More fool me? …

tbr-dare-2014It’s April 1 – and the end of the TBR dare, so time for an update.

If you consider only the books I’ve reviewed for this blog, I only cheated fully once and partially twice!

The full cheat was the pair of Quick Reads titles I squeezed in on convenient train journeys.
The partial cheats were: The Helios Disaster by Linda Bostrum Knausgard – which I had originally planned to review for Shiny New Books, but found too weird and my thoughts too bitty to write a coherent full-length piece for Shiny, and Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell – another Shiny read which I disliked so much I couldn’t finish it!

Including those above, I have read 34 books so far this year, of which 16 were on my TBR before Jan 1st and 14 are Shiny Reviews for issues 4 in January and issue 5 coming next week and were excluded from the TBR Dare accordingly.  I hope that James, TBR Dare host, will forgive me for my partial participation this year. As ever, my intentions were good – but I am fooling myself if I didn’t realise I had so many reviews to read/write for Shiny!

Needless to say, I have read some cracking books for Issue 5 of Shiny including several wonderful debuts, a couple of non-fiction titles, a much-loved re-read and that new novel by ‘Ish’…

Back to normal soon.

 

State of the Shelves

The Billy bookcases in my library spare bedroom used to look like this:

Bookcase 4
That is, on both walls, jam packed, double depth, no space left at all. More on the top in boxes too.

Now, after a couple of months of real winnowing, one wall in that room now looks like this:

P1020330

You can see a couple of empty shelves, and most of the rest are now single stacked only. I am on the verge of being able to consolidate these books into 2 bookcases on the opposite wall with a little more purging. Then I can reclaim this space to a) finally get rid of the horrid yellow paint on the walls and b) put the spare bed propped up in my garage in the room which has never had a bed in it!

Only problem is the huge desk in the opposite corner, which I was sitting on to take the photo – I’ll have to dismantle it to get rid of it. It’s a tall modular work station type one and was assembled in the room for those pre-laptop days – it won’t go through the door as it is!

I can honestly say though that this ongoing book cull is proving to be a good experience. All those impulse purchases from the charity shop that I’ll never actually read are going back there by the bag-load (the manageress knows my gift-aid details off by heart), plus many, many more – as I try to distil my TBR into more realistic numbers.

While my desire to add new books to the shelves is essentially undiminshed, I have begun, I hope, to move towards an equilibrium state in my book piles – it’s getting more difficult though…

We’ll see, and if I ever get to that stage where the room does get redecorated and remade into a bedroom with bookshelves rather than a bedroom of bookshelves I’ll be sure to post a photo.

Have a great weekend everyone.  I’m off to play with my books some more.

 

A Sunday selection …

It’s been quite a week!

  • SNB logo tinyShiny Issue 4 has been published. If you haven’t been to have a look yet, please pop over. More on that below.
  • I finally got my laptop back from the repair shop after a fortnight of having to rely on my old Pentium (much to my daughter’s disgruntlement, as it’s hers now). Using a slow laptop has been good for my FB games habit – something to maintain methinks!!!
  • I went to a workshop on Disaster Emergency Planning for Schools in London – which was excellent and included tabletop exercises on fires and minibus crashes. A grim subject, but having good procedures in place helps you to deal with these awful incidents so much better (although naturally one hopes they’ll never happen).
  • The workshop venue was just up the road from Waterstones Piccadilly, and yes I did succumb to a quick visit afterwards, purchasing a handful of novellas for future reading after the TBR dare finishes at the end of March.
  • tbr-dare-2014Talking of the TBR dare, the face of the dare has always been Dakota, James’ beloved Basset Hound. Sadly Dakota died earlier this week. We’ll miss her antics on James’ blog, and send big hugs.
  • I was at my school’s quiznight on Friday evening. Our staff table had a disastrous first half but picked up in the second to finish midway on the league table.
  • We did manage to get the few bookish questions right though, which is a small rehearsal for the 6th Mostly Bookbrains quiznight this coming Friday. For a change this year, I’ve not done the questions, and will be on my Shiny Co-editor Simon’s team. They won last time, so I hope I won’t drag them down!
  • And I read lots – so plenty of reviews to come….

