Winding Up the Week #1

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Paula’s end of week recap

This is the first of a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I will look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the night-stand and keep readers abreast of various reading challenges.

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week, or you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter, please drop me a line. I would be delighted to hear from you.

READ AND REVIEWED >

This week I reviewed the novel Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, giving it 4 stars on Goodreads. It is due for publication on 1st March. > Read my thoughts >

I am in the process of writing a critique of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, a debut short story collection released last month by Graywolf Press – so watch out for that appearing soon.

Next up will be The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara, a novel inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza from the seminal documentary Paris is Burning, set in New York during the early 1970s. It is due for release on 1st February.

On my beside-table is George Orwell: A Life in Letters, edited by Peter Hobley Davison, which I tend to dip-into shortly before nodding off. I will post a review at some point, but at my current reading rate of about ten pages per night, it may not be for a while.

HAY FESTIVAL WALES 2018 >

This year I am going to fulfil a life-long ambition when I spend several days at the internationally renowned Hay Festival, which takes place in its Welsh home (affectionately known as “the town of books”) from Thursday 24th May to Sunday 3rd June 2018.

My accommodation was booked several months ago when by some miracle I discovered an available pitch at a lovely glamping site a mere five-minute walk from the festival hub. Prior to this, I had all but given up hope of finding anywhere to stay within a thirty-mile radius of the town – mainly because those attending invariably reserve their rooms in advance from one year (possibly decade) to the next. And who can blame them? Henceforward, I intend to brand my name on this patch of grass!

Last week I became an official Friend of Hay Festival, opting for the double membership so that my partner could also take advantage of benefits like priority booking, discounts, exclusive offers etc. This achieved, I promptly booked Early Bird tickets to hear Margaret Atwood discuss The Handmaid’s Tale with Peter Florence in the Tata Tent. As anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with me will know, I am a huge Atwood fan, so I hardly need mention the smug expression on my face.

Anyhow, when the event starts, please look out for Hay Happenings, my frequent reports from the festival site.

FINALLY >

If you would like to use my Winding Up the Week meme, and/or make use the photo at the top of this page, all I ask is that you give me credit with a link back to Book Jotter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you all a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to an act of concluding something and should not be confused with the popular British ‘wind-up’: an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

Hosted by Paula @ Book Jotter.
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Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime Tag

How many have you read?

3d_books_stacked_picture_166357This is a first!

Brittany, a fellow book critic over at Perfectly Tolerable, has picked me, along with several others, to take part in her book tag.

The 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list, which was compiled by the Amazon Book editors after much debate, was apparently influenced by two objectives: a) that the selection should cover “all stages of life” (hence the inclusion of children’s titles) and b) that it “didn’t feel like homework”.

It is certainly different from other lists of this type in that there are very few ‘heavy’ classics or challenging tomes included. Looking through the titles, I can see immediately that I read several of them many years ago, others more recently. A number of them are currently sitting on my overburdened book shelves (or creaking Kindle) waiting to be read (I have marked these TBR) and, rather embarrassingly, one or two are completely unknown to me (Moneyball and Daring Greatly, for instance). Although, the fact that the list is aimed at US readers may be the reason.

Totting up, I see that my score is a rather disgraceful 19, with a further 12 on standby. This must be remedied during 2018.

100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

It is now my turn to tag the following five bloggers (but please don’t feel obliged to take part if you would rather not):

1) Books Are My Favourite And Best, 2) Books Coffee And Repeat, 3) Curiouser and Curiouser, 4) Excuse My Reading and 5) Vishy’s Blog. Plus anyone else who fancies taking part.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Include a link back to Amazon’s official 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime page.
  2. Tag Perfectly Tolerable, the creator of this meme (to whom I say a big thank-you).
  3. Tag the person who nominated you – that would be me, Book Jotter.
  4. Copy the list of books and indicate which titles you have read.
  5. Tally up your total.
  6. Comment on the post you were tagged in and share your total count.
  7. Tag five new people and comment on one of their posts to let them know.

Voila!

Why not take part yourself? I would love to know how many of these books you have read. Please post below and let me know.

2017 Reading Year in Review

What a wonderfully diverse and gratifying reading year 2017 turned out to be!The Outrun

There seemed to be an unintended theme running through my book choices, namely the two World Wars from a British perspective, ranging from Pat Barker’s superb Noonday (the last volume in her most recent trilogy) and Gerard Woodward’s black-humoured Nourishment, to the late Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness and the extraordinary Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

I tackled several classics and universally treasured works, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That (back, yet again, to the First World War) and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (the bombing of Dresden from a US point of view, would you believe).

My favourite new releases were the bookish mystery novel Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – a story of the Holocaust based on true events (although not strictly due for publication until January 2018).

