Category Archives: book ramblings

The TBR Double Dare 2012 is Over!

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Well, I’m glad that’s over.

It seemed like a good idea at the time – nominate the books you want to read for a three month period and then read ’em.  But although I managed to read 10 books from the nominated 30, there were great chunks of wasted time in between books as I tried to decide what to read next and rejected most I picked up.  It got to the point where nothing interested me – weeks went by with nothing read.  I think the rot set in after Penelope Fitzgerald’s mess-of-a-book, Human Voices, which I didn’t finish – a short, 143 page book that I was unable to finish.  But perhaps more on that later.

This is what I did manage to read:

1.  One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

2.  The Magician King by Lev Grossman

3.  Franklin & Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley

4.  Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

5.  The Flight of the Maidens by Jane Gardam

6.  Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (DNF)

7.  The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk

8.  Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

9.  The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

10.  A Sensible Life by Mary Wesley

In the last two weeks of the challenge after a couple of weeks of non-reading, I thought I should at least give it a bit of a go so marched through Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates, and wafted through Mary Wesley’s A Sensible Life.  The latter was not a high point – for both Mary Wesley and me – but, again, perhaps more on that later.

If I’m honest, however, and why wouldn’t I be, my forced reading helped me to discover that Jane Gardam’s novel The Flight of the Maidens is a wonder, and that Rachel Cusk is a genius – the evidence before me is her book The Lucky Ones.  Hazel Rowley’s Eleanor & Roosevelt was brilliant and inspiring and Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek an entertaining romp.  Tim Powers seems like a very nice man if his friendly and entertaining characters are anything to go by.

Would I do this challenge again?  Maybe, but I’d nominate the whole of my unread books so I’d hundreds to choose from.  Though knowing my reading is whim- or fancy-driven, I probably wouldn’t be able to find anything to read amongst that lot either.

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Thoughts on the TBR Double Dare

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I’ve read five books from my TBR Double Dare pile, which is great, of course, but what I’ve read has caused me to think about all the other books crammed around the house and how long some of them have been crammed around the house.

You see, with the exception of Drusilla Modjeska’s Stravinsky’s Lunch, the books I nominated for the TBR Double Dare are all relatively recent acquisitions, occurring within the last couple of years, mainly from BookMooch.  There are other books around the house that have been with me for much longer – in some cases, almost twenty years or so.

While I’m pleased to have knocked a few intended books off my list, I feel as though I could take this reading challenge a bit deeper.  In other words, figure out which books have been around the longest and either read ‘em or ditch ‘em according to my level of interest in ‘em.

Three examples:

The Confessions of Aubrey Beardsley by Donald S. Olson

 According to the docket still in this book, I bought it from the Electric Shadows Bookshop in Canberra on 28 February 1995 for the princely sum of $32.90.  I liked the idea of this book – a dramatization of the life of artist Aubrey Beardsley – but I could never find a way into it when I tried to read it.  Am I interested now?  A bit.

Betrayals by Charles Palliser

Charles Palliser’s Betrayals has been with me as long as the Donald S. Olson.  I’m put off by the reference to Italo Calvino on the back, who I’ve always thought of as a tricksy post-modernist and while I appreciate tricksy post-modernism, I’m currently more in love with plot and highlighting historical injustices towards women.  Am I interested in this one today?  Not much.

Immortality by Milan Kundera

This last was a present from my dad in 1993 – he inscribed it for me.  I used to like Kundera’s work, particularly The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.  I think I just never got round to reading this one.  Do I want to read it still?  Yes.

It’s only a vague thought at present but I feel as though continuing on with the TBR Double Dare after April and focusing on books like those I’ve mentioned could make a very real and valuable contribution to my TBR pile.  While making me feel incredibly virtuous in the process.

Hmm, worth a thought.  There’s nothing quite like feeling virtuous.

It might be the start of a new year but it’s the end of the old one that I can’t forget

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A new year, a new wordpress theme.  Ditched the previous 3-column theme for this rather pleasing-looking simpler one.  Hoping it will hang around a bit longer than the last.

I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’ve read each year for the past 10 or so years.  And each year there have been one or two books that stand out from the others.  I read some good books in 2009 but nothing that really stirred my soul and made me glad to be a reader or a human being.  Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture was stimulating at the time of reading but it didn’t survive the months after it.  Yes, the writing is wonderful but I now conceive of it as a triumph of style rather than substance – only just, but a stylistic victory nonetheless.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Purple Hibiscus was looking like the frontrunner for taking out my prize, with its warm tone and humanistic content, but then, in the last week of the year, I read Rachel Cusk’s The Country Life.  I’ll review it in the next few weeks but it’s fair to say it’s My Book of the Year.  It bowled me over with its subtle wit, and elegant, lengthy sentences but what I liked most about it was its bravado in portraying a young woman in an odd yet totally sympathetic way.

