Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

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.


End-of-year reading meme

January 1, 2017

This thing again.

How many books read in 2016?
102. Down on the previous year, but not by much.

57 fiction, 41 non-fiction, 4 either unclassifiable or a bit of both. Non-fiction continues to gain, but I don’t think it’d ever overtake fiction unless I started a PhD, which I’d like to do if I could think of something to study.

Male/female authors?
59 male, 38 female, 5 non-binary or a mix of genders. Again a decent handful of books by trans authors.

Favourite book read?
Let’s say David Garnett’s Lady into Fox, which I loved to bits.

Where his wife had been the moment before was a small fox, of a very bright red. It looked at him very beseechingly, advanced towards him a pace or two, and he saw at once that his wife was looking at him from the animal’s eyes. You may well think if he were aghast: and so maybe was his lady at finding herself in that shape, so they did nothing for nearly half-an-hour but stare at each other, he bewildered, she asking him with her eyes as if indeed she spoke to him: “What am I now become? Have pity on me, husband, have pity on me for I am your wife.”

So that with his gazing on her and knowing her well, even in such a shape, yet asking himself at every moment: “Can it be she? Am I not dreaming?” and her beseeching and lastly fawning on him and seeming to tell him that it was she indeed, they came at last together and he took her in his arms. She lay very close to him, nestling under his coat and fell to licking his face, but never taking her eyes from his. The husband all this while kept turning the thing in his head and gazing on her, but he could make no sense of what had happened, but only comforted himself with the hope that this was but a momentary change, and that presently she would turn back again into the wife that was one flesh with him.

Least favourite?
I hesitate to name the book that infuriated me most, because I think its author and I have mutual friends and it’s not worth the upset it might cause. I didn’t enjoy Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince. It didn’t help that my reading of it was interrupted by an illness that rendered me incapable of reading for about a week, but I think it was mainly the book’s fault, dull and sordid and uninteresting. (Mostly.)


Oldest book read?
At last, a properly old book. Homer’s Iliad, which was written about 2,700 years ago.

Newest book read?
Six books published in 2016: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes; A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters; Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind by Joan Bakewell; The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith; Carols from King’s: The Stories of our Favourite Carols from King’s College by Alexandra Coghlan; and My Beloved Man: The Letters of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, edited by Vicki P. Stroeher, Nicholas Clark and Jude Brimmer.

Longest book title?
Also coincidentally the longest author name: Jessie Sarah Fleetwood Walmisley Coleridge-Taylor’s memoir, A Memory Sketch, or, Personal Reminiscences of My Husband, Genius and Musician, S. Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912. (I was singing Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast and wanted to do some revision.)

Shortest book title?
In December I read Mike by P.G. Wodehouse, Emma by Jane Austen, and Jack by A.M. Homes. If you don’t count spaces as characters, Cris Beam’s I am J would also qualify.


How many rereads?
13, which seems to me quite acceptable, provided you’re not triskaidekaphobic.

Most books read by a single author?
3 by Wodehouse, and 2 each by Tove Jansson and Philip Roth, but no single writer has dominated my reading as in recent years.

Any in translation?
Happily, yes. No books read in French or German this year, but I did read four books translated from the French, two each from Italian and Swedish, and one each from Ancient Greek, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. More of that next year (post to follow).

How many books were borrowed from the library?
75, or essentially three books of every four I read. I’d love to make inroads into the books I own, but I seem to be growing increasingly reliant on libraries, which is presumably a good thing. If you don’t use it you lose it.

I had no clue what was going on:
That would be Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice (originally Facsímil), but it was a good kind of confusion and it’s a book you ought to read.


Favourite character encountered this year:
Lois from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, or the central trio of Joe, Sammy and Rosa from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.