Thursday, January 23, 2020

Introducing New-To-Me Writers: Elif Shafak and Bernardine Evaristo

January has been a good month for reading discoveries. I began the year with two books in a row by authors previously unknown to me and whose backlists I will happily work my way through in the near future: Elif Shafak and Bernardine Evaristo, both English writers who draw from their experience and/or heritage in other cultures. You can listen to a Guardian Books podcast in which Shafak speaks with interviewer Claire Armitstead about her writing in general, this astonishing novel in particular, and, courageously, about Turkey's treatment of novelists.  Thanks to my friend and occasional commenter here, Brenda, for alerting me to this podcast. I haven't yet heard Evaristo speak, but if I do, I'll come back and link here -- or, if you can recommend a link, I'd appreciate your sharing it with us.

I'm going to continue the practice I began last year of posting my current reading on Instagram, where my comments will rarely offer much summary or overview but instead reflect my impressions at the first few chapters or perhaps share a passage or two, or even several pages, I was particularly struck by. I posted this, for example, about 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World.

And in tandem with the Instagram posts, I'm also going to continue hand-writing my responses to the books I read -- and of sharing photographs of those pages without a word-processed transcription. I won't belabour the point here, but I suppose I see value both in the hand-writing itself and in the engagement of the reader with the challenges of letters formed idiosyncratically. . . .As always, though, if you can't make out letters or words or sentences or whole passages, let me know in the comments below and I'll happily decipher for you.

I do apologize, though, for the problems I was having with my fountain pen in the entry above. The ink wasn't drawing properly, and when I got it flowing again, I traced over the letters. So I'm going to make an exception right after declaring my basic principle, and I'll transcribe those first few lines.
Bought, trade paperback NYC: Black Cat P, 2019 Read early January
Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other
Two great books in a row -- and both by female British writers from different cultural heritages, Shafik from Turkey and Evaristo, born in . . . . 

and from there, I'll let you read as you wish, on your own. . .  You might also be interested in what I posted on IG here and here.

That's it for this morning. . .

Since I read these two books, I've also read -- and will post about, very soon -- Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister the Serial Killer,  Melissa Harrison's Clay, and Kate Hamer's The Doll Funeral, and I'm currently reading Marlena de Blasi's That Summer in Sicily to Paul while he cooks our dinners, Tessa Hadley's Late in the Day to myself, and, when my granddaughter arrives here after school today, we'll pick up where we left off a few weeks ago in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's The Book of Boy (luckily the Eleven has a very good memory for narrative). . . . What can I say? I'm Frances and I'm a book addict. . . .

And you? How has your reading year begun? Have you read either of these two books? Or might you, now that I've told you something of them? Any questions for me about them?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2019 Reading List

Okay, here's what I read in 2019. The links will take you to a post, and in 2019, for the first time, those posts mostly include photos of the relevant pages of my hand-written Reading Journal. As I explained in my first post last January, I hoped this approach, complemented by posts on my Instagram reading account (with links to those posts included in the corresponding blogpost), would be a more manageable way to keep and share a record of the books I read. The "reviews" are sketchier than I'd like, quick impressions, a few notes that I hope will refresh my memory later.

The books outlined in green are the ones I recommend most highly. I used Yellow to point out others I think deserve attention for various reasons, but when I look through the list again, I see other titles I could highlight as well except then I'll quickly end up with the entire list highlighted, which rather defeats the purpose.

In fact, if you're looking for a mystery, most of those I've read are entertaining and well-written, although I was lukewarm about two or three and I say so in the linked posts. Ditto for the literary fiction and the memoirs. The Jemisin series is very good science fiction, if that's your genre. Neither it nor fantasy are really mine; hence I haven't highlighted.

So without further ado. . . .

