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#1976Club – what a reading week that was – and what’s up next???

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Well, phew! as I always say – what a wonderful week of reading we’ve had!

It’s been absolutely fascinating seeing what everyone’s been reading from 1976 and there’s been such an interesting range of books – many of which I hadn’t heard of before! I have a dedicated page on my blog for linking to posts, so do leave a comment here or there if I’ve missed your post (and Simon has a post on his blog for you to do likewise).

Personally, I’ve had some wonderful reading experiences this week and am very happy with the five titles I read:

What I read for 1976!

Some were re-reads, some were new titles and all were fascinating! Inevitably, I ran out of time and there were a number of possibilities I failed to get to. These are some of the books I didn’t get to read, and I particularly regret the Margaret Atwood as I was looking forward to it – but my head just wasn’t in the right place…

The ones which got away…

I’d also considered reading the Balllard short stories from 1976, but that wasn’t to be either. But I am reminded that I have the complete stories and really should get back to them soon!

As for our next club – well, Simon and I put our heads together over the weekend, and after having 1936 followed by 1976 we thought we would go for something mid-century. So the next club will be (drum roll)…

A quick glance online reveals some really interesting titles for the year, and I’m already mentally gathering piles of possible reads. So mark the dates in your diary, and do join us in six months time for the #1954Club! 😀

#1976Club: “The night turns long when love sours” – a poignant re-read of Richard Brautigan

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My final read for the #1976Club is not the book I intended, but then I often find my reading life goes like that! I had planned to revisit the wonderful Margaret Atwood, with her novel “Lady Oracle”, a title I haven’t read for decades and can recall nothing about really! However, when it came to it, my mood wasn’t right and I couldn’t engage. Then I discovered that I had got my dates wrong regarding Richard Brautigan and his 1976 title was in fact one of my favourites, “Sombrero Fallout”… So I made a last minute switch, and I’m so glad I did because this was the perfect book for me to round off the week! 😀

The opening sentences of the book have always hooked me straight away:

“A sombrero fell out of the sky and landed on the Main Street of town in front of the Mayor, his cousin and a person out of work. The day was scrubbed clean by the desert air. The sky was blue. It was the blue of human eyes, waiting for something to happen. There was no reason for a sombrero to fall out of the sky. No airplane or helicopter was passing overhead and it was not a religious holiday.”

That paragraph is the start of a story being written by an American humourist. However, the man is in the middle of an emotional trauma as his Japanese girlfriend has left him after two years together. Falling apart and unable to cope, he tears up his work and throws it into the waste paper basket. He will go on to try to make it through the night alone and abandoned; and in a parallel storyline Yukiko, his ex-lover, will sleep and dream, calm and happy with only her cat for company. However, the story of the sombrero refuses to be abandoned, and while the writer and Yukiko are getting on with their lives, the tale of the town with the sombrero continues to develop in the waste bin. What seems a simple but inexplicable event – a sombrero which falls from the sky – causes all kinds of issues; the the three men standing around when it lands fall out over the hat; the local people become enraged by the situation; the police are sent to break up the gathering around the sombrero but don’t make it there… As the situation deteriorates, the Army is sent in to deal with the rioting townspeople, and Normal Mailer arrives to report on the conflict (“It was Hell” he says!) Unaware of all this, the writer mourns his lost love, and Yukiko sleeps on…

This man was so complicated that he could make a labyrinth look like a straight line. In the beginning she found it attractive because she was very intelligent. By the time it began to bother her, it was too late: She was in love with him and as things got worse she fell deeper and deeper in love with him.
She wasn’t a masochist either.
It just went that way.

Re-reading this book was always likely to be a treat, and I’m happy that I wasn’t disappointed on my revisit. Brautigan’s books often have a fable-like quality, and certainly the events of the waste basket are a little unusual. Why *should* a sombrero trigger such a major conflict? Why does its temperature changes cause the local people to turn to extreme behaviour? And will any of this ever be resolved? Meanwhile, it’s hard not to see the American humourist as a mocking self-portrait of Brautigan himself. The unnamed writer is a bit of a loser; impractical, awkward in company, he has the advantage of being good in bed which is one reason Yukiko stays with him as long as she does. Watching him flail around his apartment during the night, trying to decide if he should eat something, and then having another emotional collapse when he discovers a hair of Yukiko’s on the floor, you feel a mixture of sympathy and irritation, wanting him to put himself together. Frankly, it’s clear that he’s lucky the woman put up with him for so long.

