Another year, another stats post

christmas-tree-2015Happy New Year’s Eve! I have about an hour before I go out for party party fun times (board games and chilli) to rattle through my annual stats. Well, I find them interesting, even if no-one else does!

In 2015 I read 91 books according to Goodreads, 85 according to my spreadsheet (I think I got a bit lax about recording comics at one point). Which means these stats aren’t quite accurate, but close enough. 37 books were by women and 5 were by a man and a woman, so that’s a pretty even split. 10 were works in translation and 16 were by authors from a country other than the US and UK. Only 8 were classics from my Classics Club list, so I have some catching up to do there.

I’ve just spent a lovely day buying and building a new bookcase with my Dad and his girlfriend, and loading it up with my TBR. I haven’t yet picked my first book of 2016, but I think I have weeded out enough of the old that I am excited by every single book waiting to be read, which is after all how it should be. I’ll post about my TBR cleanse in the new year, hopefully with added photos!

I hope you have a great New Year’s Eve and wish you all the best for 2016.

December reading round-up

Woman Reading by George Henry Boughton, c. 1900
Woman Reading by George Henry Boughton, c. 1900

This past week I seem to have started and abandoned at least four different books, which doesn’t look good for my Goodreads stats, but I have read a lot of other great stuff this month, including finally picking up a New Yorker summer fiction special that a friend loaned me more than a year ago. Yay for holidays!

The Christmas holiday has so far been more about watching films than reading books. I’ve watched Inside Out (brilliant), Kingsman: the Secret Service (fun but silly, better than the comic book), Admission (better than reviews suggested but not Tina Fey’s best work), Mermaids (I love anything with Christina Ricci), My Sister’s Keeper (not as good as the book) and Happy Christmas (Anna Kendrick is great in everything she does, even, or perhaps especially, odd indie films made for about ten pence) and I’m only halfway through my time off!

Tomorrow I’ll do a summary of the year (though I’ve already revealed my top five books) but for now here’s how my December went. Happy holidays!

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The existence of the jinn posed problems

two-years-eight-months-28-nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie

This has everything you might expect in a Rushdie novel: gods, religion, satire, myth, history, sarcasm and wordplay. But it is much more readable than the other novels of his that I have tackled (The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, Shalimar the Clown, The Ground Beneath Her Feet). The tone is lighter, more comic, even though the topics are just as weighty.

The story begins in 12th century Spain, with exiled philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes (who existed in real life and is the source of Rushdie’s family name). He falls in love with Dunia, who is secretly a jinnia (female jinn). She bears him dozens of children but he refuses to marry her and leaves her when his exile is lifted.

Skip 800 years and one of the Duniazát, as Rushd and Dunia’s descendents are called, has begun to float. Mr Geronimo is a gardener in New York City, just one of many victims of the “time of strangenesses” – the result of a war between the Jinn leaking into the human world. The normal rules of physics no longer apply.

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Sunday Salon: Merry Christmas!

The Sunday SalonI hope you are all having wonderful Christmases/end-of-year breaks. It’s still unseasonably warm and our time with family was brief, but it’s been lovely. We had a big family party at my Grandad’s yesterday for the first time in years and it was just like the Boxing Days of my childhood – completely wonderful.

Did you get any good presents for Christmas? I got the usual mix of DVDs, CDs, chocolate and random awesomeness, such as a diary stuffed with tickets for awesome events throughout 2016 (Tim’s pretty great at gift-giving). And of course, as usual, I got lots of books. I love getting new books, always.

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Who am I to judge someone else’s holy site?

how to understand israelHow to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
by Sarah Glidden

Despite the grandiose title, this is the account of a small, albeit important, step in one person’s attempt to understand the complex situation surrounding Israel and Palestine. Told in comic-book style, it combines journalism and memoir to great effect.

Sarah Glidden is a “cultural Jew”. Raised in America by largely non-religious parents, her own politics being liberal and left-leaning, she has always tended to side against Israel, feeling it to be the political “bad guy”. A combination of a wish to understand, a hope to be proven right and the promise of a free holiday encourage her to sign up for a Birthright Tour. These trips, funded by the Israeli government and private sponsors, are open to Jews from around the world to show them the country that they can choose to move to if they so wish.

