Book Addiction – Bad!  Reading – Good! Why there are worse things than a Book Addiction!

Image result for too many books

I have noticed recently that my to be read pile is growing at an alarming rate and my book addiction is getting worse.  I find it hard to pass a book shop without going in…’just for a look,’ which inevitably turns into the purchase of at least one book and usually several.  If there’s a two for the price of one offer on I’m sunk.  As for second hand and charity bookshops, it is not unheard of for me to come out with between eight to ten books.

I was berating myself for this the other day, as I tried to cram yet more books onto a shelf which is already overflowing.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: This is ridiculous, this book buying has really got to stop.  Look at all these books….grrrrr.

Me in reply: Oh but look at them, aren’t they fabulous?  I can’t wait to read them.

Me: Read them?  Half of those books have been sitting on that shelf for nearly two years without being read, because you keep buying more.

Me in reply: I know, but I will read them one day.

Me: One day, one day.  Just STOP buying books.  You are a total nightmare.  You keep buying new books before you have even read the ones you have.

Me in reply:  OK, I know that is a bit of a problem and I am going to try and stop doing that.  But I still think there are much worse addictions that a book addiction, and in fact some would say it’s a good way to spend your money.  I am going to think of all the reasons to justify my book addiction, and guess what I might even write a blog post about it.

Me: You do that.  (Carries on day in a huff with self.)

So, here I am ready to tell you all the reasons why it is good to buy books

  1. By the time I am an old lady (if God willing I live into old age) I will have the most fantastic book collection which I may be able to leave to a library or perhaps a group of schools, thus imparting wisdom and learning.
  2. Reading is a fantastic way to learn about life, about people, and about how to make sense of the world. Novels, short stories, poetry and non-fiction all help us in this way.  Thus, books are an essential tool in our lives.
  3. Reading a physical book means you are not looking at a screen which we all now know has to be a good thing. We are spending far too much time looking at screens to the detriment of our long-term health and wellbeing.
  4. Reading stimulates the mind. It has been shown that stimulating the mind slows down the deterioration of the mind and keeps us mentally agile.
  5. Reading helps us become more empathetic as we begin to understand how other people view the world.
  6. Reading helps us feel connected, when we see that other human beings share the same emotions and thoughts as we do.
  7. Reading makes you more intelligent.
  8. Reading helps you unwind before sleep (as long as it is not a page turner in which case, good luck!)
  9. Reading helps you escape your daily grind by taking you to exotic and exciting places.
  10. According to researchers at theUniversity of Sussex, reading for just six minutes can help reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent.

I rest my case.  Now if someone could just help me figure out how to stop buying books until I have read the ones I already have, that would be great.

Image result for too many books

 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita on Amazon

Where to begin?  What a novel!  Honestly, I am still reeling. Strange beyond strange. The weirdest aspect of it all – I still can’t decide whether I loved it or hated it.  What I loved was the sheer boldness of the Devil.  I also loved the imagery and the lightning fast roller coaster action. What I hated was always asking myself ‘what does that mean? and why did that just happen?  Hard work.

I couldn’t even begin to sum up the plot, so I’ll just give you a few of the main points.

It begins with two men having a discussion while sitting on a park bench at Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow.  One is a poet called Bedzomy and the other is a man called Berlioz. He is the head of the literary society Massolit. They are having a discussion about the existence of Jesus Christ.  A foreign looking gentleman sits down beside them.   He goes by the name of Professor Woland, but is actually the devil – are you with me so far?  OK that’s about the most straightforward part of the novel.

From there we have two settings, – 1930s Moscow, where Woland and his entourage, which includes an oversized cat called Behemouth, wreak havoc on society through magic shows, fires, and all manner of madness, which leads to many individuals ending up in a psychiatric ward, including the aforementioned Bedzomy.

The second setting is a novel within a novel – the Master, a writer that we only know by that name, has written a book about Pontius Pilate, and we are given extracts of this work which is set in Jerusalem.   The Master also ends up in the psych ward, but is later freed.  We know nothing about his past or where he came from, which I also found hard to get my head around.

