February – reading a lot of wonderful Indie books! :D #readindies


Well, that was a quick month, wasn’t it? February seems as short as January was long, and although it whizzed past I have had another really wonderfully bookish month, helped by the fact that there was a half term in the middle of it and so I got a lovely lot of time for resting and reading. Here is my pile of February reads and they were frankly all wonderful! I’ve not reviewed everything on the pile yet, so anything not covered will be carried over to March!

February was of course #ReadIndies month, and just about everthing on the pile is an indie – and there have been some wonderful treats which just goes to show the riches of books from independent publishers. Some of my favourite presses and authors have been featured, but I also discovered some new ones so that’s wonderful! However, on the subject of reading indies, we won’t be extending our #ReadIndies event this year as Lizzy has other project commitments in March! But I’ve barely scratched the surface of the pile of independently published books on the TBR; so although I will continue to follow my reading muse as the year continues, I’m going to try to fit in as many indie publishers as I can! 😀

If you’ve been reading along with us during February, don’t forget to leave details of your posts in the Mr Linky here, as Lizzy always puts together an index of all the reviews, which is a wonderful resource. Of course you may still be catching up with reviews as are we, and so if you’ve read an indie, you have until 6th March to post the review and be included in the index!

So what are my upcoming reading plans? Well, vague and amorphous as usual! I’m currently reading a fascinating review book from Columbia University Press called “The Narrow Cage” by Vasily Eroshenko; the author hailed from Ukraine and lived a peripatic live, and the book is translated from Japanese and Esperanto so this is something of a first for me!

Then there is the pile of journals and notebooks and essays I assembled at the end of February when I was reading Sartre – here they are again and there are just so many options into which I’d love to sink…

But of course there are many, many more unread books on the TBR and of course March has the #Dewithon as a reading event – I may try to join in, but it will depend what I can find in the stacks. In the meantime, I shall continue to read independent publishers, and here are some of those stacks, showing just how many choices I really have… ;D

One of the TBR shelves, although I *have* read some of these!


Another shelf, a mixture of read and unread…


A heap of intriguing books which currently lives on a table!


A rather precipitous pile…

Looking at those, you can no doubt see how it can be difficult for me to decide which book to read; I guess this is why I usually go with my reading moods and I’m sure they’ll continue to guide me throughout March! What do *you* plan to read??

A look at January’s reading…


Popping in with a second post today (good grief!) just to round up January’s reading – more chat about what’s planned for February will appear tomorrow!! So here’s what I read during this month:


I had such a brilliant bookish month and am *really* happy with that stack! My reading mojo has been on form during January and I have read some wonderful, wonderful books! No duds at all, and some real standabouts – the Calvino and the Niven, in particular, were epic reads and both of these are likely to feature on my year-end best of. However, all of the books were gems; I had great fun taking part in the Japanese Literature Challenge, choosing some lovely books from my shelves which had never been read; and I seem to have rediscovered my ability to take on chunksters (at least in non-fiction form!) There was fiction and non-fiction, classic crime, autobiography, small presses – really, a cornucopia of bookish delight!

So a marvellous reading month, and February looks to be a fascinating one too – see you back here tomorrow for more plans! 😀

June reading, and the end of an up and down month…


June has been an odd month, really; reading-wise, I started well and read with enthusiasm. However, I was hit by a stinker of a cold/flu thingy midway through the month, which I can only think I picked up whilst attending the dentist – very annoying, to say the least, and it knocked me for six as I haven’t had one for yonks owing to isolating and masking. I struggled through, but my energy for reading dropped to almost nil as when I wasn’t working I just wanted to sleep. So I think I have done quite well with the reading, all things considered, and I have enjoyed some really wonderful books this month:

(Please note I didn’t read *all* of that chunky Orwell – only one essay!!!)

