My best bookshop spot this week…

Welcome to another of my best bookshop finds!  My eyes almost skated completely over the muted cover and if it hadn’t been for the “signed by the author” sticker I may well not have noticed it at all.

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I’m now very excited though because I thought “HHhH” was extremely clever, providing a very different and thought-provoking take on the historical novel.  If you haven’t read it, it takes the true story of the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich during the Second World War as its subject, but uses the telling of the story to ask the reader some pertinent questions about honesty, memory and writers’ integrity.  Several times during the book, the author breaks the fourth wall to turn to his readers and ask, how do you know whether my retelling of events is true?  How do you know when someone, who seems to speak with absolute confidence and authority, is actually inventing things?   It made me look not just at historical novels but “factual” history in a new way – so many written accounts of or commentaries on events from the past are based on the author’s interpretation of facts rather than indisputable facts, and are subject to his or her own subconscious or even conscious prejudices.

“The 7th Function of Language” sounds like another ingenious use of history for fictional ends.  It purports that the death of Roland Barthes after he is hit by a van (which really happened) was not in fact an accident but an assassination.  According to the reviews, it then becomes something of a political spy thriller featuring real figures from the French establishment – but perhaps not quite as we know them.

Another day, another bookshop spot then – but the trouble is, so many of the books I want to buy at the moment are hardbacks!  To be fair, I have more than enough paperbacks to be going on with so I should try and curb my book-buying enthusiasm as at this rate I fear my bank balance isn’t going to keep pace with the amount of great hardbacks being released.  In fact, I KNOW it isn’t, so restraint is going to have to be called for and waiting for the paperback looks like the order of the day…

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Blogger awards!

It’s always lovely to know people are enjoying your blog, so it was a great honour to be nominated for The Liebster Award by Annie-Jay who blogs at https://comingoutcrookedsite.wordpress.com.  It’s so important I think to build on the caring and sharing relationship that exists between all of us who put so much time, energy and love into writing, so do pop over and check out her fun and thought-provoking take on the world!

If you haven’t come across this award before, it’s intended as a form of recognition given by bloggers to other new bloggers whose content they’ve enjoyed.  I’ve discovered some great new blogs this way, and it’s a lovely positive way of encouraging and supporting other writers.  So here’s how it works:

  1. Answer the 11 questions that your nominator has asked you
  2. Nominate 11 other bloggers (with under 200 followers)
  3. Ask your nominees 11 questions
  4. Let them know that you have nominated them

These are the questions Annie-Jay asked me; hopefully by the time you’ve read my answers you’ll have got to know me a bit better!

  1. What inspired you to begin blogging?

I started mainly because I felt I wanted some kind of creative outlet and wasn’t sure what to do to satisfy that urge.  I’ve made several (mostly abortive) attempts at writing over the years but without much of a plan or sense of purpose, and I thought a blog was a good way to start writing within a structure that would help me stick with it.  A couple of years down the line and I’m so glad I tried it.

      2. One word to describe yourself?

Unique!

     3. What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you today?

This is such a good question I’m disappointed that I don’t have an interesting answer for it! I’m going to say being nominated for this award – although I’ve had some lovely, kind comments on my blog it’s still always a bit surreal to think that people all over the world are reading what you write and enjoying it.

    4. What are you most looking forward to this week?

My next day off – I’m going to see the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie with one of my besties.

    5. What book are you reading at the moment?

As per usual I have a few on the go.  I’m still reading Paul Auster’s “4 3 2 1”, which I’m loving although it’s taking me a while as it’s a bit long to say the least!  For light relief I’m reading “A Conspiracy of Violence” by Susanna Gregory – I do love my historical fiction.  I also got some book-post today, which is always exciting: a crime novel by Amer Anwar, which the author very kindly sent me to try.

    6. Which band were you really in to as a teenager (that you now feel a bit embarrassed to admit to having liked)

I can’t think of anyone I was into as a teenager that I’m ashamed to have liked; I’m more embarrassed by some of the people I’ve come to like in my slightly older age!  I used to be massively into all the indie and Britpop bands of the 90s – Pulp were my absolute favourite.