If you want a detailed description of the novel, can I suggest you use Google, where you will find minds far better equipped to describe the plot than I can.  I am merely blogging of my experience of reading this as part of my Reading Gym – she says, copping out entirely.  Sorry but I feel I would need a Masters in English lit to get to the truth of this one.

So, I guess having ploughed my way through this novel, am I any the wiser?

Well one thing I can understand is why it is regarded as a classic.  It includes magical realism, a satirical look at the Soviet Union of the 1930s, not to mention looking at the themes of religion and even love.  There are also major thematic debates on the battle between good and evil.

The love story between the Master and Margarita only comes into play in the second half of the novel, and having persevered to that point, I began to enjoy it much more, as some of the mysteries were cleared up.

What I found difficult about this novel were the incredible number of themes, deeper meanings and satire. I found it hard at times to enjoy the story for its own sake.  I was always aware of there being more than the narrative at play.

Would I recommend it?  If you like a challenge, or you feel like reading something wild and completely different, then yes.  Otherwise forget it.   I feel like I would need to read it at least two more times to really get to grips with it, but somehow, I suspect I won’t ever read it again.   Oh well, at least now I can say I have read some Russian literature!

If you have read it, please feel free to share your thoughts.  Maybe you can educate us all?!

Next month’s read is Stoner by John Williams.  Hoorah!  I have read it before and cannot wait to read it again and share my views.   I highly recommend Stoner.

Review of Persuasion by Jane Austen

It is a good while since I have read any Austen, so I was looking forward to this a lot.  The universe thought it would have a little laugh at my expense first though.  I have a beautiful bound copy of all the Austen novels with illustrations.  However, it is fairly heavy to hold, never mind cart around with you, so I ordered a 99p copy of Kindle – I know – I’m sorry, but it was just easier.

I began to read one night and grew increasingly perplexed.  Austen had lost, not only some of her skill in writing prose, but there was a decided lack of her trademark wit and intelligence.  Bemused, I am ashamed to admit I read until Chapter Three before I realized something was drastically wrong.  I went downstairs to my bookshelf to consult my hard-back copy.  Needless to say, it was completely different.  My kindle edition was some sort of very badly abridged version.   I wrote a strongly worded complaint to Amazon and got my 99p back, but not my pride.

Persuasion cover

Anyway, on to the correct version of the novel.   Once normal service had resumed, I was delighted to find I enjoyed this book enormously.   Austen is a master of both storytelling and characterization.

Anne Elliot had been in love with Frederick Wentworth at the age of 19.  He had proposed marriage, but Anne had been persuaded not to marry him by her friend Lady Russell (remind you of any other Austen novels?!)  due to his lack of wealth and standing.   Despite loving him she gave him up.  He went off to join the navy utterly heartbroken.

Anne is now 27 and has lost her beautiful first flush of beauty and bloom, due to allowing herself to be talked out of marriage, and the general hassle of living with a vain father – Sir Walter Elliot and two hideous sisters.  Anne’s elder sister Elizabeth seems to be even worse. She is as vain as her father and only cares how she appears to others and what she can get for herself.  She is also horribly mean to Anne.

Anne means little to her father or Elizabeth as we are told in Chapter One: “but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way – she was only Anne.” (Chapter 1)

However Anne is a wise character and is able to keep her head when all those around her are being silly.  Frederick Wentworth returns from the Navy, and when he and Anne meet again, we are into classic Austen territory.

I won’t tell you anymore of the story.  Suffice to say, it is a romantic tale with morals galore and witty observations on both human nature and society.