He never lacked things to worry about. They followed him around like millions of trained white mice and he was their master. If he taught all his worries to sing, they would have made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sound like a potato.

The mixture of humour in the sombrero strand and pathos in the author strand makes for a perhaps unusual, but very effective, read. There are some real laughs in the waste basket, and that particular element is wonderful fun. I have to say, though, that my response to the author strand was tempered on this reading by what I now know about Richard Brautigan. I think he’s a bit of a genius, a real one-off, but he did have a troubled personal life. An alcoholic through his adult life, he went through a number of marriages and relationships, ironically marrying a Japanese woman, Akiko Yoshimura, at the end of 1977. They were together for a couple of years, apparently divorcing in 1980. It’s almost as if, knowing himself, he wrote into the book what he expected to happen. Brautigan killed himself in 1984. So reading the story now through the lens of Brautigan’s life gives it an added poignancy.

My Brautigan Picador editions

The sadness aside, re-visiting “Sombrero Fallout” was so entertaining, and a wonderful way for me to round off the #1976Club. I’ve written about Richard Brautigan before on the Ramblings, and he’s a long-term favourite, but I don’t think I’ve picked up this particular title for a couple of decades, when I last had a chronological re-read of his works. This is a quirky, funny, sad, clever and unforgettable little book and given the time I could happy sit down and read his books from the first to the last. If you’ve never read him, I really do recommend you give him a go!

#1976Club – time from a little poetry from a prose master! #borges

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I’ve written quite a bit about Borges lately, exploring books by and about him; and for the 1944 Club club I was able to read his “Ficciones”, which was a great joy. So when we decided on 1976 I had a look to see if there were any works by the great man from that year, and although there was no fiction I could find, he did publish a poetry collection called “The Iron Coin”. Now, I’ve read plenty of Borges’ prose but none of his poetry as far as I can recall, so this seemed an ideal book to explore for the club. Unfortunately, I don’t have the full collection, but I do have a book of his “Selected Poems” which does feature some from “Iron…” so I figured I would take a look at these to see what Borges poetry is actually like.

The anthology I own is a dual language one, and it contains eleven poems from “The Iron Coin”, plus Borges’ prologue; this in itself is fascinating reading with any number of provoking comments jumping out at the reader:

The steely music of the Saxon language is no less agreeable than the delicate musings of the Symbolists. Each subject, however, occasional or thin, imposes on us its own aesthetic. Each word, though weighed down by the centuries, opens up a blank page and posits the future.

The actual verses themselves are rendered by a variety of translators (indicated by initials) and range over history, authors, composers and Borges’ father, amongst other, and are short but beautifully written. I guess these were all dictated to one of his various amanuensi, and there are some really affecting lines in the works. A few quotes might give you a flavour of what I’m talking about:

The sea was always his. By the time his eyes
First took in the great waters of the high seas
He had already longed for and possessed it
On that other ocean, which is Writing.
(from “Herman Melville”)

I have committed the worst sin of all
That a man can commit. I have not been
Happy. Let the glaciers of oblivion
Drag me and mercilessly let me fall.
(from “Remorse”)

“You are Not the Others” is also a powerful piece of work but you need to read the whole poem so I encourage you to search it out! 😀

Via Wikimedia Commons

Borges’ poetry is the kind I respond well to, with an immediacy and also with beautiful imagery and wordplay. Having read this selection from “The Iron Coin” I’m now not only keen to dip into more of my selected volume, but also wonder if the individual collections are available in full. Certainly Borges was an amazing wordsmith who could turn his talents to all forms of writing and reading these poems has been one of the pleasures of the #1976Club! 😀

#1976Club: “I am ideally happy” – exploring more of Nabokov’s short stories

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Well, I’m definitely on a roll this week with books from my stacks! Another author I’m always looking for an excuse to read is Vladimir Nabokov; and for our last club in April (1936) I managed to find three stories by the great man from that year. 1976 is much later in his career, but I discovered that in that year a collection of his earlier stories was released. The book is called “Details of A Sunset and Other Stories”, and it gathers together thirteen of his short works, all written in Russian between 1924 and 1935. At the time, Nabokov was living in Berlin, Paris and Riga as an expat, and the stories were published individually in various emigre publications. Later, the stories were translated into English by the author and his son, Dmitri, and published in this collection in 1976. Although I don’t have that volume, I *do* have his Collected Stories so I was able to read the individual stories in the order he collected them – and it was, as usual, pure joy to interact with his wonderful prose.

