Featuring lots of pretty sunsets, a trip to London, and some rather lovely Christmas celebrations. Music: ‘Crazy 8s’ by Mae
Featuring lots of pretty sunsets, a trip to London, and some rather lovely Christmas celebrations. Music: ‘Crazy 8s’ by Mae
2017 might not have been my most productive reading year (in terms of pleasure reading at least), but I did manage to read some wonderful books that will remain with me for a good while. I will talk to you about two of them today, a Japanese “classic” crime novel and an American collection of short stories, both of which I immensely enjoyed and made my 2017 a bit more tolerable.
The Master Key by Togawa Masako ****
A very well-crafted and quirky mystery novel which hooked me from the very beginning. I really enjoyed how the different stories of each character all came together in the end and the mystery kept being unveiled until the very last page. All the characters were so unique and well-rounded and the story of each individual was also compelling on its own. It was definitely refreshing, a mystery very unlike the usual ones and definitely one which deserves everyone’s attention.
Although there was not a main detective in charge of solving the case and the structure of the novel is vastly different from similar Western crime novels of the time (this one was published in 1962 in Japanese), there is something about this mystery that strongly reminds me of Agatha Christie. I can’t say if Togawa is Christie’s Japanese equivalent, or even if such an assumption is fair, but I enjoyed reading The Master Key tremendously and I will definitely seek out more of her work.
Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks ****
I usually am very cautious and shy away from books written by celebrities – no matter how much I like or admire the celebrity, more often than not the books they publish are yet another publicity stunt to make the number in their bank account even bigger. Needless to say I was taken aback when I heard Tom Hanks, one of my most respected actors, was releasing a short story collection.
Despite my initial skepticism, I have to admit I truly enjoyed this collection. While not all stories were my cup of tea, and some felt rather dull or without a specific point (as it happens with most short story collections), the vast majority were stories that made me smile, brought tears to my eyes and offered me a wonderful experience. Tom Hanks is a truly gifted writer and I didn’t expect his prose to feel so natural and adeptly crafted.
The tone and voice of the stories were inherently American and the characters and plots felt like they jumped out of Tom Hanks’s most successful ’90s films. Although I’m not American, they managed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for an era well gone and for a certain innocence and naivete of people which is scarcely found today. I also enjoyed the fact that some characters were recurring in later stories, which made them feel even more realistic to the reader, as a different aspect of their lives or perspective was offered in each story they appeared. Overall, a wonderful collection of stories which made me wish there will be more to come.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? 🙂
Both books were provided to me by their respective publishers via NetGalley.
I have vowed not to buy any books whatsoever in 2017, choosing instead to read everything on my to-read shelves, and all of those tomes which I optimistically downloaded onto my Kindle a couple of years ago and have yet to get to. Of course, if I do manage to finish everything, I will begin to replenish my shelves, but it looks highly unlikely at this juncture.
With that said, there are many books which I bought or received at the end of 2017 which I have yet to include in a haul post such as this. Without further ado, I shall therefore detail every book which has come into my possession since my last haul post.
I shall begin with my new Kindle books. I saw a very favourable review of Lionel Shriver‘s The Standing Chandelier: A Novella on Goodreads, and ended up buying myself a copy for around £1; I’m very glad I did, as the idea is both original and inventive, and I certainly enjoyed the reading experience. I took advantage of one of the daily deals, and got myself a copy of A Manual for Cleaning Women, a short story collection by Lucia Berlin which I have had my eye on for ages.
On Instagram, a fellow reader whom I follow had hauled a copy of Otto Prenzler‘s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, which they found in The Works for just £4. Whilst I was unable to find a copy in store, I ordered it and picked it up the next day, along with a copy of Ghost: 100 Stories to Read with the Lights On, which is edited by Louise Welsh. I also couldn’t resist ordering a copy of The Morlo by L.A. Knight, a travelogue about seals, which I randomly came across on a vintage bookshop on Etsy.
I took a trip to a local charity shop which sells four books for 99p, and chose a few to add to my to-read shelf at University. I ended up getting 12 Days by Shelly Silas, which was a collection of rather mediocre Christmas stories; Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres in a lovely hardback edition, which I will be reading during my Around the World in 80 Books challenge this year; A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which I enjoyed, but not as much as most others seem to have; the very enjoyable, and very quick to read, The Girls by Emma Cline; and The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel.