I opted at the start of the year to read 40 books in Goodreads’ 2017 Reading Challenge – having managed a rather paltry 32 in 2016 – and surpassed the former by 35, which was quite an achievement for one whose perusal engine is snail-powered.

Here is a brief breakdown of noteworthy reads in 2017:

BEST-LOVED:

My overall non-fiction pick of the year has to be The Outrun by the brilliant new author, Amy Liptrot. In fiction it is Cat’s Eye by my favourite living literary hero, Margaret Atwood.

BIGGEST DISAPOINTMENTS:

Bizarre Books – Russell Ash (not that funny) ⭐️

OUTSTANDING READS BY GENRE:

Autobiography/Memoir: The Outrun – Amy Liptrot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Biography: Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography – Boel Westin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Children’s Book: Hortense and the Shadow – Natalia O’Hara ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Historical Fiction: Burial Rites – Hannah Kent ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

History: If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck – Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women – Sarah Helm ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

LGBT: The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Literary Fiction: Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pleasant Surprise: Quarantine – Jim Crace ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Romance: Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Science Fiction: The Power – Naomi Alderman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Short Story: The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Translation: The Vegetarian – Han Kang ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Paula has
completed her goal of reading
40 books in
2017!
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May I take this opportunity to wish all my friends and followers a very happy New Year!

Christmas Book Bonanza 2017

My 2017 Book Booty

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Father Christmas left these beauties under my tree. Did you receive any long-coveted titles in your stocking today? I would love to hear all about your book-related gifts!

Cursory Comments on ‘Cat Person’

A controversial 4,000 word tale by Kristen Roupenian appeared in The New Yorker

Cat PersonCat Person by Kristen Roupenian

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is currently causing a great deal of online chatter about fattism and bad sex. I read it to see what all the fuss was about. All I can say is that it’s a well crafted story with competently-drawn, entirely believable characters – and it kept me reading until the end. If it shocks, disturbs, annoys or amuses, then it has probably achieved what it set out to do.

Read the story here. Genius or drivel? Essay or fiction? What are your thoughts?

View all my Goodreads’ reviews

Book Review: House of Fiction: From Pemberley to Brideshead, Great British Houses in Literature and Life

by Phyllis Richardson

Phyllis Richardson is the author of several books on architecture and design, and in this, her latest compendium, she writes knowledgeably about the great fictional British houses we have come to know intimately over the last four hundred or so years. She also scrutinizes the actual bricks and mortar structures that inspired many well-known novelists to create their most memorable stories.

What do people’s homes (grand or otherwise) say about their characters, wealth and standing in society? Writers have repeatedly posed these questions in their works of fiction, and their observations have rarely failed to engage the reader’s imagination.

Richardson highlights the layout, location and other more intimate aspects of these houses in some detail – no dingy niche, winding staircase or flying buttress is left unexamined. She is particularly good on the dwellings behind Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Her chapter on Charles Dickens rediscovering Gad’s Hill Place while on the road to Rochester, and gloomy Satis House, the Gothic pile he dreamt up for Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is exceptionally good. Facts such as Virginia Woolf basing Orlando on Vita Sackville-West and her family’s great Tudor home, Knole, were well-known to me, while others, like Thomas Hardy designing his own writer’s residence, less so.

Some chronicles are inevitably more interesting than others (your favourites are likely to be determined by your taste in reading), and I found myself skimming over certain architectural details. There are, however, fascinating descriptions of Groby Hall, the inspiration behind Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End; Menabilly, Daphne du Maurier’s beloved home, on which Manderley from Rebecca was based; and the numerous settings used by Agatha Christie in her popular crime fiction novels. In fact, there is plenty here to interest most, if not all, lovers of literature.

Houses of Fiction can be perused at leisure or read in several sittings. Either way, it is entertaining, often witty and well worth your time.

NB This book was funded directly by readers through the website Unbound.

Many thanks to Unbound for supplying an advance review copy of this title.

Book Review: The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies

by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin

You know you’ve morphed into a literoholic when you start reading books about books – and having just finished The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, I must also confess to being something of a literary valetudinarian.

This informative handbook should, I suppose, be dipped-into rather than binged upon (as I did), but unlike your more typical medical encyclopedia, it is entertaining as well as informative, and is therefore likely to absorb you into the early hours of the morning.

The authors claim to have a cure for ailments ranging from existential angst and egotism to PMT, baldness and obesity. For instance, claustrophobics are advised to read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; those in the throes of man flu are lead gently to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables; and a good dose of Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel is said to be just the thing for facing your demons.

The Novel Cure will not only increase your reading list tenfold but will have you reaching for old favourites. It would make the perfect gift for a fiction-loving friend and will no doubt be passed around until it is completely dog-eared and itself in need of some TLC.