1. C.J. Samson, Dissolution (historical mystery)
2. Kate Atkinson, Transcription (literary fiction)
3. Michael Robotham, Shatter (mystery/thriller)
4. Samantha Dion Baker, Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal
5. N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (science fiction)
6. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, trans. Archibald Colquhoun (literary fiction)
7. Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1  (didn't finish, although I did get to almost 500 pages) (L.F.)
8. Philippe Georget, Summertime: All The Cats Are Bored (mystery, set in France)
9. Anna Burns, Milkman **** (L.F., won the Booker 2018)
10. Térèse Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries: A Memoir
11. Jackie Kae Ellis, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
12. Helen Atlee, The Land Where Lemons Grow (creative Non-Fiction -- Italy, cultural history
13. Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia (Children's novel; read to my granddaughter)
14. Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road (20-year relationship told through correspondence; read to my husband, second time reading this little gem)
15. N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate (Science Fiction)
16. Guillaume Musso, Demain  (en français)
17. Glynnis MacNicol, No One Tells You This (Memoir)
18. Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman (Memoir)
19. Donna Leon, The Golden Egg (Mystery)
20. Robin Robertson, The Long Take (Noir, Literary Fiction, Told in Verse & Prose, Booker finalist, Goldsmiths winner
21. Abu Bakr Al Rabbeah and Winnie Young, Homes (Memoir, as told to)
22. Denise Mina, Still Midnight (Mystery)
23. Donna Leon, By Its Cover (Mystery)
24. Rebecca Makai, The Borrower (LF, delightful, recommend)
25. Mick Herron, Slow Horses (mystery/thriller)
26. Mick Herron, Dead Lions (mystery/thriller)
27. Philippe Georget, Les Méfaits d'Hiver (mystery, en français)
28. Denise Mina, The End of the Wasp Season (mystery)
29. Philippe Georget, Les Violents d'Automne (mystery, en français)
This might be my favourite of the three "seasons" of these mysteries by Georget. It really clarified for me, once and for all, what was what with French Algeria and independence & pieds noirs & De Gaulle, etc. . . .
30. Rachel Cusk, Outline (LF)
31. James Lee Burke, New Iberia Blues (mystery)
32. Elizabeth Hay, All Things Consoled (memoir, parental loss)
33. Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (novel, historical fiction, botany)
34. Elly Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries (mystery)
35. Raynor Winn, The Salt Path (memoir, highly recommend)
36. Sarah Moss, The Ghost Path (LF/mystery/thriller)
37. Marcus Tanner, Croatia, A Nation Forged in War (still in progress. . . ) (non-fiction, history)
38. Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art  Recommended, Art History, Feminist and Cultural History
39. Denise Mina, Gods and Beasts (mystery)
40. Julian Barnes, The Only Story (LF)
41. John Keahey, Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean. (armchair travel)
42. Elly Griffiths, The Stone Circle (mystery)
43. Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (LF)
44. Ian Rankin, In a House of Lies (mystery)
45. Natalie Babbitt, The Search for Delicious (children's novel/"chapter book")
46. Rae Dunn, In Pursuit of Inspiration (creativity, making)
47. Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World (LF) Liked this very much.
48. Mario Giordano, Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna, translated from German by John Brownjohn (mystery)
49. Jean-Christophe Rufin, Les Sept Mariages d'Edgar et Ludmila Read en français, highly recommend if you read French
50. Tommy Orange, There There (LF, recommended)
51. Slavenka Drakulić, Cafe Europa: Life After Communism  Croatia, journalism, history
52. Kate Atkinson, Big SkyMystery
53. Sue Gee, Reading in Bed     Novel
54. Denise Mina, The Red Road  Mystery
55. Denise Mina, Blood, Salt, Water  Mystery
56. Etaf Rum, A Woman Is No Man  Novel, Immigration, Women's Lives
57. Cherie Dimaline, Red Rooms Linked Short Stories
58. Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls     Novel, New York, theatre, independent women. . . Recommend as entertaining.. . 
59. Carlo Levi, Words Are Stones, Intro. Anita Desai, Trans. Anthony Shugaar, Also here Sicily, journalism, essays, cultural history
60. Viglis Hjorth, A House in Norway. Trans. Charlotte Barslund LF
61. Nell Painter, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over Memoir, recommended
62. Simon Armitage, Walking Home travel memoir
63. Tembi Locke, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home Sicily, Memoir, Grief
64. Alice Zeniter, L'Art de Perdre LF (Goncourt Prix de Lycéens) France-Algeria Recommended
65. Stephen Price, Lampedusa  LF, Sicily
66. Jill Ciment, The Body in Question LF
67. Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Eduard Tulane Children's "chapter book"
68. Cynthea Masson, The Amber Garden (3rd volume in The Alchemists' Council) Fantasy
69. Mick Herron, Real Tigers Mystery
70. Julie Whelan, My Oxford Year Contemporary Romance,
71. Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Water Dancer  LF, Historical fiction,
72. Melissa Harrison, All Among the Barley LF, 
73. Donna Leon, Falling in Love Mystery
74. Deborah Levy, Hot Milk LF
75. Keigo Higashino, Midsummer's Equation Mystery