Again, not a dud amongst them – even the difficult or whacky ones were interesting!! 😀

As for July plans, I must admit I’ll be very glad to get to the end of the school term and have a break. There are a couple of reading events this month I’d like to take part in, and the first is Stu’s Spanish and Portuguese Lit month! He runs this event regularly and I always try to join in. Somehow, I often seem to end up reading more Portuguese language books than Spanish, but these are a few of the possible titles:

I’ve been intending to read Pessoa for years and years and years, but always get distracted. Maybe this year… And another Saramago – yay! I love the books of his I’ve read and tried to get to this one during Read Independent Publishers Month but ran out of time. We shall see…

Also up in July is the Paris in July event, held by Thyme for Tea; now, I love Paris and have pulled three possibles off the TBR:

All are titles I would be happy to pick up and dive into straight away. Oh, for more reading time…

Rose Macaulay pencil sketch (Jburlinson, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m also planning to spend several days focusing on the marvellous author Rose Macaulay, with particular focus on some titles from lovely Handheld Press. Macaulay is one of those women authors who’s been unjustly neglected, though she’s made a return to the public eye at points over the years; and Handheld have been spearheading a series of reissues of books by and about her, several of which I’ve read and loved. I’m not doing anything like a formal Rose Macaulay Reading Week as such, but if you fancy following along and reading any of her excellent books, please do join in! I’m planning to post between 12th and 16th July, all being well…

Apart from this, there is basically the ginormous TBR which does stretch over a couple of rooms… Thinking about it, at least one of the review books on the pile would qualify for the Paris challenge but it’s a chunkster…

Anyway – whatever I read, you’ll hear about it on the Ramblings! How was your June reading, and are you taking part in any of these events (or any other ones??)

Going Out – and Incomings! :D


Those of you who encounter me on Instagram or Twitter might have picked up that last weekend was a rather special one here at the Ramblings. After making it through two lock-ins and living pretty much in isolation since March 2020, Mr. K and I were reunited with two of our Offspring (plus one of their partners) at the weekend (and the third will be coming to visit as soon as fully jabbed!) Not only was it lovely to see them, but we also took a couple of little carefully planned and socially distanced trips out, and it was marvellous! Simple pleasures!

A jaunt to the coast was our first outing – although there is a seaside town within driving distance, the ‘holiday’ end is mostly a bit tatty, so we head for the older end of town which has wide coastal views and a pleasant path to amble along. Here’s a few views!

Although the sky was a little leaden at times, it was warm with a lovely sea breeze, so perfect walking conditions. I always feel that this particular part of beach has a kind of Dungeness feel about it!

There’s also quite a lot of nature managing to grow and survive in the coastal conditions:

We looked this up, and after having nicknamed it ‘sea cabbage’ all afternoon, it seems this is what it’s actually known as…. 😀

We had a lovely walk plus time for seaside chips, and managed to get home before a deluge which caused flash flooding, so result!!

And Saturday was a bit of a red-letter day in that I ventured into the local Big Town for the first time since March 2020. This was quite a big step for me, but I did feel surprisingly comfortable being out – I suppose having had both jabs and keeping masked helped, though I was still surprised by the amount of people not wearing masks or keeping a distance. As Middle Child said, you just have to be alert and make sure you keep away from people…

Anyway – while I was in isolation things had changed a bit in town. My favourite vegan eatery, Hank’s, have expanded their range considerably, opening a little vegan supermarket and also a vegan pub!! So we had lunch at the latter and it was marvellous!

Here’s the pub!

Main course – a gorgeous buddha bowl.

Dessert – vegan baked New York cheesecake – yum!

Eating outside in the pub garden was lovely, though some of the flowers appear to have made their way into my dessert…. ;D

As well as lunch and company, there was of course a little shopping – it did feel slightly weird going into shops after all this time, and I may have lost my shopping mojo a little as I felt less inclined to browse for long periods or buy wildly. But needless to say, there was the odd book…

The trusty KBR tote has its first outing for a long time!!!

It was a joy to visit the Oxfam again, though their prices have *definitely* crept up. However, I have wanted to read this Szerb for a long time so couldn’t of course resist!

It was good to be in Waterstones again, too, so I searched out a title I wanted; I read Audre Lorde as part of my exploration of my Penguin Moderns box set and loved her writing. I had intended to read more by her for ages, so it seemed like a good time to pick up this one.

