Pattern seeking

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Every so often I put up a post drawing together themes, or characters, or places. As we approach a turning point in the year — in this case, the end of 2019 — it is tempting to start a summative series of posts. But I shall resist that impulse, reserving such an approach for December.

This time I shall merely attempt to summarise what the last few books I’ve read have, or indeed don’t have, in common. Why? Because, like all of us, I am a pattern-seeking animal and like to check that life isn’t just a random sequence of events, with no meaning or significance at all.

Or so I’d like to believe!

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Bibliovore

The briefest of brief updates, but first — an apology.

I’m sorry to be behind in reading and commenting on others’ blogs — mainly for good reasons, but I hate to neglect writers and artists I follow: in a week or three I hope I may have started to catch up. The reasons?

  1. It’s the summer.
  2. It’s the Go-Away-I’m-Reading state of mind.
  3. I have grandparent duties.
  4. I’m trying — and mostly failing — to complete the titles in my official 20 Books of Summer list before the start of September.
  5. I’m mostly on Twitter doing a The Wolves of Willoughby Chase readalong called #WilloughbyReads.
  6. I’m reading. Mostly titles not on my 20 Books of Summer list.
  7. I’m composing posts for another blog and for an event in … autumn.

Anything else? Oh yes, I’m scrolling through past reviews to repost because I’m too busy to compose new ones.

I think that just about covers it. Sorry.

Summer sizzlers

Courtesy of blogger Cathy Brown of 746Books.com I’m planning to join in the meme of Twenty Books of Summer. All this requires is for me to draw up a list of books to read between the start of June and early September, but with the option of changing titles, the number of books read or, indeed, the period of reading: my kind of challenge in fact, infinitely malleable!

Here now is my chance to tackle and reduce my list of Classics Club titles, to read the Roddy Doyle novel I won in Cathy’s Begorrathon this year, and to finish The Deptford Trilogy for Lory’s Robertson Davies Reading Week.

The theory is that, having completed over thirty titles in the first four months of this year I can at least manage twenty in this coming three-month period, but that would require judicious choices: books that aren’t too long, for example.

So herewith is my initial pick of twenty titles to complete by summer’s end.

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Close encounters

We’ve not long passed May Day, the waymarker for the second third of the year. I thought I’d just do a little crystal-gazing and a quick retrospective in the lull between reviewing one book and the next.

First, the scrying. May being Wyrd & Wonder month, with a focus on fantasy, I’m firming up what I’d like to read over the thirty days. In the photo above, going left to right, you can see my final (?!) choices for High Fantasy, Low Fantasy and Grimdark, and below these, Urban Fantasy, Portal Fantasy and my take on Fairytale.

Still to be decided are Magic Realism and Myth, but I have a shortlist for both; and which titles will emerge will be as much a surprise for me as it will be for you. Will they be as mainstream as the others or rather more obscure?

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Interlace

As I’ve previously posted here April has so far proved to have been a Month of Random Reading, positioned as it is between a March of Readathons and a May of Fantasy.

But, as is the way of things, my choice of reading has unwittingly pointed me in the direction of books that bear some relationships with each other, however slight. Those relationships have reminded me quite a bit of the art of interlace.

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The meming of things

“Your face when…” (image: writerspace.com)

If you read my posts on a regular basis you will know this face applies to me. It’s fairly likely it applies to you too. The possibility that anybody who is a bibliophile — a bibliomane, even — recognises this reaction is high. That’s the power of the meme.

Memes might seem a new thing but they’ve been around a long time, certainly long before Richard Dawkins defined them in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a unit of cultural information, one spread by imitation and, like genes, subject to evolution and mutation.

So when I recently had a till receipt from a Waterstone’s bookshop I was quite taken by the meme included on the print out.

They say money can’t buy happiness, but I have a receipt from the bookstore telling a whole different story.

As with many memes, the ultimate genesis of which it’s almost impossible to identify, I wasn’t able to find a quoted source, but from the use of the term ‘bookstore’ I’m assuming it’ll be North American. But I liked its quiet wit: not only can buying books be a fountainhead of pleasure, but the notion that even a bookshop receipt is able to tell a story gave rise to a small smile.

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Hibernian readings

Irish landscape (image credit: WordPress Free Photo Library)

I’ve never consciously sought out novels related to Ireland, whether set in that country and/or written by native-born Irish writers. But then I’d never consciously not sought them out. So, bearing in mind that I’ve committed to reading at least a couple of pieces of Irish fiction this March for Reading Ireland Month I wondered what books I’d already read (and, crucially, reviewed) and which could comfortably fit into this category.

