A FEW BOOKISH THOUGHTS TO OPEN A NEW READING YEAR

I’m definitely ditching Goodreads in 2022. Apart from the fact it’s a  tiresome chore to log on to the site,  hunt up my books, then label my reads with their unhelpful star rating system, at year’s end GR never, but never, get my year-end total reads figure correct.  Reverting to my Stone Age tools i.e. my Book Journal and a ballpoint pen, I keep a running total of my reads.  It never coincides with GR’s figure.

I’ve flirted with the idea of swapping over to another electronic book app, but no, I’m done with book apps. One of my friends is a whizz at spreadsheets, and will set up a comprehensive spreadsheet for me. Trick is, of course, to keep adding the data.

Yet again I will be refusing all Reading Challenges, continue  abandoning any book that does not either entertain or inform me, and rambling through the Back Lists with a happy song on my lips.

I’m also debating whether I am finished with my Read more African Writers project. Last year I won a number of books via the Goethe Institute’s generous  Virtually Yours Zoom sessions, some of which were a great success, whilst others were not. I still have two recent  Indian Ocean novels* highlighted on my Wish List, which are very tempting, but on the whole, I think I’m done with the project.

And yet again, I will dive into my TBR shelf, which is actually very modest. I’ve read recent Book Bloggers’ posts wherein they admit to a hoard of +200 books. Einah! One good thing about the wretched Pandemic is that it’s kept me away from the bookshops and Charity Book Sales. Unfortunately, the online booksellers have been very obliging.

One good innovation last year, was registering with the LIBBY system, which the Cape Town Municipal Library system joined.  Such good news to be able to read e-books without having to fall into the capacious jaws of amazon.com .  

And finishing on a happy note: friends of mine are currently in the UK, and will be making forays into the Charity Book shops, with my Wish List added to their own. I can’t wait for them to return. Whenever I read UK Book Bloggers’ accounts of picking up book bargains for 50p per book, I could weep; we have no such bargains here.

So there we have it: no grand plans or target, just happy to be able to continue reading. Happy reading to everyone!

  • House of Rust –  Khadija Abdalla Bajaber  and Blue Dragonfly Sea – Yvonne  Oadihambo 

MY 2021 READING HITS

My 2021 reading year was brightened by the  discovery of three new authors, who illuminated my year in bursts of glory. 

Novelist Nicola Barker –  endlessly inventive, wildly creative, completely original. Thus far I’ve read and loved: 5 Miles from Outer Hope, I am Sovereign and The Cauliflower. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Humorist Ben Schott – who has written two brilliant homages to the Master of British humour: P G Wodehouse. I own Jeeves and the King of Clubs and Jeeves Takes a Chance. Schott has channelled  The Master’s style, frothy plots and witless characters; and of course featuring  the brainy Jeeves. Both books were a tonic in a difficult year.

SF Writer Becky Chambers –  her Wayfarer series has provided hours of entertainment, plus intriguing ideas, fresh possibilities, with  future scenarios peopled by vivid characters. Her series has a strong feminine slant, and not a raygun in sight. This is thoughtful, philosophical young writer with a fresh take on the Universe. She has taken SF writing into a  fresh dimension.

On the Non Fiction side, I discovered Robert MacFarlane, via his wide ranging  book, Underland, which is a rich and varied reading experience. I  knew RMF was a Nature writer, but I had no idea that his approach was so eclectic,  including  elements of History, Myth, the Anthropocene, and  Travel, to mention but a few. His book is both literary and scholarly (it took ten years to write) but the writing is lyrical,  vivid, thrilling ….  I shall treasure and re-read the book.

And the Misses? I decided to let them sink quietly into the depths of my hard-drive. Of course I had Did Not Finish and Definitely Not for Me reads during the year, but after a hard year I’ve no wish to re-visit past disappointments.

 Ten Terrific Reads 

  • Motion of the Body Through Space – Lionel Shriver (novel) #1
  • Little Family – Ishmail Beah  (African novel)
  • Hum if you Don’t Know the Words – Bianca Marais (South African  novel)
  • The 100 Years of Lenni and Margo – Marianne Cronin (novel)
  • Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett  (novel)
  • Word Freaks – Stefan Fatsis (Non-Fic) Scrabble
  • The Salt Path – Raynor Winn (NF) memoir
  • Look at Me – Nataniel (NF) memoir
  • Vesper Flights – Helen MacDonald (NF) nature writing
  • The Library Book – Susan Orlean (NF) Libraries!