Finally, I rather belatedly took part in Independent Bookshops Week by popping into our local indie, Dial Lane Books. They opened just before the pandemic hit and have therefore had a bit of a rocky ride. I’m pleased they’ve managed to survive, though, and the premises have expanded and improved inside since my firsts visit. I came out with one of these lovely ‘instead of a card’ poetry booklets, which I think I shall keep for me… 😀

So it was a wonderful weekend, reconnecting with family and Going Out and mixing and even shopping! It did feel strange at times, and I have a sense that if the world is to get back to how it was before, it will take a long time. But I think I can kind of adjust to this kind of ‘normal’ for a while and will feel more comfortable about venturing into the world. And I do hope it isn’t another 15 months until I go out again…. ;D

Nine years of blogging – oh my!!!! #blogbirthday


Today, rather amazingly, sees the ninth anniversary of my commencement of the Ramblings – which really is a little mind-numbing (where have the years gone???) I often tend to miss the occasion, randomly stuck in the middle of the year as it is, but something in the back of my mind nudged me this year – which *is* a bit surprising, as during the pandemic era, I have rather lost track of time with one day blurring into another!

I started blogging, really, in response to all the other wonderful book blogs I had started to discover back in 2012. They were a source of such joy, and also great (and very dangerous!) book recommendations. I had also become part of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group community, many of whom had their own blogs, and taking part in group reads and the like fired my enthusiasm to join in with more talking about books.

I think the word ‘community’ represents what I love most about the online bookishness I encounter; whether it’s on blogs, Twitter or Instagram, I just adore sharing my love of the printed word, favourite authors, book hauls, new discoveries or old classics. Books have always been one of the most important things in my life, and so to be able to spend time sharing that bookish love is just wonderful. I always get great joy in interacting via comments, too – so carrying on with my Bookish Ramblings has brought me much happiness over the years.

So thank you to everyone who reads, likes and comments on what I put up here – I’m always happy to hear what people have to say, and long may our love of books continue! 😀

The Inside and Out Book Tag – let’s talk about bookish habits! :D


There are all manner of tags and memes which go round the InterWeb and as a rule I don’t often do these. However, I saw one recently on Annabel’s blog, which she had got from Calmgrove, and Calmgrove had got it from Bookforager and who knows where it was before! I thought it was quite fun, and so before you could say Proust, I thought I’d have a go myself – so here goes!

1. Inside flap/back of the book summaries: Too much info? Or not enough?

I like something which gives me a hint of what the book is about although not too much – I want to go on a voyage of discovery in a book, after all, and if the whole plot is laid out there it rather puts me off reading a book. But I *do* need to get some idea of whether the book is going to be for me, so it’s a balance really. Much as I love Persephone’s books, for example, they really don’t tell you a lot on the cover! What I do get fed up with, though, is the modern trend of covering book covers with endorsements from other authors. I prefer a sensible quote about a book, like the ones Fitzcarraldo put in the front of their books; or a couple of endorsements like the two which appeared on M. John Harrison’s recent “The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again” from Robert Macfarlane and China Mieville. That was just right; any more would have been too much.

2. New book: What form do you want it in? Be honest: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback or Hardcover?

Never an eBook. I loathe reading on a screen; it’s not good for my eyes, I can’t take it in, I work on screens for a good part of the day anyway, and I can’t bear not being able to flick about within a book. As for hardback or paperback, I can’t really give a decisive answer to that one. What matters to me most is readability in the form of text size and handleability. Sometimes a nice, decent sized paperback that flops open easily can be just as good, if not better, than a big hardback and doesn’t have the weight issue.

An example of how mad I go with post-its when I’m loving a book… ;D

3. Scribble while you read? Do you like to write in your books; take notes, make comments, or do you keep your books clean, clean, clean?

Never. Absolutely never. I do not write on books ever. I don’t understand why you would do that. I mark bits with post-its and write scribbly notes on bits of paper if I need to. But never on the book itself. Shudder…

4. Does it matter to you whether the author is male or female when you’re deciding on a book? What if you’re unsure of the author’s gender?