Another travel guide also made its way onto my to-read list. My boyfriend and I have booked a holiday to Canada at the end of January, and so it was exciting to order a copy of Lonely Planet Canada. They are definitely my favourite range of travel guides, and I’m very excited to dip in and see what Toronto has to offer.
Of course, I received some wonderful Christmas books this year, three of which were signed, which was very exciting. My parents got me copies of Pablo Picasso’s Noel, Carol Ann Duffy‘s festive poem for 2017; Turtles All the Way Down by John Green; Winter by Ali Smith; Here Is New York by E.B. White; and I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell. I have already read and loved all of these. Those which I have outstanding are Mythos by the wonderful Stephen Fry, and a random choice from one of my dearest friends, The Seven Noses of Soho by Jamie Manners, as she knows how much I am currently missing London.
I made the decision to order the 34 books which I needed for my Around the World in 80 Books challenge from AbeBooks. I have scoured my Kindle and bookshelves for tomes which I could include, but there were many which I did not personally own, and which I was unable to find in either of my local library systems. I ordered so many books, in fact, that the poor postman had to deliver them using a crate. Whilst this enormous order sounds very greedy, I thought that ordering all of the books which I needed during 2017 would help me stick to my book-buying ban (fingers crossed!). I shall detail them, along with the countries which they will be included for, in a bullet pointed list below, as this seemed the easiest way to organise such a big list of books!
Have you read any of these? Which were the last books that you bought?
I decided to put together four lists this year – one of authors I wanted to read, another of books which had caught my eye, and projects made up of French and Scottish-set books. I have not done anywhere near as well with my yearly challenges as I had anticipated. I overstretched myself rather; although I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, I have neglected these lists over the last few months, and have been reading at whim instead. I thought that I would just write a relatively concise post about how I did with my challenges in terms of numbers, and which books were particular highlights for me. You can see my full list, with all of the titles, here. On a brighter note, I did manage to complete my Reading the World challenge, where I scheduled a review of a piece of translated literature every Saturday. My full list can be found here.
With regard to the authors, I actually did rather well. Out of nineteen pinpointed, there were only four which I did not get to (Amelie Nothomb, Lydia Millet, Leena Krohn, and Gunter Grass). Wonderful discoveries for me from this list were George Sand, John Wyndham, Ira Levin, and Anita Desai. It was lovely to revisit some favourite authors too – Rebecca West and Agatha Christie, to name but two.
With regard to my book list, I fared worse. Out of quite an extensive list of titles (thirty-four in all), I only managed to read seventeen. There were a few books which I was disappointed with (The Shining by Stephen King, The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn), but I found some new favourites too. Amongst those which I rated the most highly are the beautiful, quiet Welsh novel The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (review here), the gorgeous and immersive This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, the perfectly paced The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, the haunting and strange Fell by Jenn Ashworth, the hilariously funny Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (review here), the profound and beautifully poetic The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (review here), and the downright creepy The Dumb House by John Burnside.
My efforts for my French reading project were paltry; I only read nine books out of a list of thirty. Particular standouts for me were the lovely non-fiction account by Peter Mayle of his move to France, entitled A Year in Provence, Julia Stuart‘s terribly charming The Matchmaker of Perigord, the wonderfully bookish A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, and the beautiful Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide. Of my rereads, I very much enjoyed revisiting Irene Nemirovsky, whose books I adore, as well as Elizabeth McCracken‘s searingly touching An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination.
My Scottish reading project was a little better. Out of twenty-nine books, I read eight, and gave up on four. I was particularly charmed by Anne Donovan‘s Buddha Da, my reread of Maggie O’Farrell‘s wonderful The VanishingAct of Esme Lennox, and Jenni Fagan‘s engrossing, and awfully human, The Sunlight Pilgrims.
I have set my sights a little lower for my 2018 reading challenge, choosing only to participate in the Around the World in 80 Books group on Goodreads. I will be reading books from, or set within, eighty different countries around the world, and could not be more excited about what I will discover.