Sarah travels with her friend Melissa, another cultural Jew who is more earnest than Sarah in her attempts to learn about Israel without pre-judgement. Melissa’s upbringing was even more secular than Sarah’s, so Judaism itself is strange to her, but she is eager to learn and often frustrated by Sarah’s one-track mind: to every experience, every talk, Sarah asks “but what about the Arabs?”.

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Sunday Salon: A whole new year

The Sunday SalonIt’s the time of year for reflecting on things done or not done and planning how to do the next year…better, somehow. I haven’t quite started my Christmas holiday yet but work is very much wound down and really it’s all about this Friday. (Which I am not at all ready for. I haven’t got the last few presents, let alone wrapped and labelled them all. Gonna be a busy Christmas Eve!) But I love Christmas – all that tinsel and the sparkling lights and the hearty foods – even if the weird broken weather is making it feel more like May outside.

I’ll save my end-of-year reading stats for the actual end of the year but this is as good a time as any to reflect on my top books read in 2015, which were:

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Death stats in Shakespeare and other bookish fun

I saw this chart in a few places today and just had to blog about it. As Improbable Research explains, this was put together as research for a new play, The Complete Deaths, produced by Spymonkey, in which all 74 deaths in Shakespeare are re-enacted. I’m envisioning something like the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who are always hilarious, so I’m pretty sure I want to see this play. But I’m also thoroughly enjoying the above chart and trying to remember which plays which deaths belong to! Who doesn’t love the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” from The Winter’s Tale?

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I am more than I can dream of

The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gøhril Gabrielsen

The Looking-Glass Sisters
by Gøhril Gabrielsen
translated from Norwegian by John Irons

Once again, I feel that I haven’t given a Peirene book a fair chance. These short novels are intended to be read in a single sitting and those I have read in a couple of large chunks do seem to be those I have enjoyed more. I haven’t had huge chunks of free time lately, so my reading has been split into 20 minutes here and there, which I don’t think really does any book justice.

But I digress. I should tell you about this book.

It’s the story of two middle-aged sisters, Ragna and her younger sister, who narrates the book. The narrator suffered a childhood illness that has left her body severely weakened, so that she never leaves the house and is largely dependent on Ragna. They have lived together alone since the death of their parents and their relationship is bitter and twisted, but it works…until a man comes into Ragna’s life. Johan upsets the delicate balance, revealing alternative paths for the sisters.

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Sunday Salon: New books versus old

The Sunday SalonI have been trying fairly hard not to acquire new books as my TBR persists in being more than 130 books. But the fact that its size persists goes to show that I’m not succeeding very well in my aim! It possibly doesn’t help that I subscribe to two publishers and I still borrow books from family and friends.

This week I gained three new books. Martin John by Anakana Schofield is the first book in my 2016 subscription to And Other Stories. 100 Poems by Jen Campbell was a reward for supporting Jen in a charity fundraiser. The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst is the first book in my 2016 subscription to Peirene Press. They all look awesome and I can’t wait to read them.

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Visitors would wade through steaming pools of human blood

holidays on iceHolidays on Ice
by David Sedaris

I thought I would get in the holiday spirit by reading this small volume of essays and short stories about Christmas. I’ve really enjoyed Sedaris in the past and I love Christmas, so I didn’t see how this could go wrong.

Well…I wouldn’t say I disliked it, but I was a little disappointed. I actually really liked the two essays about Sedaris’s own life, which were funny and insightful in just the way I had come to expect.

“SantaLand diaries” describes his time working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s department store in New York. It gives him a perfect opportunity to bring a critical eye to the various people who work as santas or elves, and the people who pay to visit them. Sedaris can be a little cruel in his observations, but he is so honest about his own failings that it all evens out.

“I spent a few hours in the maze with Puff, a young elf from Brooklyn. We were standing near the lollipop forest when we realized that Santa is an anagram of Satan…We imagined a SatanLand where visitors would wade through steaming pools of human blood and faeces before arriving at the Gates of Hell, where a hideous imp in a singed velvet costume would take them by the hand and lead them toward Satan. Once we thought of it we couldn’t get it out of our minds.”

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