In case you have the same Collected edition as me, the stories from “Details…” are these:

“Details of a Sunset”
“A Bad Day”
“Orache”
“The Return of Chorb”
“The Passenger”
“A Letter that Never Reached Russia”
“A Guide to Berlin”
“The Doorbell”
“The Thunderstorm”
“The Reunion”
“A Slice of Life”
“Christmas”
“A Busy Man”

I’ve commented before on Nabokov’s prose, and indeed he’s considered one of the last century’s major literary stylists; and I find that the writing on display in his short stories often takes the breath away. The ones featured in this volume are no exception, and the settings range from the emigre cities to his homeland of Russia, with several taking the reader back in time or exploring the fates and emotions of those in exile. There are glimpses of emigre life, with all its hardships, and nostalgic looks back to life in Russia pre-revolution, for example in “A Bad Day”, where the protagonist struggles to fit in with other young people at a birthday party. “The Doorbell” tells of the reuniting of a mother and son in Berlin which leads to disillusion for both; similarly, “The Reunion” finds two brothers meeting after a huge gap and finding themselves on different sides of the political divide and with nothing in common.

It is night. At night one perceives with a special intensity the immobility of objects – the lamp, the furniture, the framed photographs on one’s desk. Now and then the water gulps and gurgles in its hidden pipes as if sobs were rising to the throat of the house. At night I go out for a stroll. Reflections of streetlamps trickle across the damp Berlin asphalt whose surface resembles a film of black grease with puddles nesting in its wrinkles. Here and there a garnet-red light glows over a fire-alarm box. A glass column, full of liquid yellow light, stands at the streetcar stop…

Other stories veer off into different territory, with Nabokov exploring multiple layers and meanings. The title story is a tour-de-force where a young man, Mark Standfuss, is abandoned by his fiance and meets his fate without even knowing what has happened to him, all filled with allusions to colours, giving it an almost painterly feel. “A Slice of Life” and “The Return of Chorb” both concern lost loves and the different ways people deal with that loss. “Christmas” deals with a different kind of loss, that of a son, with the father attempting to come to terms with his grief on Christmas eve. And “The Busy Man” is a kind of fable which almost made me think of the work of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, where the protagonist, Grafitski, has convinced himself that a prediction of his death is true and then wastes his life making preparations to try to avoid the prediction coming to pass.

The horse-drawn tram has vanished, and so will the trolley, and some eccentric Berlin writer in the twenties of the twenty-first century , wishing to portray our time, will go to a museum of technological history and locate a hundred-year-old streetcar, yellow, uncouth, with old-fashioned curved seats, and in a museum of old costumes dig up a black, shiny-buttoned conductor’s uniform.

By Walter Mori (Mondadori Publishers) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The stories in themselves are inventive, clever and unforgettable, but it’s Nabokov’s style which often lifts them above the norm. His prose is precise, beautifully constructed and conjures his settings and characters quite brilliantly. Witty, clever and atmospheric, these are tales which linger in the mind, leaving you wondering about the protagonists, their lives before and after the events related, and their eventual fates. Many of the stories were from the start of Nabokov’s writing career and demonstrate just how much he’d defined his style at that early time. He really was a marvellous writer, and I’m so glad the #1976Club gave me the chance to read more of his short stories! 😀

#1976Club – a guest post considers some classic horror!

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As is now a tradition, Mr. Kaggsy has volunteered to provide a guest post for our club reading week, and he’s providing one of his long-form looks at a book I would probably never want to go near – The Omen, by David Seltzer.

Hardback Arthur Baker 1976, UK (without “The”); paperback Futura 1976, UK.

Probably most people have heard of the “Omen” movie, or novel, or both; the franchise also gave rise to a host (no pun intended) of ‘sequels’, which can be ignored for the purposes of this review. The original paperback details stated (punctuation as written): “One night in Rome Robert Thorn, American diplomat, exchanges his still-born son for a new-born orphan. Only Thorn and the priest who arranged the unofficial adoption could tell the difference. Kathy and Robert Thorn called the child Damien. Five years later in England Damien’s Nanny dies tragically … a ferocious black dog and an officious new Nanny mysteriously appear, to guard the child … Kathy Thorn is badly hurt in a fall and a wild-eyed priest tells Thorn that Damien is the spawn of the devil. In an agonizing and frenzied search that takes him to Rome, Jerusalem and back to London, Robert Thorn begins to unravel the horrible truth A powerful, spell-binding story of a child who is not a child and a man who must become less than a father and more than a man.”