Comments, questions, suggestions always welcome.  Thanks for looking through my 2019 reading list. I'm very happy to have you here, reading alongside, in 2020.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

End of 2019 Reading

 On this last day of the year, of the decade as well, one last post to catch up my twelve months of reading -- I'll have my official 2019 Reading List up in the next few days, but for now, here are the final titles from that list.
69, 70, and 71 were borrowed from the Vancouver Public Library as e-books, and read as I travelled to and from Paris and Rome this month.
#69 Mick Herron's Real Tigers
#70 Julie Whelan,  My Oxford Year
#71 Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Water Dancer

Not sure where I read about
#72, Melissa Harrison's All Among the Barley, but I think it was somewhere on Social Media. I've had it on hold at the library for several months, and it was ready the day I got home. This will be one I mark with an asterisk on my annual list, I think. . . .

#73, Donna Leon, Falling in Love, also read as an e-book, also borrowed from the library.

#74, Deborah Levy, Hot Milk, was one of the books I bought in Powell's Books in Portland way back last winter, and somehow hadn't read yet.  (Although I did read Swimming Home--bought at the same time -- back in August).

#75, and it's probably fair, somewhat exemplary, that my last completed book of the year should happen to be another mystery. Midsummer's Equation by Keigo Higashino.  This is the third I've read in his Detective Galileo series, set in Japan, and every one is a gem.
Now I really need to finish this post and join Pater as he prepares our New Year's Eve meal and we decide what Netflix binge will take us into the new decade. We might do some side-by-side reading as well, and if so, my book will be the wonderful 10 Minutes 28 Seconds In This Strange World, by the Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak. I'm especially happy to be moving from 2019 into 2020 with this book as Dottoressa commented in my last post that she's just finished the novel and highly recommends it.

I know you won't have time to comment tonight for all the celebrating -- and tomorrow either, what with all the recovery and resolution-making. But soon, I hope. I'd love to know what books you finished 2019 with and/or which ones you have ready to read in 2020. Happy New Year to all of you and see you in the next decade!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Alchemical Fantasy--The Amber Garden

The second post in a week, and I'm going to sneak in one more before the year (the decade!) is done.

This post has been far too long in the making. Back in mid-October, I received a .pdf Advanced Reading Copy of my ex-colleague and friend Cynthea Masson's book The Amber Garden, the third in her Alchemists' Council series. I wrote about Volume One, The Alchemists' Council here (since I wrote that post, The Alchemists' Council was awarded the gold medal for Fantasy in the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards) and about The Flaw in the Stone, the second in the series, here. I mentioned in both those posts that fantasy is not a genre I read often (as an example, I have yet to read the third of N.K. Jemisin's excellent, critically lauded Broken Earth trilogy -- this though we have the boxed set on our bookshelf and I've read the first two whose values I readily acknowledge).