My book of the year. After some agonising I am nominating the novel Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke. Apart from the strange and wildly original story, the book itself is a thing of beauty with the  metallic copper lettering on the black cover, plus a dust-jacket executed in the same black/copper theme, plus an elegant faun playing his Pan Pipe, atop a slender classical column.

The book offered a missing person mystery as a sub-theme, but the major theme was : the existence of a different corporeal reality, into which people from our world are inserted. Followed by another theme: what is personal identity ? and another question: what constitutes mental derangement? A haunting read. .

Wishing my readers an enormous pile of gift wrapped books during the Festive Season, and another splendid reading year ahead in 2022. May we all be safe, and be well.

2021 YEAR-END BOOKISH REFLECTIONS

Could you sum up your nomination for your  Most Memorable  Book of the Year in a brief, 60 second voice note? If you could, then perhaps you entered Cape Talk Radio’s Book Club competition which announced the winning entries yesterday. Dictating a brief summary put readers in the running for a 15 book hamper to the winning entry. 

I listened to the selection of entries which revealed a mainly female readership, only three men entered  their choicess. Perhaps Cape Talk edited the entries, but I would guess that  women form the bulk of our national readership.  I’ve noticed the same phenomenon on Facebook reading group pages, nearly all the posts are from women.

The winning entry came from a  woman who  nominated Rise, by  Siya Kolisi ( the Springbok rugby captain). No surprise, because South Africa is sports mad, and rugby mad in particular.  Categories  were limited to kids’ books, Sports Books, non-fiction, fiction .   

Sports: that’s one of the genres I never read: I read widely, but I do exclude Romance and  Horror,  plus I tend to avoid historicals, and I seldom read crime.

At this time of year there are lists galore and posts by the dozen on the theme: Best Book/s of 2021. I read many of them, always interested in other people’s choices and  reviews . In fact, I post my own annual Best Books of the Year on my blog.  

I keep a running list of Best Reads throughout the year, but its difficult to cut it down to the best Ten Books.  Many readers opt for this number, which is illogical, given our 12 month calendar system. Maybe December is a bad month, too much shopping and partying,  and perhaps  in  the height of summer, even  dedicated readers go outdoors.

I refuse to set annual Reading Target.  Reading is not a competitive sport, for goodness sake!  According to my Book Journal I read 103 books in 2021. Consulting my tatty Journal, via Stone Age technology, i.e. pen and paper – Excel spreadsheets continue to elude me – I totted up the totals and carried out a rough (very rough!) survey. 

My reading was predominantly Fiction, with a small non-Fiction component, consisting mainly of Memoir and Nature writing. Otherwise it was Fiction all the way. Horror, Sport and  Romance didn’t get a look in, but General novels and Literary novels featured large.

I read far too many cozy mysteries, plus more SF than in previous years, and I lay the blame squarely on the pandemic. 

Because I read for pleasure and entertainment, this earnest analysis doesn’t matter one little bit. I read some spectacular books this year, which will be listed in my next post. Watch this space.

HELLO, ISHMAEL BEAH & SIERRA LEONE

The arrival of a courier van  at my front door was a happy event today. The red and white plastic flyer contained a book – yay!    It was the  Ismail Beah book that I won at the Virtually Yours Zoom session in July.  The lucky draw at the end of the interview selected my name, along with  four other names. VY  and the Goethe Institute are so generous, donating  five books per session.

So now I have Ishmael Beach’s Little Family  to look forward to. I discover that he  is a Sierra Leonean – American hybrid

I must admit I had to consult my atlas to locate Sierra Leone. I knew the country was located in West Africa but no more than that.  I live in Southern Africa, and  must confess that West Africa is a confusing jumble of countries, some familiar names, but no more than that.  Usually we get snippets of  news from the two larger countries of Nigeria and Ghana, but beyond that?  Nope.

Wilipedia filled in more gaps for me about the writer himself:

BornIsmael Beah
23 November 1980 (age 40)
Mogbwemo, Bonthe District, Sierra Leone
Occupationauthor, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Children Affected by War, human rights activist, former child soldier
NationalitySierra Leonean
Notable worksA Long Way Gone
Little Family
Radiance of Tomorrow

Vanity Fair  declared him to be:  “ Arguably the most-read African writer in contemporary literature.”