     7. Where is your favourite place to be?

Very boring, but probably home.  I love taking myself off to explore new places, but I also love to have a permanent sanctuary.

    8. When is the last time you stopped to feel the Earth under your bare feet?

Haha, I can’t step outside in bare feet as I have a huge issue with feeling anything on my bare skin that isn’t carpet!!  Seeing people walking across their lawns or worse, on the pavement, in no shoes makes me shudder.  I don’t even like walking on a sandy beach without flip-flops.

    9. What shapes do you see in the clouds above you right now?

I love the fact that I’ve been asked this question as it’s made me get up and lean out of the window to have a proper look at the outside world.  It’s such a gorgeous evening as well; it’s starting to smell and sound like summer for the first time.  As for the clouds, well, the ones that are out there are pretty flat and indistinct, but there’s one in the far distance with a spilt at one end that makes it look like an elongated crocodile’s mouth.

    10. How do you feel about your birthday?

I don’t think too much about it anymore; I’m usually at work on the day itself anyway!  And it’s only a couple of weeks before Christmas too so by that point other, much more exciting festive things are happening.  I’ve never liked to be the centre of attention, so large parties aren’t for me.  I usually celebrate by having a meal or something like that with my close friends.

    11. Do you prefer beach, mountains, bush, city or suburbia?

Honestly, I can’t choose – I need a bit of everything!  I’ve lived by the sea almost all my life though so I’d definitely miss that the most if it wasn’t there.  I don’t wait for summer to go to the beach; I love it when it’s stormy, when it’s sunny and when it’s a bleak day and there’s not a soul down there.  It can make you feel serene or exhilarated – it’s such a powerful driver of emotion.

These were great questions and a hard act to follow, but here are the 11 questions for my nominees.

  1. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  2. What is the one book you read over and over again?
  3. What has surprised you most about taking up blogging?
  4. Who is your biggest inspiration?
  5. Would you describe yourself as a pessimist or an optimist?
  6. You have a free day with no work and no obligations – how are you most likely to spend it?
  7. Which song makes you want to get up and dance?
  8. Would you volunteer to be on the first mission to Mars and why/why not?
  9. Are you a summer or a winter person?
  10. Which period of history do you find most interesting?
  11. What do you love most about yourself?

And here are my nominees!  I had trouble finding 11 that had less than 200 followers, so most of these do but they’re all blogs I love and would love others to discover too.  I understand not everyone may want to take part in the award though and that’s absolutely fine by me – no pressure!

http://rosequartzreviewsblog.wordpress.com

https://hayleyreviews10.wordpress.com

https://tobeginwithireadjaneeyre.wordpress.com

http://www.staybookish.com

https://bookdrblog.wordpress.com

https://mybooksense.com

https://standingupforshakespeare.wordpress.com

https://thisislitblog.wordpress.com

https://theselittlewords.com

https://bookkaz.wordpress.com

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Spotted! My best bookshop finds…

I love walking into a bookshop and stumbling across something I didn’t expect to see.  Yes, you can always browse online from the comfort of your sofa, but bookshops have a knack of throwing up gems that you’d never discover any other way.  I’ve been out and about hunting down my next reads and thought I’d share some of them with you.  Tonight, we have this beauty – a stunningly presented collection of previously unpublished stories by voice of the jazz age, F Scott Fitzgerald.

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Interestingly, a number of these stories weren’t accepted for publication because they strayed too far from the style that editors had come to expect from Fitzgerald, so it will be fascinating to see how they differ from the stories we know so well today.  There are also stories that were intended to be published in magazines and even some that were written in the hope they would be turned into films, although none of them ever were.  The cover is pure 20s elegance, the perfect packaging for a collection such as this, and I couldn’t resist.

More of my best bookshop spots will be popping up on the blog soon so keep an eye out!

Bookish disappointments

“Disappointment” has got to be one of the saddest words in the English language.  If you want to upset me, just tell me you’re disappointed by something; it goes beyond mere sadness as there’s the implication of the delighted anticipation that preceded the blow, which renders the ensuing despondency so much worse.  To feel let down by a book is a particularly hideous experience since more often than not you will have had a pretty long wait for it.  The absolute worst scenario of all though is when an author you’ve previously loved comes up with a book that, well, you just don’t.

