Legi, Lego, Legam – May into June reading

I thought it was time I started writing monthly round-up posts. In the spirit of my blog’s Latin motto (Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book), I’ve called this post – Legi, Lego, Legam – I read, I am reading, I will read – sounds so much clunkier in the English translation.

This month, I’ve been so absorbed in the on-going problems of dealing with my too large collection of mostly unread books, that reviews have tended to get submerged in the navel-gazing – although all your comments on that have been extremely helpful to me – Thank you.

So back to the books, of which I finished seven. My monthly average is slightly down this year – as I’ve been rather busy and preoccupied with other things lately. Title and ‘Buy’ links, where appropriate, click through to Amazon UK…

LEGI:

  • Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (7.5/10) Review Buy
  • Exegesis by Astro Teller (5.5/10) Review Buy
  • Salmon fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday Buy Review coming soon
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (10/10) Review Buy
  • The Dark Tower Bk 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (8.5/10) Review Buy
  • Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen Buy Review coming soon
  • The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato Buy Review coming soon

Book Group:  Salmon fishing in the Yemen will be discussed at Book Group next week, so review to follow. Last month’s choice was The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, which I reviewed this month here.

Book of the Month: I read one standout book in May. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best thing I’ve read this year.  The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, is a wonderfully witty, yet emotional rollercoaster of a Western set during the San Francisco goldrush era. I likened it to The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood, and hope that it might appeal to some of you too – It was mighty fine!

Readalongs: I am currently engaged in just one – The Dark Tower readalong hosted by Jenny & Teresa at Shelf Love. I enjoyed the first installment, The Gunslinger, very much and hope to be along for the whole ride…

LEGO:

I am currently reading the latest James Bond novel – Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver whom I saw talk about it here.  So far, it’s jolly good fun!  Deaver may have skipped some decades but his Bond, although modelled strictly on Fleming’s books, is definitely in the Sean Connery mould which ain’t no bad thing at all! :)

LEGAM:

Definite June reading plans include:

Then some of the following from the top of my TBR pile perhaps:

  • Lasting Damage
  • Something Borrowed, the second Brenda and Effie novel by Paul Magrs – been meaning to read this for ages.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – this has gone straight up the pile after reading Simon Savidge’s grilling of the author (click here).
  • Briar Rose & Spanking the Maid two novellas by Robert Coover given a new Penguin Modern Classics edition.  After discovering Coover’s brilliant short story The Babysitter in a Penguin Mini Modern I am looking forward to these very much, and Just William’s Luck reviews them here
  • Scarlett Dedd by Cathy Brett – a very novel novel for older children that looked so much fun that I have to read it before audition it for my daughter.

I’ve also been debating whether to join in with Jackie’s Gormenghast readalong.  I have been planning to re-read the books for years, but rather than read a few chapters per week, I’ll go full immersion and join in at the end of each month if I can fit it in. I’ve also acquired the DVD of the BBC’s rather good TV adaption from 2000.

I’d better go and get reading!  What are your plans?

Book Nostalgia and multiple copies…

My question today, in my never-ending project to get my personal library down to manageable proportions is …

When you have multiple copies of books, how do you decide which ones to keep? Dogeared childhood copies vs shiny new ones…

Somewhere in the house, I have around three and a half sets of the Narnia books.  My dogeared and play-library adorned childhood copies; a cheap set of new paperbacks I bought for Juliet (who was showing the possibilities of becoming a book-wrecker, but now I’m not so sure); my posh Folio set; and assorted other editions we’ve been given over the years. Obviously the Folio set stays, but should I get rid of the rest?  Or keep one set – if so which one?  The Pauline Baynes covers on my childhood set are lovely, but they are falling to pieces; the modern set have boring covers. Another dilemma.

I have similar problems for Ballet Shoes, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and countless others. I own a proper hardback edition, Folio or otherwise, plus one or more reading copies, mostly Puffin paperbacks, including my childhood ones.

I can’t sell my dog-eared childhood copies – they’re in no state to pass on. Many of the pictures have been coloured in. Yes, I was a book-wrecker as a child – I think I changed to the opposite persuasion once I had a decent job and could afford to buy books rather than go to the library. The upshot of this is that I’d have to recycle the oldest copies, which are mostly well-tanned too by now too, tend to have small type and are not easy to read in their state of gentle decay.

I hope all these introspective posts about dealing with the problem of having too many books aren’t boring you all to sleep, but I am genuinely interested in your experiences.