With Austen, you know what you are going to get, and while some readers don’t enjoy that, I find that immensely comforting.  She is a genius at writing flawed characters who are completely oblivious to their flaws.  Her hero and heroine are always empathetic and have to go through the same fears and doubts that I am sure we have all faced at one time or another.   There is always the ‘wicked’ man who tries to steal the fair lady’s heart, but is inevitably found out before all is lost. I don’t mean to sound trite, because though Austen may write of universal themes, she does so with an originality and a timelessness that has made her one of the most loved authors of all time.  Having read Persuasion, I now want to re-read Sense and Sensibility and the other Austen novel I have not yet read – Northanger Abbey.  If you have read Austen, which is your favourite?  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

 

 

Books and Podcasts

I have been a little quiet of late.  I have been rather busy what with one project and another.   However I have continued to read non-stop.  I am reading Persuasion for my March Reading Gym.   However I also read books that are meant to be helping me in the writing of my own novel.  So I have recently read ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodi Smith and ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Remains of the Day

Now if you haven’t read either of these novels, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to read them immediately.  Go on.  They are WONDERFUL.  You won’t regret it for  a second.  I had actually read ‘I capture the Castle’ before, but for some reason didn’t get as enamoured of it as I was this time.  It begins with the brilliant line, ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’  It tells the story of Cassandra, her sister Rose, their step mother and father, who all live in a castle in Suffolk.  The castle has seen better days and their eccentric father once wrote a brilliant book, but has not been able to write anything since.  Their lives change when two American men enter their lives – they are the rightful heirs to the castle.  The story is told from the point of view of Cassandra who is 17 and writes the story as she tells it to us, in her journal.  It is funny, charming and the voice of Cassandra is one of literature’s most endearing creations.

The Remains of the Day is also brilliant.  I had seen the film with the incredible Anthony Hopkins, but the book is a masterpiece.  The manner in which Mr Stevens the butler so deludes himself not just about his importance in the world, but worse, his sense of propriety in all things, means he never really lives at all.  Oh I could gush, I could and I will.  It is a brilliant, subtle, intriguing piece of writing which deservedly won The Man Booker Prize.  It goes straight into my Top Ten favourite books ever.  It’s a book for the procrastinators of this world, or for those who have let opportunities slip through their fingers for fear of being seen as improper.   Wonderful.

Finally, I thought I would share my latest blog piece that I wrote for Cuckoo Magazine.  It’s all about book podcasts and I hope you enjoy.   The link is below.  I will return ere long with my review on Persuasion by Jane Austen.

For the Love of Podcasts

 

Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean-Paul Sartre

les-jeux-sont-faits

I am back to my ‘Reading Gym’ as based on the idea of the ‘List of Betterment’ by Andy Miller in his book ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously.’  Check out my list in November’s blog post.    This is the 2nd book in my list and so far I am on time and enjoying it enormously.  Fatigue has not yet had the chance to set in.

I wanted to re-read this book which I studied for A level French, as I remember loving it. I was delighted to discover that the French was easier than I remembered, and I didn’t have any trouble in understanding it – always helpful.

Published in 1947, there was also a film version made, staring Micheline Presle and Marcel Pagliero.

A short deceptively simple story, Pierre and Eve are both killed in different circumstances.  Pierre is a revolutionary and is killed by his friend Lucien whom his mistreats.   Eve is poisoned by her husband Andre, who wishes to get his hands on her money. He is also having an affair with her younger sister Lucette.    Pierre and Eve both arrive in the afterlife, and despite the differences in their backgrounds, they fall in love – rather too quickly and too easily for my liking, but with a genuineness that is quite touching.

They then find themselves back in front of the lady who ‘signed them into the afterlife,’ who tells them that there has been a mistake in the paperwork, and they were destined for each other in life, but didn’t meet in time.   They have 24 hours to go back to earth, and if they can maintain their love on earth, they get to stay there.

Without giving away any further plot points, the novel deals with the themes of freedom, responsibility, and whether our lives are predestined or not.  These were the themes and questions that intrigued me as a naive young 18 year-old, and I find they are still the themes that preoccupy me this time around.  Eve and Pierre seem to take a very fatalistic approach both to how their lives have ended, and what is happening to their loved ones who they have left behind.  However when they return to earth, they waste no time in taking their opportunities and trying to change their fate.