It doesn’t matter in the slightest; I choose a book entirely because I think it will interest me, entertain me, move me, take my thinking in different directions or change me permanently (and any numbers of the books have done all these things to me over the years). It doesn’t even matter if I don’t know what the author’s gender is; I can’t see why that would be relevant. What matters to me is the book and what it’s going to say to me and the places to which it will take me.

5. Ever read ahead? Or have you ever read the last page way before you got there?

Only extremely rarely, and that would be in cases when I was so invested in a particular character that I couldn’t bear to wait to find out if something would be resolved. But this is very rare, and I usually hate doing that kind of thing.

An example of the kind of way my shelves often look…

6. Organized bookshelves or outrageous bookshelves?

All over the place bookshelves… I’ve got books and shelves all over the house and they’re sort of in some kind of rough order, though it is becoming harder to always track things down. I used to fairly reliably be able to find a book, but that’s not the case nowadays. I’ve shared any number of my #showusyourshelfies online, which made realise how scattered my books are. The dream is to one day have neat, orderly single stacked bookshelves all in one room and in an orderly fashion, so that I could find whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and know exactly what I own. But I suspect that may never happen…

7. Have you ever bought a book based on the cover (alone)?

Often! Not just because a cover is beautiful (although in the case of e.g. the British Library Crime Classics, the vintage designs are irresistible.) Sometime a cover can strike a chord or resonate in an unexpected way. The earliest one I can recall is “The Abortion” by Richard Brautigan, because the author picture on the cover reminded me of someone I had a teenage crush on!

8. Take it outside to read, or stay in?

Usually inside. I’ve never been much of a read in the sunshine type because I have pretty sensitive eyes; and I’ve developed hay fever as I’ve got older which doesn’t help. Having said that, I do try never to leave the house (not that I do at the moment…) without a book so that if I’m stuck anywhere like the dentist’s waiting room I have something to pass the time. So although I don’t actually seek to read outside, I can probably read anywhere given half a chance! 😀

Well, that was jolly entertaining! This is a fun tag, so do pinch it and join in; because I love to read about everyone else’s reading habits too!

“… a 688-page punishment beating.” @i_am_mill_i_am #yearofreadingdangerously


I’m carrying on catching up with my reviews here on the Ramblings; I *have* been reading some marvellous books, and with the current state of things they’ve become a welcome distraction. In recent months I’ve become, rather belatedly admittedly, a huge fan of the Backlisted Podcast; so much so that it moved me to read Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year” (sadly a rather timely title just now) and invest in a very chunky copy of “The Anatomy of Melancholy“. So it’s a surprise, really, that I’ve never read podcaster Andy Miller’s “The Year of Reading Dangerously”, particularly as I love books about books! I was aware of the book when it came out, but somehow just never got round to it However, I ran across a copy of the book in the Oxfam recently, and the time seemed right. It was certainly a good choice to pick up after some of my more intense recent reading! 😀

I imagine many readers of the Ramblings have read this book as well, lovers of books about books as we are, so it probably doesn’t need a lot of description. Basically, I think it could have been subtitled “In which Andy Miller has a mid-life crisis and rediscovers his love of books”! His year of reading is kick-started by the realisation that he’s claimed to have read any number of book which he hasn’t, and by the chance stumbling-upon of a copy of “The Master and Margarita” whilst looking after his young son. Miller is hooked by the book (which I can understand – though I found myself quibbling with a couple of details in his description of the plot!) That’s by the by, though – what matters is that Andy’s reading mojo has been nudged back into life and he embarks upon his project of reading Great Works (plus one Dan Brown…) with gusto.

It took me a little over five days to finish The Master and Margarita, but its enchantment lasted far longer.… The Master and Margarita had made its journey down the century, from reader to reader, to a Broadstairs bookshop. Some part of that book, of Bulgakov himself, now lived on in me. The secret of The Master and Margarita, which seems to speak to countless people who know nothing about the bureaucratic machinations of the early Stalinist dictatorship or the agony of the novel’s gestation: words are our transport, our flight and our homecoming in one. Which you don’t get from Dan Brown.