Briefly on the subject of the movie, the child Damien was played by Harvey Stephens, then aged five; he would reappear, thirty years older, in a lower-rated 2006 version under the same title. The 1976 original starred Gregory Peck (with royalties, by far the highest paid performance of his career), Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton and several other well-known actors. The production and cast became reportedly ‘cursed’, owing to a spate of misfortunes. This did not hurt the film’s reputation and the 666 “number of the beast” phenomenon entered popular culture as a result of high box office figures and publicity. The essence of the plot was to leave open whether the boy was truly evil, with supernatural forces in play, or whether his father was becoming increasingly unbalanced. Equally it could be argued that events manage to dispose of certain ‘enemies’, without the boy necessarily ‘commissioning’ their deaths. On that note, no major spoilers will be given here on in, as to the movie or the book, both script and ensuing novelisation being by David Seltzer, who also wrote the 2006 remake script and novelisation.

The 1976 book was penned after the first film production. Seltzer reported being asked to write a story similar to “The Exorcist” (1973), a movie he had seen. He also admitted to having done work with scholars on the Book of Revelation and amassing political knowledge for a documentary on JFK. However, he expressed having no belief in the supernatural, merely setting out to produce a tale of evil goings-on, in effect a hellish fantasy. Other writers had trodden a similar path: Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1967; movie 1968) and the aforementioned “The Exorcist” (William Peter Blatty, 1971). However, Seltzer’s concoction was not to be directly about demonic possession, more a scary piece of fiction relying on building a sense of dread. Thus the central character Robert Thorn is presented as an American ambassador, as such a well-rounded figure, knowledgeable in worldly matters and supposedly resistant to fancy. However, Seltzer paints him as “an instinctive speculator”, his early in-flight musings showing his fertile mind willing to explore metaphysical possibilities:

At any given moment there are over a hundred thousand people in airplanes in the sky. It was the kind of statistic that intrigued Thorn, and as he read it in the skyliner magazine he instantly cleaved the human population between those on the earth and those in the air… What the statistic meant was, that if suddenly the earthbound population were to be annihilated, there would be over a hundred thousand of them left aloft, sipping martinis and watching movies, unaware that all had been lost.

Thorn is on his way to join his wife Kathy in Rome, she being about to deliver a child, having so far been unable to carry a pregnancy to term. Although a birth occurs, the new arrival does not survive for long, Thorn’s visit becoming one of support and sadness, particularly as Kathy will be unable to bear a child again. Their lifelong partnership and strong desire to be parents influences Thorn’s mind when he learns of a foundling in the hospital needing a family. And so Seltzer sets the scene of a mystery infant being ‘adopted’ by the bereaved couple and taken out of the country with no questions asked. The diplomat is posted, with his wife and new child, to London and given a historical country residence with staff.

Paperback Signet 1976, US; Editions J’ai Lu 1977, France.

By the time Damien, so-named by his parents, reaches his fourth birthday, a party is arranged and some interested press representatives attend. One inquisitive paparazzo is curious about the boy and begins a personal campaign to discover any family secrets. His inkling introduces the theme of all being possibly not what it seems, a state of mind which will gradually infect Thorn as well. At the party a horrific fate befalls a staff member, witnessed by all, and in due course an unexpected nanny arrives to look after the child, at a time when his parents are busy with international duties. The apparent mental imbalance of the recently deceased person might also be seen as a convenient occurrence, allowing the ‘replacement’ to take up her position; more such coincidences will follow.

A rivalry between mother and nanny begins to develop and the boy seems to be more fond of the new woman’s company. At a later point, Damien is taken for a walk in the nearby woods by his carer and at night Thorn believes he can see two lights like eyes among the trees. These could belong to a fearsome dog which it becomes known is owned by the nanny. Kathy herself is from Russian immigrant parentage, her father having killed himself, and she feels neglected, helpless, while her son does not give her maternal joy and her husband is a pressured diplomat. Presently there is a funeral, giving rise to a dramatic incident with the young boy being terrified by a church. In another more normal setting, swans on a pond being fed appear to swim away when he approaches. Against a background of relations deteriorating with the nanny, Thorn suffering guilt about his original dark deed with the baby in Rome, and the increasing interest of the press photographer, the pace of the story builds. A new figure might be about to reveal the sinful birth circumstances, while the photographer’s prints seem to show a mysterious blemish above Damien.

Paperback Futura 1978, UK; movie poster 1976.