It is the age old question – how much control do we actually have over our own lives?  Whatever the answer, Sartre makes one thing abundantly clear.  We always have the freedom to choose, and we owe it to ourselves to take responsibility for our lives – predestined or not.

For such a short simple story, it packs one hell of a punch.  There are enough life questions within to keep any philosopher amused for years.

As another couple gets the chance to return to earth, the young man asks Pierre and Eve:

‘On peut essayer de recommencer sa vie? insiste le jeune homme. ‘We can try to to start our life again? insists the young man.

Pierre et Eve se regardent, hesitants.  Ils sourient gentiment aux jeunes gens. Pierre and Eve look at each other, hesitant.  They smile kindly at the young people.

‘Essayez,’ conseille Pierre. ‘Try’ advises Pierre.  ‘Essayez tout de meme,’ murmure Eve.  ‘Try all the same,’ murmurs Eve.

Perhaps this is the ultimate message at the heart of this novel.  There is always hope if you are willing to try.

The novel has been translated into English with the title ‘The Chips are Down.’

If you fancy a bit of philosophical contemplation, there is much to admire in this novel.

 

Review of ‘Making It Up As I Go Along’ by Marian Keyes.

marian-keyes

There are two female Irish writers who I think are underrated.  Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes.  Both undoubtedly beloved and revered, but I don’t think people appreciate what skilled writers they were in Maeve’s case, and are in Marian’s.     The trick is, they make it look effortless, but it’s not, and I don’t think people appreciate that enough.

‘Maeve’s Times’ by Maeve Binchy is one of my favourite books ever.  It made me laugh, cry, and sigh with envy.  I re-read it from time to time and it gets better with every reading.

So, it was with some trepidation and excitement that I set out to read Marian’s series of articles. The trepidation came because I was nearly afraid I wouldn’t like them, and that would have been terrible, what with being such an ardent admirer.  I should have known my fears were ridiculous.

I began reading the book one night whilst in bed.  My husband began to look at me in a most alarming manner, as I began to shake with laughter and then to snort most unbecomingly.  At one point, I think I sounded like Pluto the dog.  From the very first piece on ‘Fake Tan,’ where my snorting was caused by an anecdote in which Marian goes to get fake tan administered at a salon for the first time.  She isn’t told until it is applied that she can’t wash it off until the following morning.  Unfortunately, she had plans to go out for dinner for her mammy’s birthday.  As she tells it:

“At the restaurant I caused a bit of a stir.  As if the smell wasn’t bad enough, bits of the mud were going black and green and falling off my face into my dinner.”

I don’t laugh easily.  A friend at school once told me I was terrible for laughing at other’s misfortunes.  I prefer to think I am laughing with them.  Marian Keyes is so exquisitely funny about the calamities that can strike when we least expect it and we are doing our best to just get on with things.  I laugh in understanding, in female solidarity and in empathy.

I once told a friend a story about leaving a suitcase in the wrong person’s house in London, and as it was the height of the troubles, and it was found with a Belfast address, all kinds of hell broke loose, while I was busy sunning myself on a beach in France.  It’s a long, complicated story, but my friend has been dining out on it ever since, and says it is the funniest thing she has ever heard.

Equally, my 10-year-old niece adores the story of how I sprayed myself from head to toe with an anti-mosquito Citronella spray and inadvertently became exceptionally drunk from the amount of ethanol in the spray. And there was me thinking it was natural and therefore safe.

So I have had more than my fair share of minor disasters too, and this my friends is where Marian is a joy.  She is generous in sharing both her good successful experiences (of which there are many I might add) and her less successful forays into areas of her life such as travel, the beauty industry, exercise, and the complicated business of living.  I am not a sycophant.  For example, I don’t always agree with her butchering of the English language for comic purposes – it doesn’t always work for me.