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marianne dreamsLittle White HorseOne interesting thing came out of a comment that Helen left on my review of Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s classic The Little White Horse – click here. Helen said: “I do think that the rule ‘If you didn’t read it as a child, you won’t enjoy it as much as an adult’ is almost universally true but Diana Wynne Jones is, I am finding, an exception to this.”  I can’t comment on the Diana Wynne Jones bit really, only having read one of her books pre-blog, but tend to strongly agree with the first half of Helen’s comment.

I offer the review of my adult re-read of Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr as proving the point. I loved that book all over again. However, I am sure that there are other children’s classics that also break the rule – do let me know, I’d like to read some of them…

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Now for a couple of links to a pair of my Shiny pieces:

Chinaski by Frances Vick

 

chinaskiChinaski by Frances Vick is the story of a rock band that so nearly made it, but were halted in their tracks when charismatic lead singer Carl dies. This happens right at the the start of this gripping novel which spares no punches about the hard work required to make it in those pre-Youtube days. The story of the band and what happened next is told through the eyes of Carl’s friends and colleagues – the band member, the ex-girlfriend and their manager.

For those that enjoy books about rock ‘n’ roll, this is a must, especially with the Marshall amp on the front.

Read my review here.

frances vick (533x800)Incidentally, some of you may twig where the band Chinaski got their name from … I only discovered this when researching for my review – it’s after a recurring character in Charles Bukowski’s novels – another author to add to my to read lists.

This was Frances’ first novel and I also interviewed her for our Shiny New author slot, and she proved to be as fascinating as her book.

Read the interview here.

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That’s it for today. Enjoy your Sundays and I’ll see you with some proper book reviews very soon.

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Chinaski source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Chinaski by Frances Vick, Cillian Press, 2014. Paperback original, 250 pages.
Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, pbk.

I’m taking the TBR Double Dog Dare…

For the past few years I’ve signed up to take part in James’s TBR Dare.

tbr-dare-2014Hosted by James of James Reads Books and featuring his beloved pooch Dakota in the graphic, the TBR Dare is very simple –

Read only from your TBR from Jan 1 until April 1.

You can make your own exceptions for book groups, scheduled reviews etc. reserved books at the library etc.

You don’t even have to stop acquiring books – you’re just not allowed to read books that come into your house from Jan 1st until the dare is up. You could go out on December 31st and have a splurge on new books which would be valid to read during the dare.

You don’t even have to do the full three months – just set a target and enjoy revisiting your TBR piles, or in my case, mountains.  James doesn’t like calling it a challenge – and I’m all for that – I nearly always fail in those – so it’s a dare.

This year I’m having to make a different exception because of my involvement with Shiny New Books which, by its nature, will require me to read some new books. However, as they will appear on a different website, I feel justified in saying that here at Annabel’s House of Books I am aiming to go the full three months reading only from my TBR (except for Book Group choices).

If you want to join in, head over to James’s TBR Dare page and sign up. Your TBR piles will love you for it.

On not finishing books and dentists!

You’d think that by my nearly mid-fifties I’d have grown out of not finishing books, wouldn’t you?  Life’s too short, the TBR’s too big and all that. Yet generally I desperately still want to finish reading any book I start.  There’s no ‘owing it to the author to give their book a fair read’ duty to this, I’m coming to the feeling that it’s mostly ‘hope’ that keeps me going, an optimistic outlook that hopes that a book that I’m stuck in, or not enjoying turns around by the end. Combine that the the sense of personal challenge, and that generally keeps me reading. It’s rare for me to give up on a book, but I did on the following one:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

ferris

I really enjoyed Ferris’s first novel Then we came to the end about office politics, downsizing and corporate management gobbledegook – I recognised elements of the latter in particular from the multinational I used to work for. I read it pre-blog and in my spreadsheet my capsule review says the following:

“On a normal workday you spend more time with your colleagues than your family and are forced into relationships with people you probably don’t like. Add a failing business where people are getting laid off one by one, and everyone else is scared witless that it’ll be them next – this makes for some strained behaviour which is exploited to the full in this novel.
By turns comic and sad, but always with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, my only complaint was it was too long; it was a bit flabby in parts and 300 pages would have been a better length. There were just some of the team I just couldn’t care less about that I got bored with, and others like Joe the supervisor who we never really got to know at all – but that was probably deliberate! I did love the bit with the Office Co-ordinator checking serial numbers on chairs (believe me that really happens!).”

Anyway I was looking forward to reading his new one which is about a dentist – especially as I’ve just had £1000 worth of root canal and crown work done!