The book follows the trials and tribulations of his journey: the difficulties of reading a complex book on a noisy commute, what to do if you really *don’t* like a book and the euphoria that reading something really wonderful can bring. Interspersed with the reading are snapshots of his life with his admirable and entirely sensible-sounding wife and his young son. It makes for a wonderfully enjoyable read, and one with which I very much identified.

I had heard that other people dealt with this sort of problem by having ill-advised affairs with schoolgirls, or dying their hair a ‘fun’ colour, or plunging into a gruelling round of charity marathon running, ‘to put something back’. But I did not want to do any of that; I just wanted to be left alone. (On his ‘midlife crisis’)

Because *anyone* who’s brought up children will know the havoc it wreaks with your reading! In my madness, I produced three, and reading while dealing with small children is Not Easy! How can you sink into pages and pages of sublime prose while coping with crying, tantrums, fighting, demands for food and requirements to change nappies? (To list just a few of the horrors of children). It’s not easy at all, and like Miller I spent many years either not reading much or reading light stuff because it was impossible to read anything of substance.

Is it wrong to prefer books to people? Not at Christmas. The book is like a guest you have invited into your home, except you don’t have to play Pictionary with it or supply it with biscuits and stollen.

Luckily, Andy shares childcare and work arrangements with his wife, so there are times where he commutes or is away for work and so can fit in reading. And as the sensible advice says, if you read 50 pages a day, you *will* finish the books! He reads his way through some excellent works, providing entertaining insights as he goes; I didn’t always agree with his assessments, but I enjoyed reading them. And I loved his coda at the end where he revealed his various encounters with the late, great Douglas Adams (I really should re-read the Hitchhiker books…)

Many of my favourite books mimic the Pevsner guides in this respect, as though the narrator and their subject have become locked in an increasingly ill tempered tussle for control of the text: Pale Fire by Nabokov, Revolution in the Head by Ian McDonald, Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, most of BS Johnson’s novels, even Roger Lewis’s cantankerous The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.… Although it was not my intention at the outset, it seems to be how The Year of Reading Dangerously has turned out.

“Year… ” was first published in 2014, and there are some elements which were perhaps a little surprising; Andy seems to foresee the dramatic death of the printed book, a phenomenon which seems less likely to happen nowadays than it did then. And his views of bloggers and blogging (which I recall Annabel commenting on in her review) are provocative; our perspective (or at least mine) is very different from his because, at the end of the day, he is someone writing for a living. I write my blog for pleasure, because I want to share my love of books out there in cyberspace. I’m not wound up about views and comments and the like (although I *do* like to interact with people about books, so I’m happy when people want to comment and discuss). We’ll have to agree to differ there, Andy, because I think bloggers and blogging are valuable, and I mostly get my recommendations and bookish ideas from other bloggers I trust rather than ‘professional’ commentators.

I can understand The Master and Margarita inspiring anyone…. ;D

But I digress. I’m glad I finally read “The Year of Reading Dangerously” because it was a really entertaining and enjoyable book; Miller is an enthusastic and knowledgeable commentator on the works he reads, the autobiographical elements are often funny and touching, and I love his quirky sense of humour. It was a joy to watch him on his journey to rediscovering a deep love of reading, one of the best friends a human being can have. This is definitely an essential addition to any shelf of books about books, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the Backlisted podcast when it makes its long-awaited return! 😀

Russian art, blogging buddies, an old friend and books…


… the perfect day out in London, plus a lovely surprise when I returned home!

Perfect train journey with coffee, book, Gregg’s vegan sausage roll and a comfy seat! 😀

I refer of course to my trip to the Big Smoke yesterday, which those of you who follow me on social media might have seen some mention of… 🤣 The trip was the idea of the lovely JacquiWine who thought it might be nice to meet up in real life, having encountered each other digitally for so long. And so she suggested that she and HeavenAli and I get together in London for bookish chat and book shopping – what a perfect concept!