However, I do love this book and I think everyone should read it, for it is a tonic for the soul.  Marian Keyes is a great conversationalist, and her narrative voice is what makes the book special.  She writes as if you were sitting in her kitchen, having a chat and a cuppa. What’s not to love?

To end:

10 reasons why Marian Keyes is Fabulous:

  1. Despite her success as an author, she never pretends it is easy, and she is happy to admit she struggles with her writing.
  2. She is self-deprecating and exceptionally witty, but we also know that she is really very clever.
  3. She loves Alexander McCall Smith. I was SO excited when I read this.  Whenever I rave on to people about AMS, they usually mumble something about having read a couple of his books, but look at me like I am a bit sad.  This enrages me and makes me rave all the more.  Marian gets him, and his lovely books.
  4. She is generous in the extreme in sharing her tips for all kinds of things, from cooking to beauty, to writing, and she shares her mistakes too, so we can all learn from them.
  5. She is hilarious about ‘himself’ and showed her vulnerability and brilliant sense of humour when ‘himself’ went off trekking up a mountain somewhere far away (sorry don’t remember where it was) and she feared she would ‘lose him’ to one of the females in the climbing group.  She tweeted with much angst and hilarity.
  6. She is a big fan of Strictly and her blogs and tweets re the shows are unmissable.
  7. Her tweets and vlogs are legendary. Also, she is not like many well-known people who think they are too important to tweet with a non-celeb! She tweets with lots of different people.
  8. Her book ‘Is Anybody Out there?’ is one of the best novels I have read about the experience of grief. It stayed with me for ages afterwards.
  9. She supports causes she believes in, and donated her royalties for ‘Making It Up As I Go Along’ to the Save the Children Syria crisis. I mean – Come On.
  10. She started her tribute to Jilly Cooper at the Bord Gais Energy Book Awards last December, by addressing the assembled company with her signature vernacular of ‘Lads…..’ I was watching it on the T.V. and nearly fell off my sofa in admiration and glee.  Funny, funny fabulous woman.

P.S.  I have decided not to tweet Marian the link to this piece for fear that she will –

(a) Think I am a stalker, which I am SO not.   I am happy to admire from afar.  (Or even worse, she gets the link but doesn’t bother to read it.)

(b) She will hate it and think me a creepy fan.  This would kill me altogether, so this remains between us.  I am just glad to have put it out there to encourage you to buy the book.  You can laugh and support a good cause. Sure, what more could you want?

P.P.S.  If you have been following my ‘Reading Gym’ list or ‘List of Betterment’ (see November’s blog post.)  I will be back next week with my review of ‘Les Jeux Sont Faits’ by Sartre.   The book for March is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.

 

Middlemarch by George Eliot

middlemarch-by-george-eliot

This was the first book on my 2017 ‘list of betterment’ (see previous post in Nov 2016, on ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Millar) or as I call it, ‘My Book/Reading Gym.’

I set myself a target to read 50 pages a day.  Some days I read more, on only a few occasions I read slightly less.  As I reached 600+ pages I galloped through the final 200 pages.

Readers have strong views on Middlemarch.  They rhapsodize about it, or detest it.  Not much middle ground in terms of the opinions I have heard. Well – I loved it.  I wouldn’t say it was the best book I have ever read or that it changed my life, but I definitely loved it.

George Eliot writes as omniscient narrator, and this along with the Victorian references and wordiness grated with me initially, until the brilliant characterization swept me along, and I became lost in the world of Middlemarch society.

The novel is set in 1830 and covers a wide range of the societal and political issues of the day, from medicine to parliamentary reform and education. I won’t begin to try and summarize the plot.  If you want to know what it’s about, google it my friends!  800 pages is 300 pages too long for a summary.

Instead I am going to tell you why I loved this novel.  The manner in which Eliot draws together all the different lives of the characters, and weaves the storylines between them, and makes the connections appear understated yet important, is nothing short of genius.   The characters’ lives weave, mesh and become entangled in the subtlest but most daring ways.   Two characters who may have not even met, suddenly turn out to be the cause of each other’s potential downfall.  The moral dilemma between Bulstrode, Dr Lydgate and the rest of Middlemarch society had me gripped and transfixed.