How did you get on with your 2018 challenges? Do you always set reading challenges, or do you prefer to read without any restrictions?
This post marks the end of my 2017 Reading the World Project. When setting out what I wanted to achieve with this particular challenge, I wrote that I wanted to consciously choose and review works of translated literature. I thought that a structure such as the one which I came up with would allow me to continue with my project throughout the year, without reaching that mid-July slump that I invariably get with reading challenges. I am pleased to report that I have found the exercise thoroughly successful, and have discovered some new gems, and some little-reviewed tomes too.
Without further ado, I thought that it would be nice to have a wrap-up post to show the best of the books which I read for this challenge, as well as to tot up the numbers of distinct languages which I chose to include. For this project, I wrote forty-six original reviews, and also included six from the archive.
My top ten picks in translation:
Language breakdown by number of books read (I think one can say that I like French literature!):
I have also discovered some wonderful new authors whilst reading for this project. They include Clarice Lispector, Cora Sandel, Irmgard Keun, Annie Ernaux, Samanta Schweblin, Angharad Price, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Andre Gide, and Albert Camus.
For a full list of my 2017 Reading the World books, as well as links to their reviews, please visit this page. Please let me know which of these books you’ve read, and which review has been your favourite.
Merry Christmas to all of our dear readers! We sincerely hope that you have the most splendid day, whatever you’re choosing to do, and that books are somehow involved.
Kirsty and Akylina
Poor People, more commonly printed with the title Poor Folk, is the debut novel of Russian literary heavyweight Fyodor Dostoevsky, and was first published in Russia in 1846. I read it in the beautiful Alma Classics edition, which has been wonderfully and fluidly translated by Hugh Aplin.
Told in an epistolary manner, it follows two characters who live upon the fringes of society in St Petersburg, struggling with poverty rather acutely. Devushkin Alexievich is a copywriter working in an office, and Barbara Alexievna a seamstress. ‘These are people,’ Dostoevsky tells us, who are ‘respected by no one, not even by themselves’. They are infatuated with one another, but are too poor to marry. Rather, they live in small apartments opposite one another. We are witness to their back and forth of letters, and the unfolding correspondence which lets us learn about both protagonists. We are party to the workings of their minds, and their deepest thoughts and questions about one another. Barbara writes the following to Devushkin, for instance: ‘… what has made you go and take the room which you have done, where you will be worried and disturbed, and where you have neither elbow-space nor comfort – you who love solitude, and never like to have any one near you?’
Poor People begins on April the 8th, and continues in different letters by both characters, until ending in the September of the same year. When the novella starts, Devushkin has just moved into a new apartment – the one which faces Barbara’s – and devises a cunning plan with her curtains; when she loops them up, he knows that she is thinking of him, and when they are closed, he knows that it is time to go to bed. Certainly, Devushkin is a more dreamy, whimsical character than Barbara; she seems to have enough sensibility for the both of them, and thinks practically throughout. She despairs particularly about her future: ‘Ah, what is going to become of me? What will be my fate? To have to be so uncertain as to the future, to have to be unable to foretell what is going to happen, distresses me deeply. Even to look back at the past is horrible, as it contains sorrow that breaks my heart at the very thought of it.’
Dostoevsky’s use of nature is sublime, and is present from the very first letter, used as a device to lift Devushkin’s spirits: ‘This morning, too, I arose (joyous and full of love) at cockcrow. How good seemed everything at that hour, my darling! When I opened my window I could see the sun shining, and hear the birds singing, and smell the air laden with scents of spring. In short, all nature was awaking to life again. Everything was in consonance with my mood; everything seemed fair and spring-like.’
The letters are variant in length, and are all suffused with differing levels of love and despair, as well as the emergence of hope at intervals. Dostoevsky’s prose is gorgeously rich, and has a very modern feel to it. The characters alter as their circumstances do; they have been so well built, and their shifting relationship too feels true to life.
As with all of Dostoevsky’s work, Poor People is filled with beauty and passion; realistic characters are at its heart. Dostoevsky is one of my favourite authors, and I am always immediately captivated by his thoughts and stories. My experience was no different here; for those who already love Russian literature it is a must-read, and it would also serve as a fantastic introduction to the myriad of wonderful works published within the fascinating country.