with Elmet.

How many rereads?
12, the most satisfying of which was André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, which I loved even more the second time than I did the first. A lightning bolt of a book.

Most books read by a single author?
8 (Margaret Stuart Barry, all of whose Simon and the Witch books I devoured during a bout of nostalgia in the summer), then 7 (Arthur Conan Doyle, most of whose Sherlock Holmes books I reread).

Any in translation?
30, including translations from Estonian, Hebrew, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Romanian, Slovak and Slovene. No books read in French or German, though, which may be something to address in 2018.

How many books were borrowed from the library?
62. Down on last year, partly because of having to buy obscure books in translation. At the end of the year I began to feel I was finally starting to make progress in reading books I’d owned for ages but not got around to, and I hope I can carry on with that this year.

I had no clue what was going on:
Perhaps it was foolhardy of me to read Mya Tannenbaum’s Conversations with Stockhausen.

Favourite character encountered this year:
I don’t know if you can count real people, but probably Mr Elliott. Otherwise, maybe Lilian Faschinger’s Magdalena.

What next?
I’m intending to read Proust in 2018, and have made a tentative start. I’ll have to go slow (the book count will be in double rather than treble figures this year, I fancy), and am looking forward to it. I hope to get around to rereading some favourites (Nabokov, Hollinghurst, Leavitt), and would like to get stuck into Edward St Aubyn too. Roald Dahl’s short stories as well, perhaps.

Ten random books

May 31, 2017

Courtesy of Simon, another getting-to-know-you exercise, the gist of this one being that you pick at random from your shelves or (more likely, in my case) piles ten books, and write a bit about them. Well, lookee here.

1. The Witch and the Holiday Club / Margaret Stuart Barry

I’m going through a Simon and the Witch phase at present. The BBC adaptation by Valerie Georgeson was my most beloved programme when I was about six, and I am belatedly reading the eight books. Most of them I have sourced from Cambridge University Library (finally proving its worth after several fruitless centuries), but the BBC tie-in editions I wanted my own copies of. Elizabeth Spriggs on the cover, squee! I also bought a copy of Joan Sims’ autobiography. What superb actresses they were. How I love them.

2. The Norman Conquests / Alan Ayckbourn

The sort of book one likes to have handy in case of emergency, not that I open it very often. This trilogy of plays was my introduction to Ayckbourn, twelve or so years ago, and their ingenuity and fun are enduring. Perhaps it’s because of Norman that I became an Assistant Librarian. But probably not.

3. Anybody: Poems / Ari Banias

A present I received for Christmas and read in March. Some lovely writing.

And the tree is a television
where the president appears in the form of a finch
(‘The Feeling’)

4. Transgender History / Susan Stryker

A birthday present last year from my brother. He knows what I like (because it was on my Amazon wish list). And I will definitely read it one day.

5. The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles With America / Joseph Berger

Staying in a largely Hasidic Jewish area of Brooklyn for a week last year made me curious about the lives of Hasidim, and this book looked interesting. I haven’t read it yet.

6. Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories / Robert Walser

I saw a pile of copies of this book in McNally Jackson and fell in love with it. I couldn’t afford it at that moment, but bought it on my return to the UK. It consists of fragments – ‘Some dwell on childish or transient topics – carousels, the latest hairstyles, an ekphrasis of the illustrations in a picture book – others on the grand themes of nature, art, and love.’ (Publisher description.) I love and covet these NYRB editions, and I expect one day I’ll read it.

7. The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Whenever anyone trots out the old question about what the best opening line is, I think of that sentence, from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I’m sure I hadn’t heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg when I read it, but they later turned into a fascination. This novel inspired by their story is a book I bought as long ago as 2008, but I will finally read it soon because it ties in neatly with Tony Kushner’s brilliant Angels in America, which I’m going to see in a couple of months at the National Theatre.

8. Four English Comedies

The four comedies in question being Volpone, The Way of the World, She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal, of which I’ve read the first and third. I used to love these 1990s-era Penguin Classics editions, the colour-coded spines, the larger-than-usual format. The first copy of Pride and Prejudice I read was in the same edition, with a red stripe along the top. I don’t remember She Stoops to Conquer one bit, but I know I enjoyed Volpone. Maybe it had some jokes in.

9. The Girls, Vol. 1 / Henry de Montherlant

The encapsulation of a recurring theme: I bought this beautiful two-volume set dirt cheap on eBay in about 2003, and I haven’t opened it yet, put off, possibly, by its reputation as a repository of misogyny. Still, the bright orange and pink are nice, and there are other Montherlant books (the homoerotic ones) that I have read and loved. Perhaps next year’s reading project, Proustathon aside, should be to resist buying books where possible until I’ve made inroads into those I own. I tried that once before, in 2011: I ended up buying 24 books that year, of which I have to date read only 12.

10. Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks / Fiona Maddocks

A perk of being a librarian is that there’s some scope for buying books you yourself want to read. This ‘conversation diary’ is one such book, though it fitted neatly into our collection or I wouldn’t have chanced it. On first impression it appears immensely approachable. Opening a page at random, you find Birtwistle and Maddocks playing ‘horse, bird, muffin’.

Beethoven is the horse. So Mozart’s the bird and Brahms is the muffin … I think Stockhausen is the muffin and Boulez is the horse. [and so on]

Do post your own!

Gareth’s Grand Tour

January 3, 2017

From the age of two I grew up in England, which I suppose makes me an Englishman. I’m also Scottish and Welsh. British, if you want to call it that. But I’m also a European. I grieve at the pettiness and pointlessness of last year’s vote to leave the European Union, and at the huge waste of resources that will inevitably lead to the neglect of other things that should be our priority. But you don’t have to be in the EU to be a European, and if the UK ever does leave (which hardly seems a done deal at the time of writing) it won’t impair my sense of my own Europeanness.

A new year seems a good time to make a new start, and so I’m starting a reading project. This year I am going to read through the European Union, which at present has 28 member states. I’ve worked out a rough itinerary, starting in Portugal and moving eastwards through continental Europe, then up through the Baltic states and Scandinavia, ending with the UK and Ireland. I hope to be reading a mix of things, though primarily, I suspect, novels. Ancient and modern, familiar and obscure. The problem may be finding books from countries whose canons are less established in translation. If you know anything about the literature of Luxembourg, say, or Malta, or Cyprus, or Lithuania, do let me know. And join me!

So the focus of this blog will veer towards the literary in 2017. Watch this space.