The two main characters of Dorothea and Dr Lydgate held the most interest for me.   Many reviewers have portrayed Dorothea as a saint and a specimen of perfection.  For me (as much as I did try to imagine how hard it must have been for women in the 1830s) she was an irritating sycophant.  She married the much older Mr Causaubon because he was so highly knowledgeable in her eyes, and so much worthier than herself.  Blimey, whip yourself a bit harder why don’t you.  She had him on such a high pedestal, it was inevitable there was only one way for him to go, which he duly did.  Down down down.     She then falls in love with Will Ladislaw, but cannot admit it to herself, or have anything to do with him until he proves himself worthy.  I know she had it tough, but I just yearned for her to show some feistiness, or some rebellion at some point.  Her self-pity and self-flagellation just made me want to puke.  Mind you, her sister Celia was worse, particularly when she became a mother to her darling Arthur.

Even though Rosamond (who married Dr Lydgate) was vain, self-centred and selfish, at least she had a bit of back bone and knew what she wanted.

My two favourite characters were probably Dr Lydgate and Mary Garth.  Humble, dependable, sure of themselves and their values. Poor Dr Lydgate.  My heart truly broke for him.  Marrying the selfish Rosamond, and struggling both financially and with his lifelong ambition. He needed a wife like Dorothea to fulfill all his needs, while he got on with his work.

Middlemarch is a book I imagine you could read five or six times and still not fully appreciate.  There is so much to it, my mind boggles just thinking about it.  It is a book I hope to read again in a few years.    To be honest I don’t think I got the full juice out of it on a first reading.  I also appreciated and enjoyed the exquisite writing, and marked many passages in the book.  One of my favourites regarded the nature of Mr Casaubon and his inability to enjoy anything in life.  A truly remarkable piece of writing:

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy; to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold…but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.”  (Chapter 29 Page 280 Penguin Classics edition)

Eliot’s wisdom is rare, her genius plentiful.  It may take some effort and some time to read this masterpiece, but certain things are worth the effort, and in my opinion, reading Middlemarch is one of them.

If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinions.  Who was your favourite character?  Do you agree with me re Dorothea, or do you think she is the true heroine of the novel? Pray do tell (sorry…went all Victorian there for a moment.)

Next up at The Reading Gym is:  ‘Les Jeux sont Faits’ by Sartre.   I will be reading it in French, but if you fancy reading along, you can get a translation entitled ‘The Chips are Down.’  What a hideous translation, but never mind!  It’s not that easy to get, so I fear I may be on my own with this one!  The next book after that is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.   I can’t wait for that one!

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Book Club Cafe!

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Reading

reading-image

Before I start my ‘List of Betterment’ or ‘My Reading Gym,’ as written about in my blog post in November, see here https://thebookclubcafe.com/2016/11/  I reflected upon what I read in 2016.  I was in a book club which I left.  I left for several reasons, but the main one was that there are too many books I wish to read, without reading books I don’t wish to read.  Also, it was a pain in the ass to get to. However, I will miss the debates and the conversation.

Last year I read a variety of books, mainly for pleasure. I read Sarah Waters, Alexandra Fuller, A collection of short stories by Irish women called ‘The Long Gaze Back’, Alexander McCall Smith and more. Over Christmas I read two excellent books.  ‘The Emperor of Ice-cream’ by a writer from Belfast called Brian Moore.  It is set in World War II, and it is about a teenage boy called Gavin Burke who becomes an ARP warden, and how he grows from a boy into a man once the war finally comes to Belfast.

The second book my husband brought me for Christmas and it is ‘The Princess Diarist’ by Carrie Fisher.  Little did I know she would die a couple of days after I received the book.  I read it in one day.  It is poignant and funny and a great read.  I would highly recommend it.