  • Can you bear to get rid of your dogeared childhood editions when you have shiny new ones available?
  • Does the argument about having reading copies so that posh ones can be preserved hold any water?
  • Why were the old Puffin covers so lovely compared with today’s versions?
  • Would a pictorial record be enough to preserve the memories for posterity?
Do let me know your thoughts …

Carte Blanche for Jeffrey Deaver

Bond is back in print.  Carte Blanche is the latest edition to the James Bond canon, written by thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver – he of the quadraplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector and subsequent novels.

Deaver is only doing three events in the UK. The book was launched at St Pancras on Wednesday complete with a girl on a motorbike (BSA Spitfire) and Royal Marines rapelling down from the roof to deliver the tome; the third is at the Hay Literary Festival.

The middle event though was a real coup for my local bookshop Mostly Books.  They linked together with the truly high-tech Bondian location of the Diamond Light source at Harwell just outside Abingdon (left), to tempt Deaver into the Oxfordshire countryside for a talk about the book. No Bond event could be complete without a car or two either …  Bentleys in this case (see below) – for Bond is back in his original marque for this book.

Deaver, as you might expect, was a consummate pro at the microphone, throwing in lots of humour into his talk.

The new Bond book is set in 2011 with a thirty-something Bond joining a new top secret government agency with one aim – to protect the realm.  The action moves from Serbia to Capetown via London and Dubai. All the hallmarks of a Bond novel are there: cars, gadgets … and girls (plural), including one called Felicity Willing.  Deaver explained how he wanted to write his Bond novel as a typical Deaver one – a rollercoaster, with lots of surprise endings. The women are all strong characters – he doesn’t hold with the popular view of Bond as a misogynist; and did I mention the surprise endings?

He went on to talk a little about how he writes his books.  “Rule No 1 – This is a business.”  As a thriller writer, he is writing to an audience, to give them what they want, including twisty and scary plots. He likened it to creating minty toothpaste – who would want a different flavour?  Then he outlines for around eight months – research, character biographies, devising the plot – treating it like an engineering plan. He choreographs the ending, for in thrillers, the ending is the most important part of the book, (plus the surprise endings all the way through of course).  Then the first draft takes his around two months, and after that he re-writes it.

Then we moved to questions, and as they finished, he dropped a little bombshell – in Carte Blanche Bond has given up smoking!

At this point, my camera ran out of charge, so I couldn’t get a photo of Jeffrey signing, but when I got home, I was able to scan this …  Yes – you probably all know I’m a big Bond fan, and I engineered by luck got ticket number 007 and Deaver graciously signed it and my book for me.  Now I have a bookmark and a half!

* * * * *
Carte Blanche will be the next book I read.   To buy it from Amazon UK, click below:
Carte Blanche (James Bond)
The Bone Collector

The Dark Tower Readalong #1

The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

It’s simply years since I read any Stephen King, and then I only read his horror stories.  I was only vaguely aware that he had written a series which was a dark fantasy.  Then Shelflove decided to launch a readalong of The Dark Tower, a series that King himself has described as his Magnum Opus. I decided that if Teresa and Jenny loved it, I probably would too. I duly ordered book one, The Gunslinger, and was quickly immersed in the strange world of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger.

I have to say, it was not what I expected at all – it was far better! I think I was anticipating an overt homage to Lord of the Rings, but instead we got a mystical The Good, the Bad and the Ugly set in the post-apocalyptic territory of The Road in this first volume. There is a very dark, deep fantasy element which subtly creeps in from Arthurian legend. There are too, parallels with LOTR, particularly Frodo’s journey through the Mines of Moria; but there were also no hobbits or other mythical folk, unless you count a few zombie/lazarus and mutant types.

The first book splits into two main sections: – We meet Roland Deschain on his quest.  He rests with a smallholder at the edge of the desert, and recounts the story of his days in the last town he passed – a place he came to and nearly began to feel part of. That wasn’t to be, and hounded from town the gunslinger leaves the townsfolk of Tull changed forever. Then he takes up his quest proper to hunt down the Man in Black and find the Dark Tower. After a long journey involving much hardship, and a friendship with a ten year old boy raised from the dead, Roland does catch up with the Man in Black, who has both revelations from the past to stir things up further, and prophesies for Roland’s future. Sprinkled in between is the story of Roland’s later adolescence and his coming of age initiation as one of the youngest gunslingers ever, in a society which emulated the Arthurian ideals of chivalry.

I was never quite sure whether this dystopia was set on our Earth, or an alternate one. References to earthly things abound, notably The Beatles’ song Hey Jude, the chorus of which wafts through early chapters. It was never quite as obvious as in Planet of the Apes, where they eventually discover a half buried Statue of Liberty in the sand. I liked that ambiguity which added to the mystical feel of the novel.  The landscape may be sprawling, but this novel moves on at a fair pace despite all the thinking that Roland does.