It started well. The main character, dentist Paul O’Rourke, narrates the whole book as a monologue and the following paragraph is from the second page:

A dentist is only half the doctor he claims to be. THat he’s also half mortician is the secret he keeps to himself. The ailing bits he tried to turn healthy again. The dead bits he just tried to make presentable. He bores a hole, clears the rot, fills the pit, and seals the hatch. He yanks the teeth, pours the mold, fits the fakes, and paints to match. Open cavities are the eye stones of skulls, and molars stand erect as tombstones.

Soon after though Paul starts rambling, and essentially he rambles his way through the whole book. About golf, the Red Sox, his love-life or lack of, and especially religion and the meaning of life.  For an atheist, he seems to want something to believe in – and when a departing client commits identity theft and starts posting religious comments, from the devout to the weird to the nasty in his name – the rest of the book gets obsessed by him wallowing in it.  I lasted until about page 75, and then very quickly skimmed my way through the rest.  I’m glad I didn’t bother.  The main character is so tedious.

If the book has one saving grace – it’s Betsy Conrad – Paul’s super-efficient dental hygienist. She’s sixty, a widow, a devout Catholic and all round good egg whose role is to constantly question Paul and keep him running on the right track.

I’d come out of the bathroom and she’d be standing right there, “I’ve been looking all over for you,” she’d say. “Where have you been?” I’d tell her the obvious, she’d say, “Why must you call it the Thunderbox?” I’d tell her, adding a few details , and she’d grow severe, she’d say, ‘”Please do not refer to what you do in the bathroom as ‘making the pope’s fountain.’ I know the pope is just a joke to you. I know the Catholic Church is nothing but a whetting stone for your wit. But I happen to hold the church in the highest regard, and though you can’t understand that, if you had any respect for me you would mind what you say about the pope.”

There are some really funny moments, and some passages that are brilliantly written particularly about work (again), but they get lost amongst all the psycho-babble about the meaning of life and finding yourself, and Paul being so self-centred. Ferris can write though, and I’ll certainly read more of him hoping that his best is yet to come.

P.S. I did like the epilogue though… (DNF)

For another take on this novel, see Rachel’s review at Book Snob

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Source: Publisher – Thank you!
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, pub Penguin Viking, May 2014, Hardback 352 pages.

The TBR Triple Dog Dare update …

Triple Dog DareIt’s the start of March. Last year, when James launched this year’s TBR Dare, I gaily signed up again. I’ve participated all four years this has been running – and up til now been successful in only reading from my TBR piles between Jan 1 and Apr 1 – the full three months; the only exceptions being book group picks.

Sadly – well not actually! – this year I’ve fallen by the wayside. I’ve a new project, which is very exciting but is not ready to tell you about yet suffice it to say I’ve had to drop TBR reading for now.

However, I’d like to thank James and his dog Dakota for being wonderful hosts, and encouraging me each year to revisit my overloaded shelves and find some gems to read that I already had.

This year, the highlight for me has been to discover Patrick Hamilton’s masterful novel Hangover Square, which I reviewed here. It’s a true British classic of the 1930s, a black tragicomedy whose exquisite prose was a delight, even in the bleakness of its subject.

My Literary Chunkster Poll – The Results!

So here are the results of my poll …

Somehow it wasn’t surprising to see Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer up in the top few places.  What was surprising though was that although quite a few people commented that they didn’t like The Children’s Book – it got the least votes, and that despite several people saying they liked I am Charlotte Simmons – it was way out in front.

Thank you to everyone who voted. It was fun watching it change.

Now scroll down below the results to see which books I’m going to chuck and which two books I’ll keep ….

passage

Wolfe 1

The two I’m keeping are:

and

Yes – despite everything I’m going to keep this particular Tom Wolfe novel – but – I am going to get rid of the other two of his lurking on my shelves: A Man in Full and Back to Blood instead – so it’s a two-fer. Enough people who’ve actually read I am Charlotte Simmons commented that they enjoyed it, so I will keep it for now. As for The Passage – I still can’t resist vampires, and I have the sequel too – just need the time to read them.

I’ve been flicking through The Children’s Book, and despite all the comments in its defence, I know it’s not for me – I think I bought it primarily for its beautiful cover.  I nearly decided to keep Human Traces, but I remember my late Mum saying how it went on and on and took so long to read.