I now find it funny that I can’t even remember most of the books I read in 2016.  This year I intend to keep a list so I don’t forget them.

Apart from my own Reading Gym, I am going to read exclusively for two other purposes.  Firstly, for pleasure and secondly, for learning more about the craft of writing.    I figure if I am reading and blogging about several classics, I deserve a bit of light hearted reading to compensate.   I also wish to read more about writing, as there are some excellent books on the subject, and I need all the help I can get.

I also have a huge number of books on my bookshelves that I haven’t got around to reading yet.  I love going to the library, but this is a bit of a problem as I always see at least five books that I want to read, and so I never get around to reading the books I actually have on my shelves.  Simple solution –  don’t go to the library.  That may not be so hard.   I am currently sitting in the library, trying to get some peace, and two school girls are sitting next to me and whispering in the most infuriating manner. The obvious solution is to move, but for the moment most of the desks are occupied.  I will keep an eye out until a quieter spot becomes available.  I should have stayed at home and worked.  I always come to the library thinking I will do more productive work, and it always turns out to be the opposite.  So, that could be a solution to that problem.  Stay away from the library.

Do you have any reading goals, or do you just jump aimlessly from one recommended book to another?  Do you read the same author all the time or always read new authors?  Or do you re-read your favourite books all the time?    I am curious to know.  Please tell.  For me reading is the ultimate pleasure, but only when you can lose yourself completely in another world, and you can’t wait to get back to the book.  Otherwise it can be tortuous.

If you feel so inclined, please feel free to read along with my list and give your thoughts and opinions on the books.   I have come to the library today to work, but also to borrow Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The first book on my list.  It looks daunting indeed, but Andy Millar dealt with it in ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by committing to 50 pages a day, I might try the same thing.  Sounds doable.  I will let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, Happy 2017 to you all and Happy Reading.

‘The Long Gaze Back.’ An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson.

the-long-gaze-back

The Long Gaze Back

I have spent the last few years reading more Irish female writers, and constantly discovering new ones, and I am in awe of their talent.  Lisa McInerney’s ‘The Glorious Heresies’ was the best book I read all year.  I have been meaning to read this anthology since it was published last year.  I finally got around to it this month.  It is a gift.

There are thirty short stories in total, the stories range in time period from the 1800s to the present day.  The subjects and styles are diverse, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t one story in the collection that I didn’t enjoy.   Every story was full of emotion, style and substance.

I kept changing my mind as to which was my favourite.  They made me laugh, cry and contemplate many aspects of life – travel, a sense of place, a sense of identity, first loves, love lost….the themes are plentiful in these wonderfully woven tales.

The book begins with two Irish women writers born in the 18th Century, Maria Edgeworth and Charlotte Riddell, and it was lovely to be able to read a short synopsis about them, listed on the opposite page of each new story.   My favourite of this era, or just slightly later, was from Somerville and Ross, whom I knew well from the Irish R.M television series.  The story was a delight, as I was transported to an Ireland of the very distant past, where the language is as sharp as the humour.

Ireland has such a wealth of literary talent from women writers, and this book is a wonderful way to get acquainted or reacquainted with them.  The list of talent is just endless, with writers such as Kate O’Brien, Norah Hoult, and two eerie atmospheric stories from Elizabeth Bowen and Mary Lavin.

I was introduced to writers I had never heard of, and spent a lot of time googling them and bookmarking other works by them I would like to read.   In fact, my favourite story in the collection was by a writer I had never heard of – Roisín O’Donnell.  A writer born in Sheffield with family roots in County Derry.  She wrote a story called ‘Infinite Landscapes’ about a young half Irish, half Nigerian girl called Simidele, whose grandmother believes she is ‘abiku,’ which means that she is cursed – a child of the spirits.  The story goes on to tell how the young Simi displays unusual behaviour, and how she navigates he way through life, having to deal with this extraordinary aspect of her personality.  There is a wonderful diary entry from Simi when she is about 8:

“On Saturday we went to the beech and I said Dadddy can the spirits com in the car and daddy said no they fucking can’t and then the spirits got angree and played in daddy’s enjin and then daddy’s enjin wouldn’t start.”