THANKS,  VIRTUALLY YOURS  for putting  one of his books into my hands. Watch this space for a review

JULY 2021 READING ROUND-UP

JULY HITS

I roared through many books in July, including one DNF (did not finish). I promised myself that at this late stage of my life – very close to my 80th birthday – I could no longer waste valuable eyesight and reading time on books that did not entertain, en,lighten or charm me. Take it or leave it.

FICTION

Jeeves and the King of Clubs – Ben Schott.  A sparkling combo  of  Bertie Wooster blundering along affably, being quietly rescued by the inimitable Jeeves at every turn. A winter tonic for me. See my review posted on  11 July.   Not to be missed.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot – Marianne Cronin. An unusual story of friendship between terminally ill patients. Margot 83 and Lenni 17. Tender, funny, poignant, a lifetime of stories. Despite a tinge of dissatisfaction right at the end ( Margot’s relationship with Maia) it was a wonderful read.

Olive Again – Elizabeth Strout. The quotidian made luminous; a tender account of life in a small Maine town. Literary – and beautiful. Definitely on my 2021 Best Books of the Year list.

The Broken Earth Trilogy – N K Jemisin. Magnificent Fantasy saga, written by an outstanding female Fantasy writer. See my  review published 20 July.  A must for Fantasy fans. Highly recommended.

Smoke and Ashes – Abir Mukherjee. Capt Sam Wyndham  lands up in the Indian Imperial Police Force, Calcutta, in 1921. He’s battling his opium addiction whilst  trying to solve three murders. The thriller plays out against the colourful background of teeming, chaotic Calcutta where  Ghandi’s Congress Party is staging massive anti-Brit demonstrations, and Crown Prince Edward is due in town for a ceremonial State Visit. The story builds to a dramatic finale, that had me reading breathlessly to the end. Recommended.

Exit – Belinda Bauer. Can a crime novel be funny and charming? In this case: yes. Well-meaning geriatrics are involved in a seemingly humane charity, which turns out to be part of an intricate loan  shark scheme. An ingenious plot, completely unpredictable. Recommended.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennet. Stella and Desiree are identical twins growing up together in a small Southern black community. At 16 years old  their lives split when they run away to the city.  One twin passes herself off as white, whilst the other eventually returns home. Each twin has a daughter, and the strands of their lives twist and twine for decades. Enjoyable and engrossing.

The Seal Cove Theoretical Society – SW Clemens. (ebook)  Finally,  a well written  e-book.  A slice of life in a small coastal town unfolds, mixed with some philosophical musings, inhabited by a motley cast of people, and their amiable dogs.   A pleasant light  read.

DNF

The Two Lives of Louis and Louise –  Julie Cohen. I found the basic premise of the story to be contrived, and the narrative slow. The book didn’t work for me. You can’t win them all!

JULY DIPPER

Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70s – the Pocket Penguin 30 series.  The book was a gift to me, back in 2008; hiding amongst bigger books. It’s a slim volume so no wonder I overlooked it. I’m enjoying the short stories at intervals. Ali S packs so much into one story, they need a bit of time to settle.

NON-FICTION

Word Freak – Stefan Fatsis.  A fascinating survey of the top Scrabble  players in the USA during the late 90s and early 2’s. The book was published in 2002, and Scrabble remains as popular as ever. If you enjoy words,  Scrabble and an insider’s account of the geeks and freaks who inhabit the subculture, then you’ll enjoy the book. I certainly did. Another book that will feature on my 2021 Books of the Year.

Recommended. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Scrabble_Championship

MY JULY PROJECT

Dizzy with my TBR success with Prof Harari’s Homo Deus, I plan on using the same technique on another long languishing tome:

Periodically I purge my bookshelves, and time after time, I pick up the hefty chunk, saying THIS HAS TO GO! xxx? years have passed – I never stuck a book label showing the purchase date on the flyleaf, (did I never really take ownership of the book from Day One? ) and I still haven’t read it! And then I page through the book and am instantly intrigued by a paragraph, a factoid, a word – for instance, how about the word Gamboge? Irresistible. I learn it means a shade of yellow. Huh. Who knew?

So I will apply the tried and tested Twenty-Pages a Day method to the book. It worked like a charm on Homo Deus. Furthermore, I have hunted down my favourite bookmark to mark my progress. I don’t know why, but the ridiculous combo of a cat wearing a fisherman’s hat and an earnest expression, is somehow very endearing. Hopefully the July Reading Roundup will contain more on my progress. Yellow is an optimistic colour, so fingers crossed for finality by the end of July.

