MARCH 2022 READING ROUND-UP

On the whole, I’m not a fan of crime fiction.  However, this said, there are a few crime writers whose work I do enjoy. Donna Leon is one of them.

She has created a wonderfully human fictional detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti who works for the Questura in Venice and shrewdly unravels a variety of  crimes.  I enjoy the meticulous detail, for example: what Brunetti is wearing,  or eating for dinner on a particular day –  tiny family details; the route of the vaporetto, or his rapid walk through the calle and over the many bridges; the Venetianness of it all.

I’ve noticed in both this month’s Leon novels,  that she’s not averse to taking a swipe at Italy’s cumbersome legal and bureaucratic structures, always expressed in cool, clinical terms. No soapboxing here, just critical reportage with a touch of cynicism. Her novels are multi faceted, one of the qualities that makes them so readable.

Throughout the many novels the same characters appear, familiar as ever, but with light touches of difference that make each read enormously enjoyable. Donna Leon provides her audience with a completely rounded story and for me, that’s the standout quality that brings me back again and again. And, as I often state: I don’t read crime. But I will, if its written by Donna Leon.  

FICTION

The Night Circus -Erin Morgenstern. Magical Fantasy. See my review 13 March 2022. https://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/2022/03/13/re-visiting-the-n

La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith. WWII, Britain, gentle and philosophical . People exhibiting fortitude and courage during wartime.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon. Commissario Guido Brunetti, Venice,  an eco crime. Excellent, as ever. Authentic detail.

Doctored Evidence – Donna Leon. Commissario Guido Brunetti, Venice; the  title cleverly hints at the unravelling of the motive of the murder of an unpleasant old woman.

The Map of Salt & Stars – Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. The 1001 Tales from the Arabian Nights and Al-Idrisi, the legendary mapmaker, melded with modern story of refugee family from the current Syrian war. History, myth, fantasy and the modern mingle and mix. Exotic and unusual.  

Weather – Jenny Offill. Brilliantly minimalist, no doubt, but not for me.

The Rules of Magic – Alice Hoffman. An enchanting family saga about a magical (literally) family. Herbalism, magical powers, animal familiars, tragic doomed loves, ancient historical family feuds. A jolly good read.

Ness – Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood. Mythic prose poem. Nature overcomes human madness. Wildly unusual.

Unusual uses for Olive Oil –   Alexander McCall Smith. The gravely serious exploits of Prof. Dr von Igelfeld, recorded by that  comic genius, Alexander  McCall Smith. Priceless.

Hex – Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight. Bright sharp writing, but neurotic, obsessive narrator with supporting cast of solipsistic characters. Enjoyed the writing but not the book.

NON-FICTION

The Bookseller’s Tale – Martin Latham. Rave, rave ….. See my review 24 March 2022,https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/1429

THE BOOKSELLER’S TALE – Martin Latham

The Bookish Universe is home to many tribes, clans and cults. For example:

There are Bookworms.

There are Book Bloggers.

There are Book Nerds

There are Bibliophiles.

But finally, leaving the best until last: there are BOOKSELLERS,  and most specifically, British Bookseller extraordinaire, Martin Latham of Waterstones, Canterbury, who has published his Tale.

After three decades in the book-trade, he shares a treasury of anecdotes, stories, histories, and personal memoir  which makes for fascinating reading. He reflects on all things bookish via Bookstores, Cultural  History,  Literature, Libraries, passionate  Book Collectors,  bookish cities (apparently #1 is Venice – who knew?) Marginalia, Book Pedlers of bygone eras … each page is a plethora of fascinating titbits, ideas, name dropping …. in one sentence we meet Fantasy  Writer Terry Pratchett and Dutch graphic artist, M C Escher, he of brain twisting geometric graphics.

Having read  the description of his father’s passion for collections, I am un-surprised by the splendid cornucopia offered by the book. After such a childhood one can forecast  a boomerang effect either towards Marie  Kondo-style  Minimalism or further enthusiastic squirreling.  I enjoyed the section so much that I’m giving you a taste of Maison Latham during ML’s childhood:

            My father was an extreme case as a collector  ….  He gathered up from London street markets and wartime souks not only thousands of books and coins but prints, fifteen or so walking sticks (he never used one) …. many toasters, a knobkerrie, an umbrella-stand full of spears, a Zulu shield of hide which groaned when a storm was coming  …. A sextant (he never sailed), scores of old tools, sash weights, three hand-operated drills (he never used an electric one), different grades of chain, an early intercom, two or three Smurf petrol tokens, and all sorts of promotional key rings, a few Roman toga brooches, the hand of an ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhmet … Hittite cylinder seals, both real and forged, an entire run of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, rescued from a skip outside the Society’s offices in Adam and Eve Mews, a rifle, a Luger pistol, a green glass ball to repel witches, a hand grenade with the pin in, a whole cupboard of clocks and watches he was gradually repairing, a wooden box full of cigarette cards, a magic lantern which smokes when in use, with eerie glass slides … a gilt set of stairs (only two feet high ) from his Aleppo war service, hundreds of years old ….a four-foot Aboriginal boomerang, two seventeenth-century Persian vases …. Two human skulls … hundreds of fossils, a Tsarist-era display box of gemstones, with inscriptions in Russian  ….

And these are merely extracts from the bulging list! I was enchanted, and simultaneously glad I wasn’t the cleaner at Maison Latham. By the way, I think ML falls into the squirrel category.

I loved his final chapter titled  ‘Bookshops’ which  seem to be owned and staffed by any number of wonderfully eccentric people, and patronised by the entire Who’s Who of contemporary culture. On the strength of this chapter alone, I am plotting to steal the book from Koeberg Library, but common sense tells me that its not worth incurring a lifetime ban from the Cape Town Public Library system.

Without doubt ML’s Bookseller’s Tale would be #2 on my list of essential Desert Island books. 

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