The story tells of Simi’s life in the most beautiful lyrical language.  The story is full of humour and wisdom, and it is a wonderful story about identity and the idiosyncrasies on the blending of two cultures.   As I was born in Zambia, this story appealed to me, and reminded me of the wonderful superstitions that can be found in Africa.

The talent of Irish women writers in this collection is inspiring and intimidating in equal measure.  The stories are uniquely wonderful.   What is even more exciting is that there is another volume to look forward to, ‘The Glass Shore,’ by women writers from the North of Ireland.  Being from Belfast myself, I have asked Santa for this one and hope to spend my Christmas holidays enjoying it.

This book would make a perfect gift.   It is an ideal read for those who travel a lot, perfect for dipping in and out of at leisure.   I highly recommend it.  Classy stuff.

A Reading Challenge for 2017

Following my previous post, after having read ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller, I have decided to compile my own ‘list of betterment.’ However, I will not be attempting 50 books.  I am sticking to a very realistic 10.  One a month with two months’ holiday!   I will be reading one book every month and then blogging about it.  The reasons I am doing this are threefold.  Firstly, I wish to improve my writing, and they say it is essential to read well and often.  Secondly, I want to see whether some of these ‘classics’ live up to the hype.  Finally, I also hope these books will challenge me in some way and stretch my reading muscles.   An added bonus will be that I can stop saying ‘I really must get around to reading that someday.’

I will be commencing in January 2017 and look forward to hearing your opinions on the books.

So, this is ‘My Reading Gym:’

  1. Middlemarch by George Eliot. According to Virginia Woolf, this is ‘one of the few English books written for grown up people.’  If I enjoy it even half as much as I liked ‘The Mill and the Floss,’ I am in for a treat!

 

  1. Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean Paul Sartre. I read this at school and remember loving it, but I have entirely forgotten most of what it’s about, so I would like to re-read it.  I think I may try and read it in the French.  From what I remember it wasn’t that difficult.

 

 

  1. Persuasion – Jane Austen. I haven’t read a lot of Austen, so I was spoiled for choice.  Thought I would start here (as I haven’t seen a TV version of this one!)

 

 

  1. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. This was one of the books Andy Miller read and seemed to enjoy, so thought I’d give it a go.   Have read very little Russian literature so it should be an education in itself.

 

  1. Stoner by John Williams. I reckoned I would need something I knew I was going to love after the previous read.  I LOVE this novel.  I have read it before and am desperate to read it again, so I will.

 

  1. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. My father was a great fan of Maugham, and this is a book I read years ago, and again have been meaning to re-read as, truth be told, I can’t remember a darn thing about it.  Not a great sign, but anyway.

 

  1. Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. This one I have much trepidation about.  The only reason I am reading it is due to the sheer passion with which Andy Miller raves about it.  We shall see.  I sense it may not be for me.  This is the big gamble on this list. Another French writer.

 

  1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. My writing teacher has mentioned this book in nearly every one of our classes, so thought it was high time I read it.  I am also intrigued with the concept of the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.  I loved Jane Eyre, so am looking forward to this one. The only other woman on the list –  I know, but I do read a lot of literature by women the rest of the time, and have read a lot of literature by women, so I don’t feel too guilty.   Keep reading below the picture!

coffee-and-note-pad-for-blog-post

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.   Another classic it is high time I read.  Enough said.

 

  1. The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy. What a way to finish. Considered a masterpiece, published in Paris in 1955, and banned in Ireland and the USA, this novel is a must read and I had to have an Irish author on the list somewhere.

 

Phew, I am exhausted and yet excited at the thought of reading all of these books.  Hopefully by the end of 2017 I will have broadened both my literary education and my writing!   Please do let me know your thoughts, and if you have a ‘list of betterment,’ what’s on it?