Goncharova Self Portrait

As the ladies were not going to be in London until the middle of the day, I took the opportunity of a cheap train ticket to get into London at silly o’clock and rolled up at the Tate Modern as they opened for the day. I had been meaning to visit the Natalia Goncharova exhibition they were staging over the summer but never got round to it; and as it closes today I was happy to be able to squeeze in a visit!

One of Goncharova’s stunning images

Goncharova is an artist I’ve loved since I first discovered Russian avant garde art back in my late teens/early 20s, so being able to see some of her work in the flesh was a real treat. Her artwork is stunning, the exhibition was excellent and I was relieved to be able to make it through the exhibition shop with only the purchase of some postcards… 🤣


I met up with the ladies at Foyles (of course!) and after lunch at a nearby Pret, we did a little browsing.

Foyles – I love the place!

Vegan lunch from Pret – very yummy!

Ali was lucky enough to have a book token and found some interesting titles which will no doubt appear on her blog in due course! I was after a particular title (more of which later..) but it wasn’t in stock; neither were a couple of other authors I was seeking out. So I thought I might get out unscathed, until at the last minute I spotted an imported Calvino I wanted. Irresistible, really!

The Calvino from Foyles plus a slim volume of poetry from Skoob

We then headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street to meet up with my BFF, J, who was in town visiting another friend and had a few hours spare. We were keen for a catch up as it was a while since we’d met, and she also came with a carrier bag of books (gulp). It was in Judds that things went a bit pear-shaped as there were so many temptations- which I did not resist… Oh well – you only live once and I did send 4 boxes of books to the charity shop recently!

Several from Judd Books plus a Bourdouxhe from Ali – thank you! 😀

After Judds it would have been rude not to walk the few steps to Skoob Books – so we did! Here I was very restrained and only came out with one poetry book (pictured further up the post) – but none of us got out unscathed. Skoob is so tempting…. We also had a lovely chat with a lady who’d just moved to London from America and heard us nattering away about books!

Books from J. – mostly returned loans but there’s a rather lovely Mishima in there – one of only a couple of titles of his I don’t have… 😀

After coffee, Ali and Jacqui took their leave to catch respective trains, whilst J. and I bimbled back in the direction of Tottenham Court Road tube – which of course took us dangerously near the London Review Book Shop where things went off the rails. As I hinted above, I had been asking everywhere I went about a particular book, which might just have been inspired by the Backlisted Podcast – “The Anatomy of Melancholy” by Robert Burton. I wanted to have a look at it, to see what I thought about it and whether I could (or indeed wanted to) read it. Well, the LRB shop had a copy (thank you, very helpful guy behind the counter if you’re reading this, for pointing me in the right direction and encouraging me!!) It was so intriguing when I dipped in at random that I succumbed, and it came home with me. I blame that Andy Miller (again…)

Hurrah! And very interestingly, it cost less in a beautiful bricks and mortar bookshop than it does from a certain online source…

So I got home tired, happy and laden with books (the best state to be in, really). It was lovely to meet up with Jacqui and Ali, as well as catching up with J. However, I arrived to a bit of a surprise…. I have a reasonably big birthday coming up in December and Mr. Kaggsy has been fretting about what to get me (that isn’t more books). It transpired that he had decided I should have my gift now so I can get plenty of use out of it, so I returned home to find I now have my very own dedicated reading chair!!!

The Reading Chair! 😀

It’s quite marvellous – comfy, with pockets at the side to keep books in, plus he’d procured a special side table to keep pens, notebooks, additional books, drinks etc on! I call that fairly inspired from a man who doesn’t read, and its arrival was the perfect end to the perfect day. Now I just need to get settled and get reading!! 🤣

(You can read Ali’s post about our day here!)

“Translators are people who read books for us.” @almabooks @TimParksauthor


Pen in Hand: Reading, Re-reading and Other Mysteries by Tim Parks

Books about books are obviously a huge favourite of we bookish bloggers (although I suspect I don’t have as many on my shelves as some do….!) Yet they come in all shapes, sizes and formats; and the contents and focus can vary so much, taking in everything to a person’s history of their reading life to more erudite analyses of why we read, that it could be argued that they really don’t constitute a genre of their own. Tim Park’s new collection of essays is a good case in point: the subtitle hints that there might be something a little more in depth than usual and that turned out to be the case.