Thorn has to travel to the Middle East and in an unoccupied moment reads a bible, learning of a “contemptible one” who will steal the Earth and bring universal conflict. The brief interlude introduces biblical prophecies, although Thorn’s own visions and nightmares might be a product of his troubled mind. Nevertheless, events build up, with manifestations of warnings and possibly connected grisly deaths. As an aside, a scene of Damien on a wheeled toy moving quickly towards Kathy balancing on a stool is a memorable sequence in the movie.

A birthmark on the child may reveal a demonic link. Possibly his time of entry into the world and planetary alignment at that point may be revelatory, or no more than simple astrology and coincidence. Thorn’s further religious researching, a biblical storm, a pack of ferocious dogs, all seemingly point to satanic prophecies. Secret writings, an excavation in Israel and a hidden city of caverns, suggest hallowed ground. The Good versus Evil aspect extends to Thorn’s own perceived predicament, whether he should – or even could – kill his ‘child’, especially if his fears are in his imagination. Either way, events build inexorably to a climax.

Nowadays it is said that “things were different in the Seventies”. Back then strong demonic, psychic or religious horror was a growing phenomenon in the cinema, the era starting off with “The Devils” (1971), or the abovementioned “The Exorcist” (1973), and stretching towards the end with more mainstream “The Sentinel” (1977) and “The Fury” (1978), along with more “Omen” offerings. Seltzer’s story poses the question whether the child whom Thorn took as his own could actually be the Antichrist, the Devil’s own son. Ultimately the book, at under 200 pages, could have been more absorbing and intellectually stimulating, had it been longer, perhaps allowing the suspense to build Hitchcock-style. Of course the book was simply a novelisation, a movie tie-in, but the story and events could have created a classic horror novel.

Phew – thanks (I think!) Mr. K. – I shall probably have nightmares now…

#1976Club – “…the essence of self is words…” #williamsburroughs

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It’s become a tradition of mine during our club reading weeks to not only pull books from the mountainous TBR, but also try to read a variety of different kinds of work. So far this week I’ve focused on classic crime and highlighted some previous reads from 1976. Today is the turn of an author I read a lot of in my youth but who’s only featured a little on the Ramblings – William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs is best known as one of the triumvirate of American Beat authors, along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. A scion of the wealthy Burroughs adding machine family, he was a writer, visual artist and drug addict who’s now regarded as a major postmodern author. His works are often complex, and he helped popularise the cut-up technique which went on to be widely used, most notably by David Bowie. Burroughs was a controversial figure for many reasons: his sexuality, his drugs use, his killing of his wife in a shooting accident, and the extreme imagery in his writing. Yet as I commented on my review of his Penguin Modern, he can be “readable, entertaining, often funny and sometimes moving”. I haven’t read any of his heavier titles for decades, but I thought I would check to see if there were any of his writings available from 1976, and indeed there were.

The seventies for Burroughs were a strange time; hunkered down in his New York dwelling, ‘The Bunker’, he produced a number of experimental pieces, and I found two of these from 1976 hidden away in a collection I have called “The Burroughs File”. The works are “The Retreat Diaries” and “Cobble Stone Gardens” and so I figured the #1976Club would be a good time to reacquaint myself with Burroughs in provocative mode…

If I’m truly honest, these are not Burroughs at his easiest. “Retreat…” draws on a dream diary kept by the author when on a Buddhist retreat. By neccessity it’s a fragmentary work, filled with the strangeness and incoherence of half-remembered images that haunt the mind when asleep. Often beautiful sentences and phrases jump out, but there’s no single coherent narrative (although it *is* clear that Burroughs doesn’t agree that a Buddhist can make a good novelist, as he obviously intends to follow his muse whenever it appears, regardless of the strictures of the retreat!) In constrat, “Cobble Stone Gardens” (which is dedicated to the memory of the author’s parents) is much closer to Burrough’s more challenging works. Often scatalogical, full of startling and sexual imagery, it’s not for the faint hearted; yet, as with his other writings, there’ll be a sudden sentence or phrase which will jump out at you and stick in the mind. Part of the book seems to be fragmentary memories of his childhood, and I believe the original edition came with some very odd photographic illustrations…

Burroughs in 1983 – Chuck Patch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Both of these pieces originally appeared in small publications, and were gathered with a number of others in “The Burroughs File”, along with some reproductions of scrapbook entries plus commentary by James Grauerholz, Burroughs’ companion and amanuensis. The whole collection is worthy of exploration, giving a fascinating insight into the mind of a true maverick, a one-off writer who can be challenging and rewarding to read. His influence is wider than you might expect (as my review of “Mentored by A Madman” by Andrew Lees makes clear); and if you like a little challenge in your reading I can recommend him (although this is not necessarily the best place to begin). I’m really glad that 1976 has taken me in the direction of reading some Burroughs – a reminder of my reading roots and also of the need to not always take the easy reading option!