HELLO, BOOK LOUNGE DELIVERYMAN

My TBR  shelf runneth over.  To put it mildly. And my credit card smoketh unhappily. The complications of a book addict’s life.

I ordered the Uganda and the Greengage book yonks ago –  late last year, in fact. Finally both have arrived.

As for The Theory of Flight  book, I read a review of the book last year, forgot all the details (old age, I regret to say) but knew I wanted to read Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu and then recently found a review of her second book, yay,  hello! serendipity.

So in order to take advantage of  the free delivery criteria  which is based on a certain sales figure before the free deliveries kick in, I ordered it. That was virtuously thrifty, I thought.

The two African writers fall into my Read-more-African Writers project. The Greengage Tree?  Reviews were enthusiastic,  and I was intrigued, hence my crumpled  credit card.

Watch this space for reviews.

HELLO! NEW BOOKS!

I often have to wait months, and sometimes months, when I order books on line. The above wonderful trio was well worth waiting for.

I partially read Vesper Flights, before returning it to the Library, but knew I needed to have the book on my shelf, so I ordered a copy.

As for the other two books, I’ve always enjoyed Deborah Rodrigues and I’m fascinated by Morocco , so …

And as for the Cauliflower book: well, irresistible to me! My 20+ year history as a yogi, and my love of quirky books made this one a must read. Plus, it has a very unusual and quirky cover.

I wonder if any of you have read these books? if so, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

So: watch this space for reviews.

Early May book delivery happiness!

FEBRUARY BUYS 2021

I can’t resist stories about twins, so when I heard about The Grammarians, I knew it was a book I really, really wanted to read. I had to wait for over three months for the books to struggle through the difficulties of overseas orders and Covid problems, plus postal delays, but the book finally staggered in, and now its in my possession. I can’t wait to read it! Twins, words, language …. what’s not to like?

I’ve been dithering around over the Salt Path for at least a year. Despite my efforts to loan the book from the Library (regret not in the Cape Town Library system), or borrow the book from my bookish friends (no, sorry, haven’t got that one) or buy a second-hand copy but again no luck. So in the end, I had to bite the bullet and buy the darn thing. I like the cover. It reminds me of lino print designs, which I always enjoy.

As usual, I’m late to the party. The Salt Path was published in 2018. What a good thing books don’t “go off” like the contents of the grocery cupboards. Although this said, I was hunting through my book cases last week, and found a book dating back to the 1980s, where the pages have turn a deep, dark, toasty brown, and I promise you, the book has never been left lying in the sun. Oh the very idea! oh, the horror!

The Salt Path is part memoir, part Nature writing, and it poses a difficult question: what would you, the reader, do if faced with a massive, life-altering situation like the onset of an incurable disease coupled with homelessness and financial ruin. I certainly wouldn’t chose to walk 638 miles around the British coastline, which was the Winn’s solution. I’d probably hide in the darkest corner of the biggest library, whimpering pitifully, and praying for a heavy book shelf to fall on me and deliver me from my plight.

And my third purchase was another book that I’ve been dithering over for some time. I read a glowing review in one of the many recent Best Books of 2020 articles, so I went mad and bought it. Again, I love the vibrant, fiery cover – I’m a pushover for yellow and orange. Fingers crossed that the contents live up to the cover.

Have you acquired any new books in the last seven weeks ?

JANUARY ACQUISITIONS

Despite the sunshine and high temperatures, I find January a long, bleak month after the excitement and socializing of the Festive Season.  Seeing we’ve just struggled through nearly a year of Covid-1 lockdowns, and a somewhat un-festive Christmas, I needed some cheering up. And because I received a book voucher as a Christmas gift, I consulted my Wish List and finally chose :

Nine Letters by John Webb is a local novel, and I’m keen to support those. Plus, as a lifelong letter writer, it sounded like a book I’d enjoy.  Additionally, the book was favourably reviewed, so that was easy.

My second choice: a Japanese novel. Huh? After the debacle over Earthlings …. What was I thinking?  For some while, Japanese novels  no longer appeal. After reading – and buying – many of Murakami’s books, and reading other Japanese writers, I find their dreamy opacity irritating. Last year  I reserved Hideo Yokoyama’s Seventeen from the Library, and abandoned it around page 25. Enough already. The intricacies of the male orientated Japanese business world held no appeal whatsoever.

However: I’d read good reviews of Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot),  and the price was good, so I took the plunge. Lets hope it was money well spent. Time will tell.

Perhaps you found some January Sale bargains? Or spent your Christmas Book Vouchers? Share the good news!