Mid-year reading round-up

(Albert Edelfelt, 1881)
(Albert Edelfelt, 1881)

I’ve got through a lot of books this year, but I haven’t had time to review them all properly. I may have to start looking at doing something a bit different on that front. Seeing as we’re enjoying a proper actual heatwave (by UK standards) I’m not going to promise to stay home more blogging, I’m going to get out there and enjoy it, but I want to keep the blog alive too. I’ll figure something out. Fellow bloggers: do you find it harder to keep up with it all in the summer months?

As this is the year’s halfway point, it’s a good time to take stock as regards my reading aims and challenges. I’ve read 21 books by men, 17 by women and 1 by both. Not too far off even. I’ve read a reasonable mix of genres and ages of books. However, the actual challenges I took on were the Classics Club – for which I have read four books – and more books in translation. I’ve read five books in translation and one about translation, which is reasonable, I think.

But right now I’m not trying too hard to meet challenges or read the right books. I just want to enjoy reading. Which seems a good summery aim to me.

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Sunday Salon: Narrative computer games

The Sunday SalonI wouldn’t call myself a gamer by any stretch, but I’ve always played the occasional computer game. I was quite young when we had our first home computer (possibly an Amiga? I don’t really remember) and it was pretty much just for playing games on (a PC followed a few years later with its multifunctionality). I was never an obsessive gamer, tending to give up if I failed a few times.

Computer games have been enough a part of my life that I have never considered them a bad thing or in any way at odds with my love of reading. But it’s only in recent years that I’ve started to interrogate their value as a narrative artform. They certainly are an artform, that’s without question for me, but are they a form of storytelling? And if so, are they a good format for stories?

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My eyes are just a closed-circuit camera without film in it

book of strange new thingsThe Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber

I forget whose review it was that made me seek out this book (possibly Michael Kindness on Books on the Nightstand?) but if it was you, thank you. I really loved this book and I’m not sure I would have picked it up without a push.

Despite his towering reputation, this is the first Michel Faber book I’ve read (though with this strong a start, I certainly don’t intend for it to be the last). But it wasn’t lack of previous fandom that risked putting me off so much as the fact that the central character is a vicar. And not just a vicar, but a vicar who goes off to another planet as a missionary to spread Christianity.

Now, it’s not that I hate vicars on principle. Growing up, our vicar was a genuine family friend and I’ve met many other vicars who seem like decent sorts. They effectively dedicate their lives to supporting other people, after all. And while I’m an atheist who occasionally has doubts and veers back towards agnosticism but is categorically against a lot of what organised religion does and says, I do see that it can have positive effects and do positive things sometimes. But I am really not a fan of evangelising, particularly when it goes hand-in-hand with colonialism (Chinua Achebe may have something to do with this) so this book was a risky manoeuvre for me. One that paid off.

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Holiday in USA: Books

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t get through many books on holiday, but I did flex my bookishness in the places we went and the things I bought, because how could I not? I’ve yet to find a good bookshop in Charlotte NC – and I’ll be going back there so any recommendations would be welcome – but New York City of course does not suffer from that problem. However, we did have limited luggage space, so I tried to keep my book purchases as minimal as possible.

Bookish T-shirts

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For what is lightness but inconsequence

aurora leighAurora Leigh
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Yes, I read an epic poem, or novel in verse, and it wasn’t just to tick something off my Classics Club list. I really like Browning and had been meaning to read this for years.

Aurora Leigh is born in Italy but when her beloved parents die she is sent to England to be raised by her aunt. At every step she chooses her own way in a manner that to a modern reader might appear progressive and feminist. She is self-taught (aside from a few years when she is taught by her aunt) and chooses her career over a man; she argues for the contributions of women to the arts, and poetry in particular. From the day Aurora declines a marriage proposal because her suitor denigrates her chosen career and her gender, I was in love with her.

“We get no good / By being ungenerous, even to a book, / And calculating profits – so much help / By so much reading. It is rather when / We gloriously forget ourselves and plunge / Soul-forward, headlong, into a book’s profound, / Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth – / ‘Tis then we get the right good from a book.”

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Summer Book Bingo

This is yet another belated post, as I was meant to publish this on Memorial Day weekend (that’s the spring bank holiday for my fellow Brits, the one a couple of weeks ago). Anyway, the fab folks at Books on the Nightstand have for a few years now been setting a Summer Book Bingo challenge. You go to the website, generate your own unique reading bingo card, and set about trying to read books to complete a row or column on the card by Labor Day, which is apparently 7 September. I love this idea and have decided to join in this year, so here is my card:

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Holiday in USA: Charlotte

Buddy Bear by Sharon Dowell Multiples Life is an Open Book by Brad Spencer

Charlotte, North Carolina is not likely to be a place I would go on holiday if I didn’t have family there, but there is something to be said for going somewhere that isn’t a big tourist destination. The city centre is very new, clean and shiny, with public artworks (many related to reading, which obviously I like) and plenty of trees (which again has an obvious appeal to me). There’s also a light rail system that is excellent – as long as you’re trying to go somewhere in that one straight line.

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An ‘as-if’ that feels like reality

lostintranslation-coverLost in Translation: a Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
by Ella Frances Sanders

This is essentially a coffee table book, albeit a small one. It takes a simple idea and creates a beautiful object from it.

Sanders takes a small collection of supposedly untranslatable words from all over the world. Each word is given a double-page spread with a rough translation, some information about its origin and a fun but elegant illustration. Some of the words chosen really hit a nerve, while others simply amused me. Some are effectively putting words together in a “phrase in a word” and therefore their literal translation does make sense. But the book as a whole works well because it is so well executed.

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(Belated) Sunday Salon: Back to real life

The Sunday SalonYou may or may not have noticed a lack of updates on this blog lately. I have been on holiday for two weeks and only had time beforehand to schedule one post, so there’s been a big gap. But I have no regrets, as I had a fantastic time away.

We have been to visit my sister (and her family) in Charlotte, North Carolina and to the city of cities, New York. Both of which were awesome. We relaxed and did lots of stuff. We ate some great food, found hidden gems and were total tourists. One day back at work and I am ready to go back across the ocean already!

Mark Illinois, Twain California Alice Texas, Walker Arizona

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The poem is an extraordinary mechanism

reader for hireReader for Hire
by Raymond Jean
translated from French by Adriana Hunter

This is an unusual book, difficult to pin down. It’s comedic bordering on farce, it’s sensual to the point of erotica, it’s intellectual veering dangerously close to literary criticism. All of which can be ignored if you just want a good story to enjoy, but you will need an open mind for this one.

It was her friend Françoise’s idea, but Marie-Constance quickly finds herself having to fight for it. She places an ad in the local paper offering her services as a reader, because her voice is her greatest asset. The newspaper man thinks the advert sounds suspicious. Her old university tutor thinks she will attract the wrong sort. Her husband alone is indifferent.

Marie-Constance’s first client is a paraplegic teenager who initially seems more interested in the length of her skirt than the classic short story she has chosen to read him, a choice that ends in near disaster. Her second client is an elderly woman with cataracts who only wants to read Marx, which bores Marie-Constance to tears. The third is an attractive newly divorced executive who claims he only wants a crash course in literature so that he can appear more cultured. Each new opportunity seems to bring new problems and soon Marie-Constance is on first-name terms with the local police chief.

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