It’s going to be very difficult to do Cusk’s book justice, I fear — it’s going to be very difficult to convey its tone.  But by way of illustrating its greatness, these are the effects it had on me — I didn’t want it to end, I kept thinking about its characters, I began re-reading it once I finished it but had to stop because it was far too soon for a re-read, and I moped about wailing inwardly and outwardly that I would never read another book as quite as good as it for the rest of my life.

I am now extremely keen to read the rest of Rachel Cusk’s work.  I’ve ordered Arlington Park and hope to have it in the next week or so.  It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007, as was Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but it was Adichie who took the prize.  I’ve also got a copy of Saving Agnes coming to me, Cusk’s 1993 novel that won for her the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel in the same year.

I think 2010 is going to be a great year!

The look of the thing

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Oh, oh, oh, this site looks like poo!

WordPress.com has Done Something.

Something to its its database/programming/computery gizmo thingy because I can no longer copy fonts from a text document into my posts.

I have to stick to the font chosen by the designer of this DePo Masthead WordPress theme I use, which is a bit of a bummer because it’s a font with serifs, and that’s no good for screen-based reading.

So, my apologies.  Short of me spending a lot of time researching how to use CSS code, I can’t see how it’s going to change.

No star system

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I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not to award a rating to books once I’ve read them and I’ve decided against it.

The main reason is because it’s often an imperfect book that has made me think the most.  Its form might be somewhat unwieldy – either too long or not well structured – but the ideas and author’s ambition shine through nonetheless.

Of course, when the the form and content are in perfect sync, you end up with one great book but it’s the ones that haven’t quite pulled it off that I tend to remember most.  Their strengths lie elsewhere — it could be in creating mood, evoking an era, or just cramming in idea after idea.

So, as a shortcut to the best books I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to list them in the column on the right.  These are the books that have resonated with me in some way and which I’ve continued to think about long after I’ve read them.

Book reviews on the way

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When I first started this blog, I thought making time for reading would be the problem, but it’s making time for reviewing that’s requiring the effort.  It’s very easy to pick up a book and become absorbed into another world but thinking about what to write, well, that hurts.

I’ve recently finished:

– The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
– Sea Room by Adam Nicolson
– City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and
– The Memory Room by Christopher Koch.

They were all memorable reads so I hope to have something worthwhile on each of them to say soon.

Bouncing back from baby

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A recent article in The Guardian reported on a Canadian study that found that Agatha Christie, the well-known crime writer of more than 80 novels, may have had dementia. Academics at the University of Toronto took the trouble to analyse Ms Christie’s writing and found that, from her early 70s onwards, there was a measurable decline in the breadth of her vocabulary and an increase in the usage of the indefinite word, such as ‘thing’, ‘something’ or ‘anything’.

Upon reading this, I immediately felt sorry for the crime writer but I also wondered if the academics had considered whether Christie may have just had a baby. Admittedly, she may have been a bit too old but, drawing on the statistically dubious sample size of 1, ie me, I can attest that the symptoms are exactly the same. Never was a better word invented for my use in this post natal phase of my life than the word ‘thing’.  

Or ‘thingy’ as I like to say.

Sometimes a vague hand gesture coupled with the beginning of an incomplete and malformed sentence, “Erm …” also brilliantly suffices. As for a littler vocabulary, well, that’s a given. Did I menshun that while the ability to spell correctly files out the window, the ability to spell fonetickally zooms right in?

It’s a frustrating business.

In an effort to retrieve my brain from the fug in which it’s enshrouded, I’ve started this book review blog. I’m hoping that in thinking about books, in analysing books, in writing about books, and through being in contact with other intelligences (both in books and online) my brain will come back. Even if it only returns partially (and that better be a minimum of 70-per-cent partially rather than a 30-per-cent partially), as long as my reliance on the word ‘thingy’ diminishes, I’ll be relatively happy.

So, I plan to review books of fiction belonging to the literary, speculative and children’s genres along with some biography and, occasionally, history, because that’s what I read. My second plan is to limit the length of these books to less than 400 pages because the post-baby thing has also had its effect on how quickly I read. These days I tend to drag the chain like an Australian summer that doesn’t want to end. But I don’t think it’s the speed at which I read that’s the problem; it’s more to do with my concentration, or lack thereof.

Like, right now, I can hear my daughter starting to wake up, which means my keystrokes for today are now limited.

So, future reviews that will hopefully make it to this site include books by Barbara Erskine, Barbara Vine, Sebastian Barry, Adam Nicolson, Cassandra Clare and Phillip Hensher, to name just a few. I may also look into reviewing one of Agatha Christie’s novels from the time when her use of indefinite words started to increase.  Now that would really be something.