Sunday Selection

Today I’ve not done much reading because I’ve been doing an index to my ABC Wednesday posts. Clicking on the link goes to the page and it is also linked in the Indexes tab at the top of the blog.

Other than that I’ve been reading Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant. I’ll be writing my thoughts about the book later on, but for the time being there is a discussion about it on Carrie’s Books and Movies blog.

I’ve read some more of Faulks on Fiction by Sebastian Faulks. So far I’ve read his thoughts on Robinson Crusoe, Tom Jones and Becky Sharp – all very interesting. I didn’t see the TV programmes, so it’s all new to me, although I have read these three books.

I also been looking through the newbooks magazine which came a couple of days ago. It’s time to decide which of the ‘free’ books to choose or indeed whether to pick any of them. Two of them are collections of short stories – not my favourite genre. The other two books look interesting – French Lessons by Ellen Sussman, but it’s written in the present tense, so I won’t bother with that. The last choice is more promising – Dark Matter: a Ghost Story by Michelle Paver. I’ve seen some good reviews of this, so I’ll read the extract and make up my mind later on.

Sunday Selection

Sunday seems to be the day when I start new books or at least think about starting new books. Today’s no exception, but it’s so lovely outside so I won’t be spending much of the day indoors reading – in the garden, maybe.

I thought I’d decided what I was going to read next – Gillespie and I by Jane Harris for one and Gormenghast, the second book in Mervyn Peake’s trilogy for another, and continue reading Wilful Behaviour by Donna Leon.

But then D finished his long-term reading of Joyce Carol Oates’s mammoth novel Blonde and passed it over to me. Blonde is a novel that

reimagines the inner, poetic and spiritual life of Norma Jean Baker – the child, the woman, the fated celebrity and idolized blonde the world came to know as Marilyn Monroe. (From the back cover)

I wanted him to write his thoughts on the book but I can’t persuade him. He tells me that he was always having to be conscious as he was reading  that Blonde is a novel and frequently checked in Richard Havers’s book, Marilyn in Words, Pictures and Music to make sure which was fact and which was fiction (we also have Barbara Leaming’s biography). We have DVDs of Marilyn’s films and as he was reading he watched the film that he was reading about (I watched one or two).  So now I’m eager to read Blonde.

Yesterday I received in the post (from the author) Tom Fleck: a novel of Cleveland and Flodden by Harry Nicholson. This is about a young farmworker who took part in the Battle of Flodden in the north-east of England, close to the Scottish border in 1513.  We live not far from Flodden Field and the 500th anniversary is coming up, with many events planned to commemorate the battle, so when Harry emailed me about his book I was immediately interested. As I do with each book I get I read the opening pages. I read enough to make me want to read on.

So now I’m stuck.  I can continue with reading Wilful Behaviour, but I want to have another book on the go – which book should I read first?

The Sunday Salon – Currently Reading …

The Sunday Salon is a place to talk about the books you’re currently reading.

My rate of reading has slowed down. I keep a record of books I’ve read on Goodreads with a target of reading 100 books this year. It’s not really my target but I just wanted to try out the widget on my blog (see the sidebar) and that meant I had to state a target. I’m not bothered if I don’t meet my ‘target’, but according to Goodreads I am now 3 books behind at my current pace, which does make me a bit self-conscious and think I’m not reading as fast as I should – which is ridiculous! My ‘slowness’ may have something to do with the fact I’ve got four books on the go at the moment and that two of them are long books – Titus Groan and The Bell, both of which I’ve read before.

[And I have been spending quite a lot of time bird-watching! Today I’ve been watching the baby collard dove being fed – video to follow later.]

On Friday I wrote about the beginning of The Bell, when I’d read about 25% of the book and I was full of enthusiasm for it. Reading on in the book since then my enthusiasm as waned as the action became bogged down in long descriptive passages on the characters’ thoughts and almost ground to a halt. This doesn’t seem to be the book I remember, or maybe those tedious passages went in one eye and out the other as rapidly as I read them. I’ll finish the book, though, to see if it improves towards the end. Maybe this is a book I shouldn’t have re-read!