#1976club – focusing on some previous reads!

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As is usual during our Reading Weeks, I always like to focus on volumes I’ve read in the past – either pre-blog or during the life of the Ramblings. Although I’m sure there are more than these few which I’ve encountered before, above are a few titles.

“To Loud A Solitude” by Bohumil Hrabal was a dark story I read back in 2018,and I found much of value in it, despite the harsh treatment of books, commenting “There are probably many allusions I missed and commentary on the state of Prague or living under Soviet rule that I didn’t pick up on, but that didn’t detract from the sheer impact of the storytelling or the dramatic, if perhaps inevitable, ending… Reading a book about the destruction of books and the written word is perhaps an odd choice for someone like me who loves them both; but we should never forget how fragile and vulnerable books are, yet how important they can be as weapons against tyranny, and how we need to protect them.” Still agree with that…

 

Sasha Sokolov’s “A School for Fools” was a book I encountered back in 2016. It’s not always an easy read, but a fascinating one. I said at the time “I’d be lying if I said “A School for Fools” was a light or easy read, because it isn’t. It’s a complex, brilliantly structured exploration of any number of themes, and I think best read in as few sessions as possible. I spent a couple of days in its company and absolutely loved it, despite its intricacies. Sokolov has created a way of writing and a world of his own, a pair of remarkably unreliable narrators and a portrait of life on the margins in Soviet society – a gripping and essential book.”

Finally, there’s “Definitely Maybe” by the remarkable Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which I loved to bits in 2014. It was my first encounter with their work, a wonderfully clever mix of science fiction and quite obvious Soviet satire of which I remarked, “How this book got published is something of a miracle, as the analogies do seem to stare the reader in the face. The crushing weight of both Nature and the Soviet state are obvious, but it is the human condition that is so tragically portrayed – the decisions that have to be made in extreme circumstances and the effect they have on the human psyche.” 

As for pre-blog reads, I do have some titles which have lurked in the stacks for decades….

The Solzhenitsyns were both purchased in the 1970s, in fact possibly 1976; I was having a huge phase of reading his work at the time, and I still rate him after all these years. “Lenin in Zurich”, a fragment from a larger work, was one of my favourites… As for Virginia, “Moments of Being” was acquire during my first phase of reading her in the early 1980s. I had to have everything I could find by her, and one day will do a complete re-read!

There are of course other books I’ve read from 1976 – two titles which spring to mind are “A Stitch in Time” by Penelope Lively and “Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice, both of which I think may still be in the house somewhere – in fact, I wouldn’t have minded re-reading either of these too, had I been able to dig them out, but it was not to be…

Anyway, those are some of my previous reads from 1976 – what titles have you read from the year, and are you planning to revisit any of them??? ;D

Miss Marple delves into the past to launch the #1976club! :D

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It’s always a joy to find that one of our club weeks is a year which contains some Agatha Christie titles (and she had such a long writing career that it’s often the case!). I’m a lifelong lover of her books, and so frankly any excuse for a revisit suits me. 1976 is a particularly poignant year, however, as Christie had sadly died in the January; and so the posthumous release of “Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Final Case” was something of an occasion. I still have my original paperback, bought at the time, and picking it up was a bit of a trip into the past.

“Sleeping Murder”, like “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” which had been released shortly before Christie’s death, had actually been written some decades before publication. During World War 2, because of the precariousness of life, Christie had written the last stories of her two great detectives in case she didn’t make it through the conflict. In the end, of course, she did, so the two stories were kept on standby until the 1970s. This potentially throws up some contradictions, but Miss Marple’s final outing is a joy from start to finish.