This made for a good read although, for me, King sometimes likes to stick in an occasional elaborate word that seems out of place – ‘Neither of them had any means of telling the clock, and the concept of hours became meaningless, abnegate. In a sense, they stood outside of time.’  But minor stylistic quibbles apart, King’s writing was full of strong descriptions, and Roland will surely evolve into a character to be really reckoned with.  I read the 2003 revised and expanded version – King revisited this novel to iron out inconsistencies, tweak the plot into a more linear form and make slightly less dry for new readers.  King explains this in a new introduction and foreword to the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Western-style dystopia in which the chivalric order no longer has a place.  King has created a frightening yet thrilling vision, with plenty of questions to be answered and room for dark magic in the following books.  Yes, I shall be carrying on with this readalong, book 2 is on order!  (8.5/10)

* * * * *

To buy items mentioned from Amazon UK, click below:
The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Bk. 1
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2

My TBR Poll #1 – the results…

Thank you to all those who voted and/or commented in my TBR poll last week.

I learned that if I wanted to get larger numbers of votes I should have listed more books so that more people may have heard of them. More books listed would also have meant more books to go in the end.  I may repeat this some time in the future when I’ve amassed another larger pile of TBR books I’m not sure about keeping.

Meanwhile, three books received nul points – so out they go without further ado. (by ‘out’ I mean, try to sell on Amazon for more than 1p, car boot, then give to charity shop).  The three were:  The final confession of Mabel Stark, The funnies, and But Beautiful.

Four books received multiple votes, so they stay – The Winter Rose, The luminous life of Lily Aphrodite, and Hopeful Monsters, as did 26a. This last book divided opinion, which makes it more of a must read to see which camp I fall into!

The rest got just one vote. I’m going to keep Eleven as Flossie T spoke up for it so well. The others will join the discards including Pies and Prejudice which I did dither over for a few seconds before deciding that I’d give the north a miss at the moment.

So that’s over six inches of shelf space freed up for a few minutes, but also a tiny patch of floorspace reclaimed once the shelf is refilled. Thanks again.  Back to book reviews soon…

An appropriate address …

I’m still sifting through the home library and TBR searching for books I can bear to part with. Yesterday I came across more of my childhood books.

Astronomy and its companion volume Exploring the planets, both by Iain Nicholson and published in 1970, taught me all I needed to know about the universe back when I was ten.  Astronomy covered the history of the subject before moving onto the solar system and stars with the all important star charts for spotting constellations. Exploring the planets centred on the solar system, space exploration, eclipses, seasons and the like.

I loved these two books, and they were included in my play library which I previously blogged about here – both bear the scars of staple marks from the library inserts, but the thing that tickled me this time was the address I’d written inside the front cover of Astronomy

Did you ever do that as a kid?

Of course, I could have gone a lot further and exploited my geographical knowledge too … England, Great Britain, UK, Europe, but I rather like that I kept to astronomical locations with added ‘ax’.  The ‘not soil’ was obviously my little ho, ho joke. I didn’t do the same in the other book, it just has my earthbound address of the time, maybe once was enough!

Annabel’s TBR Poll #1

So here it is, my first TBR poll. I hope that some of you will be familiar with some of the titles and/or authors listed, or have heard enough about some of these books to have an opinion on them even if you haven’t read them.

Vote for as many books as you like, as long as you think I ought to keep them to read – do expand on your reasons in the comments if you’d like.

Those receiving the lowest votes will be taken out of the TBR list in a week’s time.

Thank you for your help.

You know your TBR’s got out of hand when …

This year, I resolved to try to get to grips with my TBR (To Be Read) collection.  My Librarything (LT) Profile currently has it tagged at 2229 which is just over half of my entire collection, but I know there are a lot more that haven’t been entered yet.

The new fun LT stats put my entire library if stacked on top of each other at just short of 400 feet – that’s between Big Ben and The Great Pyramid in height, and if laid end to end, they would stretch nearly 0.04% of the distance to the moon.

But the key statistic which is the most meaningful, is the number of Ikea Billy bookcases you’d need to house your collection …  I assume this means the standard 80cm width version with 6 shelves, single stacked.  I need 26.22 for the books LT knows about.

I have the equivalent of 10 of these dotted around the house, four of which are double stacked, so that makes about 14 – so I’m 12 short.  This means a lot of piles of books everywhere, and a TBR that stopped being a pile years ago, and is now more of a mountain range.