I’m currently reading “4321” by Paul Auster and although I’d deliberately avoided any reviews before I started it I’d already heard a number of people say they weren’t particularly keen on it.  As it happens, I’m completely hooked and think it’s the best novel he’s written in ages, but prior to this, he was one of the authors who’d started to disappoint me.  I devoured his early books with the fervour of someone who’s discovered a new religion, but as the years went by and I caught up with his writing so I was reading in tandem with his new releases I found I was increasingly disenchanted, feeling that somehow he was producing Auster-by-numbers, novels lacking the spark and sharpness of their predecessors.  I’m terrible, however, for giving even the least deserving people in my life second (and third and fourth) chances, and I couldn’t bring myself to give up on him entirely, a decision that I’m relieved to say is so far proving to be justified.

So which other authors have disappointed me?  Well, one of the big ones recently was Donna Tartt; “The Secret History” is one of my favourite books of all time and “The Little Friend” was a more than worthy successor, but “The Goldfinch”?  Fragmented, verging on tedious in places and WAY too long, it was for me one of the most crushing literary let-downs ever.  It wouldn’t have been such a soul-destroying experience of course had she not been so outstanding before, but I can only imagine the pressure such a lauded novelist like that must be under, especially when their books have close to a decade between them.  Iain Pears’ “The Dream of Scipio” was another case of the curse of having to follow a masterpiece (in this case “An Instance of the Fingerpost”) although, like the back in favour Mr Auster, he redeemed himself in my eyes with the mind-bending “Stone’s Fall”.  Then there’s Muriel Barbery, whose remarkable novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” made an impression on me intellectually and emotionally that I never expected, but whose later novel “The Lives of Elves” proved to be a bemusing and ultimately for me unfinishable quasi-fairytale that bore almost no resemblance to its predecessor.  Hats off to her for doing something totally different, but it wasn’t for me.

The more I look at my bookshelves the more I see little disappointments, most of them not on the level of Goldfinch-gate, but let-downs nonetheless.  So I’m going to call time on this blog post before it descends into a simmering cauldron of negativity – and let’s not forget that, as experience shows, one less than enjoyable book doesn’t condemn an author for ever! – but I’d love to hear what your biggest bookish disappointments were.  Are there any that still sting years later?  Or do you disagree with me and think “The Goldfinch” is Donna Tarrt’s most enjoyable novel?  Either way I’d love to hear your thoughts so do share!

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My bad reading habits!

I’m a terrible reader.  Seriously.  I’m a voracious reader to be sure but I constantly annoy myself with my bad reading habits!  If I could kick even some of these then my literary life would become so much easier…

I get side-tracked very easily!  No matter how great the book is that I’m reading, I can’t resist reaching for the next shiny new thing that catches my eye.  As a result, I usually have four or five books on the go… and thus it takes me an age to finish any of them.

I’m always behind on new publications.  Not a bad reading habit per se, but it can be a bit of a bad one for a blogger.  The trouble is, I’m drawn to older books that I come across by chance as much as I am by the prominent new releases; by the time I’ve got round to reading the next big thing, everyone else has stopped talking about it!

I waste good reading opportunities.  You might think that as I love my books so much I’d be filling every vacant minute of the day with reading.  Unfortunately, as well as being an avid reader I’m also a bit of a daydreamer; whereas most of the bookworms I know will fill every train journey or wait at a bus stop with reading, I’m just as likely to gaze off into the distance and lose myself in my own little world of (generally pointless) thoughts.

I’m terrible at absorbing what I’ve read.  No matter how much I’ve enjoyed a book, if you ask me a week later what the main character was called I couldn’t tell you.  Wait another few weeks and I probably couldn’t even tell you how it ended.  Honestly, I have no idea what’s wrong with me (particularly since I’m one of those people who’ll remember every word of a conversation I’ve had with you a year ago) but it makes it incredibly difficult to discuss books with my friends without sounding as if I’ve been completely underwhelmed by every single thing I’ve read!

What are your bad reading habits?  I can’t be the only one who has them!