But as well as getting rid of the rest, I’m also adding Norman Mailer’s 781pp The Naked and the Dead, Jonathan Littell’s 1279pp The Company (another history of the CIA type novel!), and the sub-500pp but I’ll never read it jPod by Douglas Coupland.

Let me just set this in context… Most years I read around 30,000 pages.  Those 13 books add up to 10,245 pages – they would take me over four months to read with nothing else in between.

 I call that a result.  Thank you for helping to make it fun!

Too many books, not enough room, not enough time …

I have too many books. Probably more than I could possibly hope to read before I die (yes, truly), and that’s without adding any more.  I’m a lot more selective about those books I keep once I’ve read them these days, and I always have a bag on the go for the charity shop, and a box for a yard sale.

One way I could make a) some room, and b) save a lot of reading time is to get rid of a pile of literary chunksters – those thick literary books that I’ve been dithering over for years. So I’m asking for your help…

In the poll below, do vote for the books you would NOT bother to read. So we’re voting to chuck out, not keep.  Also you’ll see a box at the bottom where you can add any other literary chunkster that you aren’t bothered about reading.

Have fun and THANK YOU!   Oh – and vote for as many as you want…

Book Stats 2013 and Reading Resolutions for 2014

Following hard on the heels of my Books of the Year – it’s time for bookstats.  Many of you may know that I keep a spreadsheet of everything I read so I can analyse my reading at the end of each year.  Don’t groan – it’s not that bad!

I had a really good year statswise, managing to finish over 100 books for the first time in a couple of years. The pagecount is holding up too (although see how many chunky books I must have read in 2011!). NB: The stats are based on 101 books read as at 24.12.13 – I’ve managed to read five more books since then to make 106 books read in total. Book Stats Books Read & Pagecount

Each year I say I plan to read more books from before I was born and the 20th Century in general.  I’ve failed yet again!  Last year 44% of books read were from 2011-12, this year 2012-13 account for even more at 55%. I am such a sucker for new books, (although this year I read more review copies which probably accounts for the increase).
Book Stats 2013 Date of Pub

Then I like to look at author nationality, and I have managed to read a little more widely from around the world, but only managed to increase the total in translation by 3 from 10 last year to 13. Less by American authors too, and more by UK ones.Book Stats 2013 Author Nationality

This year I’ve added a genre chart. The mix is much the same though – a smattering of SF, historical, crime/thrillers, children’s/YA, a few more modern classics, but the largest part is what I call contemporary fiction. Non-fiction remained at the same level around the 10% mark.Book Stats 2013 GenreOne last stat for you before I make my Reading Resolutions – that of male/female author ratio.  Last year I almost reached parity for the first time ever, reading as many books by women authors as by men. This year it returned to 70/30, despite having read my first books by Barbara Pym, Margaret Forster and Penelope Mortimer for instance. I never knowingly consider an author’s gender when I’m choosing what to read, within the constraints of any review copies, I largely go by whim (which is a big  reason that I’m really crap at challenges apart from the TBR dare).

READING RESOLUTIONS FOR 2014…

Triple Dog Dare

  • Again – to read more from my TBR. Initially by participating in The TBR Triple Dog Dare as hosted by James at Ready when you are, C.B. until the end of March. Only exceptions are book club books, plus one I have pre-ordered for January.
  • To read as much as I can, from as wide a choice of books as I can.
  • To only read books I want to read – when I want to read them – that means being tougher on accepting review copies, and that unsolicited books will not get read at all unless they fit my mood.

That’s it really!

Do you make reading resolutions?  

How has your reading year been in stats?

BRING ON THE NEW YEAR OF READING!

The TBR Triple Dog Dare

For the past three years, CB at Ready when you are, CB has hosted a TBR Dare, made into a Dog Dare in honour of Dakota, his Bassett Hound.  This year the Triple Dog Dare will be, so he says, the last one.  I’ve signed up again for the full three months – will you?

Triple Dog DareIt’s very simple. Read only books already in your TBR pile or reserved at the library from Jan 1st 2014 until March 31st if you can.

You can have exemptions for book club books, or any other scheduled reads that you need to do. You don’t have to stop acquiring books either – you just have to resist reading them.

With those little exemptions, I’ve managed the full three months for three years on the trot now – here’s to the fourth!