I joined in the TBR dare for three months from January to the end of March.  That was all well and good, reading just books that entered the house before Jan 1st, but due to life intruding, I’ve not got through so many books this year.  Previously, I’ve read two or three books a week, totalling around 110 per year. So far this year I’ve only read 32, and since the end of the TBR dare, I’ve been rather distracted by shiny new books mostly (and understandably!).

The upshot of this is, that despite loving having a personal library to pick from, I’m never going to get through all these books.  If I were able to keep up my 100+ reading rate, that’s over 22 years worth of books to read, without being added to.

I hope you don’t mind this rambling introspective post, but I thought that putting down some of the cold facts might help bring the enormity of my TBR list home to me.

As I sort through piles, I do sift out some unread books to go to the charity shop, or be sold, but I also put plenty back for further consideration.  I keep far less books once read these days which is also a good thing, but it’s the TBR list that worries.

So – I’ve come up with an idea for which I need your help.

Periodically, I’m going to list some books out of my TBR list, and ask you to vote to keep or cull.  Any receiving no votes will go without further ado. Then I’ll keep the top three or so, and try to lose the remaining books.  So watch out for another post containing my first TBR poll soon …

Any other ideas about managing TBR lists would, of course, as always be very helpful.  Thank you!

The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

If I had to make a movie pitch for this book, it would be The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood, HBO’s fantastic wild west series, and that encapsulates it in a nutshell for me, save to say that the combination is an absolute winner.

The Blues Brothers just happens to be my favourite film ever – I saw it on a big screen in London on the day it opened to the public back in 1980. By the time the opening tracking shot of the Chicago panorama had narrowed down to Jake’s release from Joliet prison and the chugging strains of He caught the Katy began in the background I was irrevocably hooked.

It’s the mid 1800s and notorious killers for hire, Charlie and Eli Sisters, are are on their way from Oregon to California to kill Herman Kermit Warm.  If you transplanted Jake and Elwood Blues into a western, you’d have Charlie and Eli – and they’re on a mission for the Commodore, (rather than God).

The story is narrated by Eli, who like Elwood, is the thinker of the pair. It becomes clear as the story goes on, that Eli is not happy with their gun-for-hire way of life – he’s ready to find a wife and settle down.  Charlie is a different kettle of fish; he’s a cold-blooded killer and when he’s not on a job, he drinks and whores. They’re so different in character, yet Charlie knows how to rouse Eli’s temper and protective instincts towards his brother to make the pair feared throughout the wild west.

At the start of the story, Eli is talking about horses.  His mount got killed in the last job they did, and he’s had to ride an inferior animal supplied by the Commodore ever since.  Eli is in a bad way, suffering from a poisonous spider-bite and an abscess simultaneously, so when they come upon a cabin, Eli is happy to get rest despite having share the cabin with a mad-woman who curses the doorway. Charlie is superstitious and won’t cross the threshold or let Eli through. Eli can’t fit through the tiny high window, so Charlie leaves Eli to recuperate while he goes to get an axe to widen the window.  Meanwhile a grizzly appears and goes for Eli’s horse, so he goes through the door, shoots it, and goes back inside before Charlie gets back …

‘That’s some nice shooting, brother.’
‘Lucky is all.’ Hoping to change the subject, I asked about the ax.
‘Prospectors heading south.’ he said. There was divot of skin gone from one of his knuckles and I asked how he came to be injured. ‘The men were hesitant to loan me their equipment. Well, they’ll not need the ax, now.’ He returned to the cabin, entering through his hole. I did not know what he was doing at first, but soon saw the smoke issuing from inside. Next, my bag and pan jumped out the window, with Charlie following closely behind and wearing a wide smile. As we rode away the structure was a whirling tornado of whistling heat and flames and the bear, which Charlie had coated in lamp oil, was likewise burning – an impressive sight, but sad, and I was grateful to take leave of the place. It occurred to me that I had crossed the threshold for a horse I did not want but Charlie had not done the same for his own flesh and blood. A life of ups and downs I thought.

That early paragraph encapsulates the brothers’ personalities perfectly to me, and by page 42, I already begun to really like Eli a lot; can’t say the same for his brother though!

The brothers continue on their way, leaving a trail of murder, mayhem and looting behind them and then they reach California. They trade a prized bear pelt to the boss of Mayfield town, who entertains the brothers in the saloon, where they all get drunk.

I grew tired of their strained banter, and became quietly drunk. The women continued to visit and tease me, sitting on my lap until my organ became engorged, then laughing at me or it and moving on to my brother or Mayfield. I remember standing to correct and retuck the bloated appendage and noticing that both my brother and Mayfield were likewise engorged. Just your everyday grouping of civilized gentlemen, sitting in a round robin to discuss the events of the day with quivering erections.