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My April reading pile

I got a bit optimistic the other day and decided that since the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky then it must be warm enough to sit and read outside.  Not quite unfortunately; more a case of April doing that sneaky thing it does where it lures you into believing it’s summer a few weeks prematurely.  Whether I end up indoors or out though, there are some interesting books on the reading pile this month.  I realised (again) how much I love my job a week or so ago when I got given a proof copy of “Into the Water”, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you is the next novel by “The Girl on the Train” author Paula Hawkins.  By rights it shouldn’t be featuring in a blog post about April TBRs as I’ve actually finished it already – but I couldn’t not mention it as it will surely be one of the biggest novels of this year.  I’ll save my thoughts for the review, which I’ll probably post nearer to publication time, but if you manage to get anywhere near a copy then grab it and don’t let go.  I’m super-excited about “In the Name of the Family” by Sarah Dunant, the next in her series of novels about the Borgias (I say series but I have no idea whether there will at some point be a third!) as I thought the first, Blood and Beauty, was pretty much everything you could want from a work of historical fiction.  I’ve also just started “4 3 2 1”, the Paul Auster doorstop, and I have to confess, although I very much enjoyed the opening chapters I haven’t as yet got much further.  This isn’t a reflection on the book I don’t think, more the fact that it’s quite a hefty thing that I suspect is going to require a reasonable amount of concentration and I haven’t really been in the headspace for something like that for a while.  Last up, because I always like to have some non-fiction on the go as well, is an intriguing book I came across completely by chance in a local bookshop.  “Selfish, Shallow and Self-absorbed: Sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids” is a collection of essays on, well, exactly what the title says.  I’ve always found it interesting that conversations around childlessness are still something of a taboo, even in our increasingly open society.  Well, that’s not quite true: potentially hurtful comments directed towards a woman without children about her lack of mother-status don’t seem to be taboo at all, but for a woman to respond and discuss the reasons for it is still, in my experience, looked upon with surprise, lack of comprehension and often, sadly, unfair judgement.  I was interested to see that this book existed at all, and am very much looking forward to reading a variety of opinions on the issue.

As ever there will be more reviews up on Girl, Reading soon, but in the meantime enjoy the sunshine and enjoy whatever you’re reading!

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Diary of a Bad Blogger

Sunday

A much needed day off after a tough week of work, during which I’ve had no time, energy or quite honestly inclination for blogging.  A trip to the supermarket to replenish my empty kitchen is essential but resolve to do some writing in the afternoon.  The effort of all this proves too much, however, and succumb to a nap – well, not insignificant sleep – that leaves me in a mental fug for the rest of the day.  TV accompanied by my earlier supermarket spoils it is then.

Monday

Back at work and quite frankly want to weep at the speed with which all the enthusiasm and positivity restored by my day off has been beaten out of me.  Can’t bring myself anywhere near putting pen to paper tonight.

Tuesday

Slightly more productive evening in that I at least find time to do some reading if not actual blogging.  Until 9.00pm when Tattoo Fixers comes on….getting a bit tired of it now actually as it’s reached the point where almost every tattoo horror story starts with the words, “So I was on a lads’ holiday in Magaluf…” but I still find myself wasting an hour on it before I decide to go to bed.

Wednesday

To my delight I have a genuinely acceptable reason for not producing any writing this evening, and that’s because I am treated to dinner at the house of a friend whose culinary talents outstrip mine a hundred fold.  In all honesty though, that’s not hard.  Return home extremely contented, and half a stone heavier – but once more blogless.

Thursday

Try SO HARD to write something for the blog this evening as am determined to get a post up by the end of the week.  Music off, TV off, total concentration – but nothing comes.  Manage to grind out a few uninspiring lines that I promptly cross through viciously, enraged at my own incompetence.  Back where I started at the beginning of the day, and there’s not even any wine in the house with which to console myself.  How did this happen?

Friday

Go for a run today.  No other achievements – physical, creative or intellectual – are required.

Saturday

Decide that the only way forward is to wholeheartedly embrace my lack of blogging success.  So many people out there are writing about how they manage to maintain a consistent, well-written and engaging blog, so why shouldn’t I write about how I’m managing to fail in spectacular fashion?  Ironically this turns out to be the easiest blog post I’ve written in a very long time…  

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