Disclaimer aside, I welcomed an ARC of The Amber Garden because I'd enjoyed the first two volumes of the series and wanted to know the outcomes of the events set in play therein. As well, I've been intrigued by the ideas advanced in the earlier novels--ideas about free will and its consequences; ideas about inter-connectedness between systems large and small, particularly relevant to the climate-change crisis and other environmental threats we're confronting; ideas about different configurations or permutations for identity. And not least, I continue to be fascinated at the world-building involved. That this complete universe could have been created by someone I know well, worked alongside of for years. . . .

Unfortunately, the ARC arrived at a busy time of year, and I didn't finish the 424 pages until my flight to Paris. Since then, well, Paris. And Christmas. And a long cold. . . .

So with 2020 only a few days away, determined to get a response posted before 2019 is finished, I've written some notes in my Reading Journal, a scantier review than I wrote for the earlier two volumes, admittedly, but only because I'm pushed for time and energy.  Here's what I wrote, and I've transcribed my handwriting below the photo. . . .

I finished this on the flight to Paris week before last, and I can still feel something of the intricate world Cynthea created with its alchemy, its exploration of the possibilities of (& problems wrought by) free will, of the perennial questions about social systems and an individual's rights (and responsibilities). The series as a whole makes a trenchant commentary on the way these human questions play out in the larger natural world -- especially in the role played throughout by bees (both natural & alchemical), by the tree names of the characters (I will admit that I had trouble keeping track of the characters--so many, crossing between several dimensions, spanning many centuries--I would probably have had an easier time if my reading of the three volumes hadn't been spread out over three years.)

Most intriguing for me, I think, are the ways (my friend and ex-colleague) Cynthea plays with fluidity of gender, of sexuality, but also with the ways individuals can exist differently within their own bodies (or/also, the ways two individuals can exist at once in a single body) -- and the whole notion of alchemical conception, which strikes me as an allusion to our Cyborgian contemporary realities as much as it is simply an element of a complex fantasy world.

Much to think about when that last page was swiped, in other words (I read a .pdf of an Advanced Reader's Copy--the book will be available for purchase in the spring).

Not my usual genre, but it's been enjoyable spending time with the three volumes of The Alchemists' Council. Congratulations, Cynthea Masson -- you built a world!

The Alchemists' Council series is published by ECW Press, and The Amber Garden will be available for purchase in March 2020 -- it's currently listed on Amazon and  Indigo.
Author's website here.

No remuneration was received for this post.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Six Titles Near the End of the Year. . . .

Before I left for Paris earlier this month, I had caught up my Reading Journal and meant to share photos of those pages with you. Didn't happen, so now I'm going to post two or three times before the end of the year. . . .

Continuing from where I left off,
Entry #62, Simon Armitage's Walking Home.  I actually wrote more about this memoir over on Instagram than I jotted in my journal -- and unfortunately, in both spots it's rather faint praise. . . .

Entry #63, Tembi Locke. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home. (If you remember my most recent blog post -- oh, so long ago! -- you'll have noticed that Sicily is becoming a theme here).. . .a post on IG as well, if you'd like to see the book's cover.

64. Alice Zeniter, L'Art de Perdre (apparently to be published in English translation as The Art of Losing sometime in 2020 -- watch for it!)  IG posts here and here. Won a number of Goncourt prizes in 2017, most notably the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens.

65. Stephen Price, Lampedusa. (Yep, again with Sicily!!) . . . IG post here

66. Jill Ciment, The Body in Question   IG post

67. Kate Di Camillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Read a recommendation of this somewhere in Social Media and borrowed it from the library to see if it might make a good gift. I think it could be good to read aloud to the Seven, not sure if her brother, Four, would follow well yet.

You'll have good reason to be skeptical, but I have high hopes of publishing another post tomorrow, and perhaps another after that so that I'm completely caught up by New Year's Eve -- and then I'll post my 2019 Reading List within the first few days of the new decade . . .