What follows, in no particular order, is a not at all exhaustive list of what I could identify as Irish, according to the previous criteria, in reviews posted to this blog. I know some writers could be seen as second generation Irish writers (eg the Brontë siblings, whose Irish father changed his surname from Brunty and who all reportedly retained a distinctively Irish inflection throughout their lives) but I’ve excluded these from my very short list.

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A wistful longing

Robert Macfarlane: The Gifts of Reading
Penguin Books 2017 (2016)

This short essay — just 34 pages of text in A6 format — is a paean or hymn to reading, giving, and books. In fact, one book in particular which he was given as a present, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. Macfarlane then uses this as a springboard to discourse on what moves him: teaching, talking and travelling, companionship, landscape and nature.

I can’t begin to grasp or comprehend all that the author has read, visited or achieved but there is no doubting that the writer of last year’s unexpected bestseller The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris) is someone who lives life to the full and exults in all he puts his mind to. In describing Leigh Fermor’s book he describes it thus:

I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles. It rang with what in German is called Sehnsucht: a yearning or wistful longing for the unknown and the mysterious. It made me want to stand up and march out — to walk into adventure.

It’s clear that he finds so much of what he comes across in his reading as inspiring. He’s not without humour; he declares that “not all books received as gifts are transformative, of course. Sometimes the only thing a book gives its reader is a paper cut.” But from being given books that expand both his mind and his horizons he makes it his habit to do the same, in the hopes that recipients will likewise find inspiration.

The back cover of this slim booklet tells us that all proceeds from its sale are donated to Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The charity’s mission is designed to provide desperately-needed search and rescue services to people attempting dangerous sea crossings while fleeing violence, poverty and persecution. Such migrants are travellers who don’t have the liberty to journey for leisure or pleasure. The purchase of this publication may therefore in some small way help a few of those who are in most desperate need of aid, one of the many ways in which reading can prove to be a gift.

I Spy

My attention was drawn to a post which that wonderful literary gourmet Helen at She Reads Novels put up in June. In it she highlighted an I-Spy challenge that had been doing the rounds of the blogosphere and which rather appealed to me too. She limited her choice to historical titles, however, while I shall be looking at the whole gamut of my shelves, non-fiction as well as fiction. Here’s the challenge:

Find a book that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want . . .

Thus it was that I set out to waste spend a few precious moments minutes wildly carefully honing my choices for your possible delight. In a couple of cases I really did have problems fitting title to category, so I certainly had to exercise my spindly creative muscles…

See what you think.

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A little of what you fancy

A midsummer sunset, from a garden

To the Reader, confused at my Inconstancy

Here we are, at the start of the second part of the calendrical year (no fanfare as far as I’m aware). I’m not one to boast but I offer this post as both apology and excuse in the spirit of glasnost: I’m not being contraire — I really do care that of late I’ve been remiss (had a lot on my plate) in missing your posts. Note, I’m not really a ghost follower

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Degrees of separation

Do you find that, mysteriously, the books you have recently been reading are somehow linked, one to another? I’ve noted this before, but was reminded of it by Helen of She Reads Novels when she drew attention to the Six Degrees of Separation Meme hosted by https://booksaremyfavoriteandbest.wordpress.com

How does this meme work when applied to books?

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

Well, without officially signing up to this exercise I thought it would be interesting to see how that might apply to books I’ve read and reviewed in the past few months, and then see where that got me. So here goes.

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How to spot a reader

The surefire way to identify an eager beaver young reader is to listen to them.

How do they pronounce the words they’ve seen in print but never heard?

Do they — as I remember being sniggered at for doing — say “causal” instead of casual? Does that understandably precocious child pronounce “foregin” in place of that odd-looking word foreign? And — as I heard an adult enunciate when expanding his horizons into less mundane topics — does “esoteric”sometimes emerge (by analogy with “expectorate” perhaps — with the stress on the second syllable?

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Last of the summer.* Sigh.

Looking up from square in Aix en Provence

A change is as good as a rest, they say, and in my case the rest and the change coincided. Eurostar took us all the way to Marseille, and a week exploring the historic and cultural heart of Aix-en-Provence — when we weren’t swimming in an hotel spa pool in the late summer sunshine — has recharged mental and physical batteries in just the way we hoped.

And now it’s back to more mental stimulation as the third Crickhowell Literary Festival kicks off. Details of what’s on offer this week is on the website here and I’ll no doubt summarise in time what I will have attended in my capacity as steward or as punter. As I look back at the month I see that I’ve been more busy on the literary front than I thought.

Continue reading “Last of the summer.* Sigh.”