Titus Groan, however, is standing up to the test of re-reading and is still as enjoyable as it was when I first read it. It too has long passages of description but they are far from tedious. I’m reading this as part of Farm Lane Books Readalong, where there’s an interesting discussion in progress. I shan’t be writing about this book each week, but reserving judgement until the end.

Other books I have on the go are lighter reads:

  • Gently by the Shore by Alan Hunter – the second Inspector Gently book. This isn’t as captivating as the first Gently book, but it’s ok. It’s really a period piece, originally published in 1956. A naked dead body is found on the shore, with no means of identification. Inspector Gently investigates, eating his peppermint creams and smoking his pipe.
  • The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi, the first book by this author that I’ve read. so far I’m finding it an excellent book if a little slow in getting to any action. The doctor who was supposed to be getting married didn’t turn up at the wedding ceremony in a little Greek village. Later on he’s found, having been blinded. It’s up to a mysterious fat man called Hermes Diaktoros to solve the crime.

I’m plodding along nicely with these books but still find myself thinking about what to read when I’ve finished them. I fancy an Agatha Christie and have a few to choose from, including this book which I bought last week:

Miss Marple and Mystery: the Complete Short Stories, some of which I’ve read in other collections, but still plenty of others I haven’t read.

I should be able to slot in a few of these this next week.

My Sunday Selection – Reading Today

I probably won’t be reading very much today as the sun is shining, the sky is a cloudless blue – and the garden needs lots of attention. At the moment I’m having a rest from mowing the lawn.

But there will be time to look at newbooks magazine – the latest copy of newbooks magazine arrived here a couple of days ago. This issue is full of interesting articles and a Crime Supplement, with short extracts from a number of books and author interviews.

Some that look interesting from the Crime Supplement are:

  • The Whispers of Nemesis by Anne Zouroudi – Hermes Diaktoros, ‘the inimitable Greek Detective’ in a story of long-kept secrets and of pride coming before the steepest of falls.
  • The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths – the third Ruth Galloway investigation. In this one the mystery goes back to the Second World War with Britain threatened with invasion.
  • 1222 by Anne Holt – ‘a snowbound mountain pass, a derailed train, a mysterious carriage, an apocalyptic storm, an ancient hotel, murder and state secrets.’ Phew!!

The main magazine has as usual longer extracts from the free books (you have to pay the postage though) on offer. The one that takes my fancy is:

  • Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld, about a deadly attack on Wall Street in 1920. this begins: ‘Death is only the beginning; afterward comes the hard part.’

Sunday Salon – Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has long been a favourite genre and although these days I seem to be reading more crime fiction, it still has an irresistible draw for me. So, I was really pleased when my son gave me The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman as a Mother’s Day present today. It’s about the life and times of Richard III. I find Richard a fascinating person, accused of killing his nephews and I’ve read about him from Shakespeare’s play, Richard III to Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time and Alison Weir’s non-fictional The Princes in the Tower. Now I can become immersed in the period of the Wars of the Roses to Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

More historical fiction came to my attention this morning when I read that the Walter Scott Prize Shortlist has been announced. This is the 2nd Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Last year’s prize was won by Hilary Mantel for her novel, Wolf Hall. the winner will be announced on June 18th at the Borders Book Festival at Melrose.

The shortlist for the 2011 award is:

  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor
  • Heartstone by C J Sansom
  • To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams

The only one of these I’ve read is – Heartstone by C J Sansom. This is Sansom’s fifth book in his 16th century England, Matthew Shardlake series. Heartstone is set in 1545 as England goes to war with France. I thought it was good but not as good as his earlier books, but it is very good on the details of life in Tudor times. Sansom’s research is excellent, his characters are well drawn and the atmosphere and sense of place are convincing.