The book opens with a young woman, Gwenda Reed, arriving in the UK from her home of New Zealand in search of a house. Recently married to Giles, who will follow her soon, she’s excited to be making a new life in a new country. Chance (or fate?) leads her to a house called Hillside which feels instantly as if it will be home. Having bought the house and moved in, Gwenda begins to get her home ready for her husband’s arrival. However, as she explores Hillside, she has a number of uncanny experiences where she appears to know things about the house of which she can’t possibly be aware. Making her escape to London for a break, she stays with the novelist Raymond West and his wife; and it is on a visit to the theatre that some words from a play trigger a vision of a murder from the past. Is it real or imaginary? Fortunately, West’s Aunt Jane is on hand to help investigate and find a solution – although her advice from the start is to “let sleeping murder lie”, as a number of revelations could spell danger…

   ‘You are two very nice and charming young people (if you will allow me to say so). You are newly married and are happy together. Don’t, I beg of you, start to uncover things that may – well, that may – how shall I put it? – that might upset and distress you.’
Gwenda stared at her. ‘You’re thinking of something special – of something – what is it you’re hinting at?’
‘Not hinting, dear. Just advising you (because I’ve lived a long time and I know how very upsetting human nature can be) to let well alone. That’s my advice: let well alone.’

More I will not say because too much revealing of this plot in advance would really spoil the reading of it! Christie is an author who never disappoints me, and although her later works didn’t quite reach the high standard of her early ones, I always enjoy them. However, “Sleeping…” *is* in fact an early work as it was written during the 1940s, and the plotting and atmosphere is excellent. The book features one of my favourite Christie tropes, that of the investigation of a murder in the past which just won’t go away; and the extra element of mystery behind Gwenda’s background as well as her almost supernatural reaction to a house she’s never seen before add little frissons of terror at times – Christie really could add those little spooky touches so well.

As for the murder and the solution, I had a faint glimmering of who the killer was as I read on through the book, and I suspect this is a memory of previous revisits rather than any great detecting abilities on my behalf. “Sleeping Murder” has a complex and often dark plot, with hints of some most unpleasant undercurrents, and a really nasty killer. The denouement is very satisfying, Miss Marple a wonderful sleuth as always, and the book features little cameos of St. Mary Mead and Jane Marple’s friends, all of which rounds things off nicely. There *is* an oddity in that one short paragraph or two which open a chapter were later re-used in a Tommy and Tuppence mystery; this was much later in Christie’s writing career and so it may be that she just liked the piece and re-used it, or it may be that she had forgotten. It plays no real part in the Marple story, but is pivotal to the T&T mystery so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

So, a wonderful start to the #1976Club reading week! I raced through “Sleeping Murder” with much enjoyment and happiness – Golden Age crime is always my comfort reading, and Christie always a treat. “Sleeping Murder” was a fine way for Miss Marple to bow out; clever, sometimes chilling, eminently readable and a great reminder that you should never take older women for granted… Let’s hope the rest of 1976’s books are this good! 😀

Goodbye summer and hello autumn… #1976Club #readingplans

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And so we stagger to the end of another month, and one which has been surprisingly frantic…. September usually is for me, as it’s back to work time after the summer break; and this year had been particularly taxing because of the amount of catching up and the strain of acting as if the world is back to normal when it really isn’t. Despite this – or perhaps because of this! – I have managed some good reading and so here is the pile of books for September!

I hasten to add I did *not* read all of the Nabokov or the Borges – just some relevant sections…. ;D

I usually have no duds, but this month does feature one book which really did espouse views far from mine…. And one underwhelmed me rather, but the rest were great!

September *did* bring some treats, though, as the three Offspring paid a weekend visit to celebrate Mr. K’s birthday. Although we had seen them in different configurations over the summer, this was the first time we had been all together as a group since Christmas 2019. So it was absolutely lovely to have them here, and of course there was celebrating and shopping and plenty of eating! I had my third trip into town since the pandemic began with them, and of course there was lunch at Hank’s vegan deli, as well as a little charity book shopping – here are the highlights! 😀

Coffee at Nero’s, lunch at Hank’s and an evening out at Ask! 😀

September book finds!

The book finds were from the Oxfam, British Heart Foundation and Samaritan’s Book Cave, and I was so pleased with them! The Sybille Bedford was £1 and is to swap out for a very battered copy I already have. The two Virago Travellers were real finds – I have a number of these, but haven’t seen any in the wild for ages, so snapped them up at a bargain price.