Parks is known as a novelist, essayist and translator, and it’s in this latter guise that I’ve encountered him in the past; he’s been responsible for translating some of the works of my beloved Italo Calvino, but I’ve not read any of his fiction or non-fiction works. So when Will from the lovely Alma Books kindly offered a review copy of “Pen in Hand” I was intrigued and keen to give Parks a look. “Pen…” is a very dippable work, so I’ve been spending time with it over several weeks; and a very stimulating read it is too!

The pieces in the book have appeared online in the New York Review of Books Daily and the New York Times; having them collected in one volume makes perfect sense because each essay can be read separately, but there is a continuity between them and the cumulative effect is mentally exhilarating. Parks has divided his writings up into four sections, titled “How Could You Like That Book?”, “Reading and Writing”, “Malpractice” and “Gained and Lost in Translation”. Within the book’s pages is contained wide-ranging discussions of everything from visualising when reading through Dylan’s Nobel to whether too many books are being produced.This latter particularly resonated, as I’ve long wondered about the effect of modern publishing techniques; it’s so easy nowadays to produce a book in a word-processing program and press a button – voila, latest attempt at a bestseller. My late dad was a typesetter by trade, setting metal type by hand for many, many years until computers took over (and he retrained). If a book was going to be set by hand, it had to be considered worthwhile putting into print; I’d go along with the argument that a *lot* of stuff that appears nowadays isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

But I digress. Parks produces a wonderful essay on another modern blight, the constant distractions which beset us, called “Reading: The Struggle”; there is a thoughtful discussion of autofiction which I found particularly helpful when reading an excellent example of that kind of book recently; and he expressed concern about our current tendency to novelise our novelists, stating “We should read our great authors, not mythologize them.” He’s a drily witty writer, dropping in all sorts ot sentences which raise a chuckle while making a point: for example, “My mother used to warn me that God saw everything I did and even thought, so that one of the reliefs of losing faith was the recovery of a little privacy.”

An extensive section of essays on translation make up the final part of the book, and these were particularly timely and fascinating. Several cover the translation of Primo Levi’s writings, specifically in the Collected Works (three ginormous volumes I lugged back from a trip to London a while back). Parks is critical of some of the renderings (being a translator from Italian himself, of course) and gives examples with which it’s hard to argue (although his renderings are perhaps a little more literal than the versions he critiques). Translation is a difficult art, I guess, and Parks has the advantage of having lived in Italy for many years so that as well as being linguistically suited to translate, he also has the cultural background. However, despite his misgivings, I hope the power of Levi’s words will still come through to me in English as I make my way through the massive volumes.

“Pen in Hand” is certainly no light read, and that’s a good thing in my view. The essays are stimulating, sometimes controversial, entertaining and each set me thinking about any number of bookish and literature-related subjects. There were some real “Yes!” moments when he nailed some thought I’d been struggling to pin down, and although I didn’t always agree with Parks’ views, reading them was fascinating. To combine the scholarly and the entertaining in a way that’s always readable is a real achievement and if you want to read some invigorating and enjoyable essays on reading and its perils, I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Review copy kindly supplied by Alma Books, for which many thanks.

Simon at Stuck in a Book has also reviewed the book, and you can read his thoughts here.

Festive greetings from the Ramblings!


I’m scheduling a little Christmas Day post to send good wishes to all of you who take the time to visit this site and read my ramblings!

I’m planning a peaceful and relaxing day with family (Middle Child has already visited, but the other two Offspring will be at home to spend time with Mr. Kaggsy and I). There are book-shaped parcels waiting to be opened (the above are from my Virago Secret Santa!), plenty of vegan good food and no need to go out and do chores, think about work or do anything we don’t want to. And when everyone else is sleeping off their Christmas lunch, I usually manage to sneak in a little reading…. 😉

So wherever you are and whatever you’re doing today, have a lovely (and hopefully bookish!) Christmas! x

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