Andrea Levy’s The Long Song is the next book for discussion at my Book Club at the end of this month, so I’ll be reading it soon. I haven’t read any of Andrea Levy’s four earlier books so I don’t know what to expect. It’s set in Jamaica as slavery came to an end. At the back of my copy there is Bonus Material – Andrea Levy writes about how she came to write The Long Song. I think I’ll start by reading that.

I know very little about the other books, but as I wasn’t too keen on Tom McCarthy’s Remainder and I gave up twice with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, both of which I know other people rated highly, I may pass on those.  That leaves Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light which does sound appealing and I’ve downloaded a sample on Kindle to find out more. This article in The Scotsman has more details.

The Sunday Salon

Today I’ve been reading more from Eden’s Outcasts: the story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. At long last, as I have been reading this book for ages, I have arrived at the time of Louisa’s life where she has written and published Little Women. Up to this point (about 60% of the book) most of it has been about Bronson Alcott, her father and it is Louisa who I find most interesting.

Louisa wrote in vortices – completely engrossed in her writing, with barely time for anything else, so intense was her concentration. Mostly she wrote in her bedroom at a desk Bronson had built for her, but sometimes she sat on the parlour sofa. Her family knew that if the bolster pillow next to her stood on its end they could speak to her, but if the pillow lay on its side they couldn’t disturb her. In two and a half months she had completed writing 402 manuscript pages and at the end of it she had briefly broken down.

Little Women was an instant success, the first printing of 2,000 copies sold out within days of the book’s release and another 4,500 copies were in print by the end of the year (1868). Three months later she had written the second part of Little Women – the book I know as Good Wives. She had

… plunged back into a creative cortex on November 1, vowing to write a chapter a day. She worked ‘like a steam engine’, taking a daily run as her only recreation and barely stopping to eat or sleep.  Falling behind the ambitious schedule she had set for herself, she spent her birthday alone’writing hard.’ (page 345)

She put her heart and soul into her writing.

Both Louisa and her father were complex characters and Matteson’s biography is detailed and in depth. It’s not a quick read, but then biographies never are in my experience.

The Sunday Salon

Yesterday I finished reading The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney and today I’ve been thinking what to write about it. I’ll publish my post on it later on this week. That has left me wondering what to read next alongside The Moonstone that I’m reading on my Kindle. I fancy something different from The Matchmaker, something more focused – maybe some crime fiction. So I looked at some of the books I’ve got lined up to read:

  • Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell. This was published last year which according to the Daily Mail is ‘Ruth Rendell … back to her creepy best.’  And  The Sunday Times is quoted as revelling ‘in the menacing potential of stillness … The suspense is genteel, but palpable … Ruth Rendell is in full control of her craft here.’ Ruth Rendell is an author I usually enjoy reading very much.
  • The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, who is a new-to-me author. I’ve been enjoying his blog posts on Murder is Everywhere for a while so I looked for his books in the library. This is his first novel and it won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2009.  Before that he had written the book that accompanied the BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are?, so it’s not surprising that The Blood Detective features a genealogist specialising in compiling family trees.
  • Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, published in hardback on 7 April 2011, my copy is from the publisher William Heinemann. This is the 20th Commisario Brunetti novel – he is called to investigate the death of an elderly woman who apparently died from a heart attack, although he thinks there is more to it. This looks so good.

As we’re halfway into March and I’ve got until the last Tuesday in the month when my book group meets to read Shirley Williams’s autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves, I’d better get on with reading that. … But I just want to peek into the others first.

Read, Reading, To Read – Sunday Salon

I’ve just finished reading Exit Lines by Reginald Hill, a Dalziel and Pascoe novel – my post to follow. I’m almost up-to-date with reviews of books I’ve read recently, just Exit Lines and Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden to do.

As usual when I’ve finished one book I’m not sure what to read next. I’m still reading Eden’s Outcasts: the story of  Louisa May Alcott and Her Father and have yet to get going again on The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney, but I fancy reading something different.