My Virago Travellers collection! 😀

Leonardo Sciascia is an author who’s featured once on the Ramblings before, and I thought I’d explore further with this one. And the collection of Angela Carter stories was impossibly to resist – I have a couple of collections, but not all of them plus this had some previously uncollected works, so for £2 there was no way it wasn’t coming home with me. I’ve missed in person book shopping…

We had a lovely family evening out at Ask (who miraculously were able to cater for all our various needs!) and the weekend was a real treat. It was absolutely marvellous to see the Offspring all together again and hopefully it won’t be too long until next time…

Looking forward to October’s bookishness, I will of course be focusing initially on the #1976club which runs from 11th to 17th of the month. There are some wonderful titles to choose from and I have been gathering piles of possible reads from the mountainous TBR – and these are just some of the choices:

As you can see, there’s quite a variety of reading available and so I suspect I may not get to everything which interestes me – we shall see! Aside from 1976, I shall probably try to keep the reading plans loose, though I do have some vague ideas of what id like to pick up next, and these are just a few possibilities:

British Library possibles

British Library Publishing have some wonderful titles upcoming, and I have been lucky enough to receive review copies. Such marvellous books and it’s very hard to choose!

Gorgeous Notting Hill Editions hardbacks

Similarly, Notting Hill Editions are releasing a lovely pair of books in their gorgeous clothbound hardback editions. Both of these sound excellent – can’t wait!

And this is what I’m currently reading, in tandem with other titles:

Current reading…

I’ve read Bely before and his writing is wonderful, very unique and not always straightforward… The book collects together four ‘symphonies’ written over a period of time and I have decided to pace myself with this, reading one at a time and interspersing it with other books. Certain the first piece is unusual and often beautiful, featuring writing which favours repetitions and reads almost poetically in places. Very intriguing…

So – roll on October, with club reading and plenty of other choices! Are you joining in with 1976, and what plans do you have for reading generally?

 

 

A pleasant end to summer – but what bookish joys will September bring??

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As I always seem to be saying to myself, wherever has the month gone? And in this case, wherever has summer gone? Despite having the long break from work, I don’t feel that I did much – well, we did get the windows painted outside the house, and painted the inside ones ourselves, as well as tidying up gardens and clearing out stuff. And Youngest Child came for a long overdue visit, which was lovely, so it hasn’t been entirely inactive!

August Reads!

However, I did manage a decent amount of reading in August, and you can see the stack above. I should hasten to add I did *not* read all of the Derrida, only his piece on Roland Barthes. No duds again this month, and I’m happy to have enjoyed an interesting variety of books!

August has seen a small amount of getting out and about, despite the pandemic and mainly because of the visit of Youngest Child. She’s often been a brilliant shopping companion in the past and we had a lovely trip into the Big Town which involved lunch at the wonderful Hank’s and a little browsing – here are some images from the trip!

Coffee at Nero with a Bookcrossing find!

Lunch at Hank’s – yum!!!

Modest bookfinds – Bookcrossing and the Oxfam

We also managed to escape to the coast another day, and as well as seeing the sea and having seaside chips (yay!), we popped into a couple of bookshops! Treasure Chest Books is an old haunt, but OH managed to find one called Poor Richard’s Books which I can’t recall visiting before (it also had vinyl so that was nice!) There were, of course, purchases…

It was quite overcast but still warm, and I love the sea in any weather!

The seaside town did have some pretty flowers on display, however!

Treasure Chest – a wonderfully labyrinthine bookshop in which it would be possible to spend a whole day…

Youngest Child took this when lost in the depths….

Can’t go wrong with seaside chips! 😀

Seaside book haul! (even had to dig out the KBR tote created by Middle Child!)

As you can see, I had some wonderful finds! The Macfarlane and Barnes came from Treasure Chest, and the other four books from Poor Richard’s Books (which is sadly closing at the end of the year – such a shame…) Very happy with all of these!

As for approaching September reading, I think I may actually be challenge free this month, and I have few plans (if any…) I shall try to reduce the size of the immediately-pending TBR, although my plans are constantly being sabotaged. For example, these two arrived at the end of last week:

Borges and Mishima!!!

The Mishima was inspired by a review on Shiny New Books, and the Borges was mentioned on Twitter I think – I mean, Manguel and Borges, what a combination! Needless to say, the latter didn’t even get a sniff at the TBR, and has been instantly read – review will following eventually (I’m a bit behind), but it made me dig this chunkster out again, and I am now continuing to make my way through Borges’ simply marvellous stories – a joy!!

I also tidied up the Russian shelves over the summer, getting everything nice and tidy, putting them in alphabetical order and rediscovering some marvellous books (as well as realising just how many unread ones I had) – here’s what they look like now:

Some of the Russians….

And, of course, in October we have the #1976Club coming up, so I may well start a little planning/early reading for that. I like to be organised and I’m not sure yet what I’m going to read. It’s nice to have a clean slate and be able to follow my reading mojo wherever it takes me; do you have any plans for September??

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