I'm sure some of you have been finding time to read now that the festivities have quietened to that wondrous lull we treasure this time of year. . . . What treasures did you pull out of your Christmas stockings or from under the tree? (Or did the library deliver for you this last week, as it did for me, a few books you've had on Hold for ages?).  Time for one or two last book chats of 2019 -- leave a comment below, please, to get the conversation started.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Armchair Travel: Reading About Sicily . . .

The second page in my new Watercolour Sketchbook -- the first boasts my hand-drawn (and hence, more suggestive than accurate ;-) of Sicily.  . . We're planning a family meet-up week there next spring, and I hope to fill my sketchbook with landscapes and paintings of meals and sketches of architecutre. For now, though, I'm reading in preparation. These essays by Carlo Levi were written mid-20th-century, and they offer a wonderfully descriptive and trenchantly observant context. (As always, if you'd like help reading my writing, leave me a note in the comments below.

Next post, I'll return to more recent reading -- I can't believe I'm almost caught up with that. For now, I'm off to read ferociously the two books that have to go back to the library next week. And then I have to think about what to read on a long flight. . . Decisions, decisions. . .

Your suggestions always very welcome. Books set in Sicily, especially. . . 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reading Fireside? A Dozen Titles for You. . .

 Only 70 more pages to go in Alice Zeniter's L'Art de Perdre which I borrowed from the library. A wonderful novel following three generations of a family from pre-Independence Algeria to present-day France. I'll share more later. . . . just thought it would be good occasionally for this blog to feature what I'm reading along with the What I've Read. . . .

Speaking of which, I'm getting encouragingly closer to being caught up.  Still no time to transcribe here or to augment my scratchings in my little paper journal, but if you're interested enough to need help deciphering a word or phrase, I'm happy to help.

Continuing from where I left off last post, here's Entry #50, for Tommy Orange's There There. Highly recommended.

 #51 is Slavenka Drakulić's Cafe Europa: Life After Communism which broadened and added depth to my developing understand of Croatia.
 #52-55, a run of mystery novels: Kate Atkinson's Red Sky, Denise Mina's The Red Road and her Blood, Salt, Water punctuated by Sue Gee's Reading in Bed which (another) Sue recommended.
 #56 Etaf Rum's A Woman Is No Man, recommended by my daughter (that, I must tell you, is a particular pleasure -- to have raised readers who return the favour by bringing good books to the table (or, rather, to the TBR list)

#57 Culling my bookshelves in September reminded me I hadn't yet read Cherie Dimaline's Red Rooms. I've been hearing good things about her later writing, and I have to say this earlier title is well worth reading.
 #58 Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls I a book you might like to give a girlfriend for Christmas. Maybe you'll need to read it yourself first, turning the pages carefully -- but if it's less than pristine when you finally wrap it, just tell her you cared enough to make sure it was good enough for her. ;-)
 #58 Next post I'll share the journal page I sketched in response to Carlo Levi's Words are Stones (translated by Anthony Shugaar with an introduction by Anita Desai.
 And then Viglis Hjorth's A House in Norway, trans. Charlotte Barslund

and #61 Nell Painter's Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. Definitely recommending this one, especially to encourage those of us trying new things as old dogs. . .
Only three titles now, and I'll be all caught up. Caught up with telling you What I've Read, that is. We will never be caught up with the reading, will we?!

And that's a very good thing.

Okay, comments open now -- I'm passing you the mic and going back to those last 70 pages. The present-day protagonist has just landed in Algeria, the first member of her family (disparaged in both Algeria and France as harkis, a term and a disparagement that Zeniter unpacks trenchantly -- and humanely) to do so since they fled the country sixty years earlier. . . I need to know how the novel ends (as well as find out how the Elizabeth Bishop poem "The Art of Losing" featured in the title will show up, how it will signify).

So we'll chat later. I'm looking forward to it.