Eli does have a certain turn of phrase! More murder and mayhem will ensure before they finally reach San Francisco where they are to meet the Commodore’s man on the spot with information about their target. San Francisco is a wild and desperate place, the gold rush has caused massive inflation, and in this town you’re either a winner or a loser. Eli chats with a man who’d stopped flogging his horse, as it was dead (!)…

‘It is a wild time here, is it not?’ I said to the man.
‘It is wild. I fear it has ruined my character. It has certainly ruined the character of others.’ He nodded, as though answering himself. ‘Yes, it has ruined me.’
‘How are you ruined?’ I asked.
‘How am I not?’ he wondered.
‘Couldn’t you return to your home town to start over?’
He shook his head. ‘Yesterday I saw a man leap from the roof of the Orient Hotel, laughing all the way to the ground, upon which he fairly exploded. He was drunk they say, but I had seen him sober shortly before this. There is a feeling here, which if it gets you, will envenom your very center. It is a madness of possibilities. That leaping man’s final act was the embodiment of the collective mind of San Francisco. I understood it completely. I had a strong desire to applaud, if you want to know the truth.’

It’s fair to say that Eli didn’t like San Francisco, and the brothers were keen to take up the chase to find their quarry. I won’t elucidate any more, save to say that there is more adventure still to come, and more very black comedy indeed, laced with sadness too in the brothers’ story.

I hope you can tell that I absolutely loved this book. It ticked all the boxes for me – it was slick, hilariously funny, inevitably sad, and very quirky, as well as being extremely strong visually. It would make a spectacular movie in trademark Coen brothers style. The Sisters brothers are larger than life characters with immense appeal for a pair of murdering psychopaths and, like Tony Soprano, you can’t help but like them, all the time you’re not loathing them. (10/10)

* * * * *

I bought my copy. To get your own from Amazon UK, click below:
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Blues Brothers [DVD] [1980]
Deadwood : Complete HBO Seasons 1-3 (12 Disc Box Set) [DVD]

Book Group – May is for Scandicrime

The Snowmanby Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

Scandicrime is a very big thing these days. It was always there – after the American Ed McBain, the next big writers of police procedurals were from Sweden. Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö wrote the ten Martin Beck novels from the mid 1960s onwards – see my write-up of the first in the series here. Our current obsession was fired by the success of Henning Mankell’s Wallander books (and TV) and now many more fine Scandinavian crime writers are being translated – we can’t get enough of them, which brings me to Jo Nesbo…

Nesbo is Norwegian; a former stockbroker and journalist, he’s a singer and songwriter in a band, and author of a children’s book called Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder apart from the bestselling series of novels we’re getting to know.

We chose The Snowman as it was everywhere thanks to being chosen for Richard & Judy. It turns out to be the fifth in the series, so the lead characters are well established.  Harry Hole is an inspector in the Oslo police, and has been trained in profiling by the FBI but has yet to encounter a serial killer on his manor. When a boy finds his mother missing, it’s not long before the team find out that there have been more missing women over the years, and then another woman goes missing. It all gets very complicated very quickly, and right from the off, we are fed a series of red herrings before it finally becomes clear who the killer is. Complex it may be, but it was easy to get hooked and we all sped through the book’s 550 pages.

Harry Hole is another classic maverick detective, damaged goods, an alcoholic. He lives for his job, but still has an on-off relationship with his ex girlfriend and her son. In this novel, he gets a new sidekick, Katrine Bratt, a young, attractive woman with hidden depths and is slightly reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s Lizbeth Salander in a less extreme way. Together they make an interesting pairing.  Hole’s other colleagues meanwhile fulfill all the different stereotypes usually present in a novel’s police department.

Personally, I’d have preferred to start at the beginning of the series, as there are references to events in earlier books, and characters who come to the fore in this one are, according to one of our group who read the one before this one too, set up in place – which suggests that Nesbo has a story arc planned for the books.  This left our group wondering about the ‘mould man’ – would he turn out to be more than a expert in dry rot, in the next!

We felt that the pacing was slightly stop-start, but the genuinely scary scenes largely made up for that. I for one, would happily read more, although I think I prefer Wallander to Harry Hole, as Hole seemed to have an emptiness in his heart for me in this novel – but one reading just one, it’s hard to get to know him well. (7.5/10)

Of course there are loads more Scandinavian crime authors I’ve not had time to visit yet too, including the Icelander author Arnaldur Indridason in my TBR pile, and my late mother really liked Hakun Nesser, whom I’ve not read either.

Do you have a favourite Scandinavian crime novelist? Your recommendations are welcome.

* * * * *

I bought my copy. To get one from Amazon UK, click below:
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.