I go to a face-to-face book group and the next book we’ll be discussing is Climbing the Bookshelves by Shirley Williams. I think I’ll start reading it soon. I know very little about her, other than the bare facts that she was a member of the Labour party for years before becoming one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party, one of the ‘Gang of Four’. I particularly like the title of this autobiography, which came about as she and her brother liked challenges; one challenge being her

parents’ bookcases which ran from floor to ceiling like climbing-frames, with the added zest of forbidden books on the top shelf. Soon after I could read, I sneaked Havelock Ellis and Marie Stopes from that top shelf. I had learned from my brother that these were naughty books. They turned out to be very boring, but I was amazed by one illustration, a blurred spot underneath which was written: ‘This photograph of a human egg is several times life-size’. (page 3)

Although we’re not meeting until the last week in April I think I’d better start reading this soon as autobiographies/biographies take me longer to read than novels.

But I’d like to fit in something else as well. I have now built up quite a lot of books and samples on my Kindle and having watched some of the My Life in Books programmes last week I’m quite keen to read some of the books mentioned – such as Black Beauty, Crime and Punishment, The Moonstone, Treasure Island and Nicholas Nickleby, all of which I have at my fingertips. As usual, my wishes run away with me – so many books and not enough time to read all of them. And my reading time has been reduced recently as I have started to go to an art group. Painting, even though I’m terrible at it or maybe because I’m so inexperienced and lacking in talent, is just as time-consuming as reading – but it is so very enjoyable.

Sunday Salon – This Weekend

Not a lot of reading has been done this weekend as we have been visiting our son and family, walking and babysitting.

I’ve had a very brief session with True Grit by Charles Portis, which is progressing nicely. This novel has a very realistic feel about it, not that I’m at all familiar with the American West, US Marshalls and tracking down killers of course. What I mean is that the dialogue is lively and fresh – even if I don’t understand all the Westernisms – and the characters come over as real people. It won’t take me long to finish it and already I’m wondering what to read next.

My choices are:

  • An Agatha Christie book – maybe The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – inspired by our walk today on Yellowcraigs Beach with its view of the Island of Fidra, Stevenson’s inspiration for the book (more on this beautiful place in another post).
  • Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deidre Madden – because I keep meaning to read this book!
  • The Small Hand: a Ghost Story by Susan Hill – because it’s due back at the library soon.
  • The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney, which I’ve started and not finished.

Coming up tomorrow – Crime Fiction Alphabet – the letter F.

Sunday Salon

I was looking through the Radio Times yesterday to see if there are any programmes of interest this week and discovered that the BBC have launched a year-long season celebrating books. Starting last night with Sebastian Faulks’s 4 programme series Faulks on Fiction on BBC2. I haven’t watched it yet – it’s still available on BBC iPlayer and on BT Vision. This first programme is about the Hero and Heroism; how ideas  have developed over the last three centuries from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to Martin Amis’s John Self in Money.

Tomorrow night on BBC4 at 8.30 pm there is The Beauty of Books, a new series of 4 programmes looking at the importance of books from early texts to the present day paperbacks. The first programme focuses on the oldest surviving Bible – the Codex Sianaticus.

That programme is followed at 9.00 pm by the Birth of the British Novel, examining the social and political history of 18th century Britain – another look at Robinson Crusoe and the literary innovations from Tristram Shandy to Evelina.

Robinson Crusoe was based on the real life adventures of Alexander Selkirk – see my other blog for a photo of his statue in Lower Largo, Fife where he was born.

Also starting this month is a BBC2 chat show with Anne Robinson talking to guests including P D James, Robert Harris, Clare Balding and Sister Wendy Beckett. On World Book Night on 5 March The Culture Show has a literary evening with Sue Perkins on Books We Really Read.

Later in the year Arena looks at Dickens on film, there’s a BBC4 adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and a new version of Great Expectations on BBC1.

And that’s without looking at the radio programmes – today it’s Bookclub on Radio 4 at 4.00 pm with James Naughtie talking to Tim Butcher about his bestselling travel book Blood River, followed by Poetry Please at 4.30 pm.

There won’t be much time for actual reading!