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A few reading highlights of the year so far! 😊

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As we’re over halfway through the year, I noticed that a number of fellow bookbloggers have been posting a variety of memes revealing their mid-point best-ofs. I am never that disciplined when it comes to picking favourites, and find it impossible to make a numbered list at the end of the year; and picking books to shuffle into half-yearly categories is beyond me! However, I thought it might be nice to share a few little reading highlights of my year so far – by theme mostly – so here goes!

Works in Translation

I loved to read translated books and they’re always a strong feature on the Ramblings. Of course, August is Women in Translation month and I have my sights on quite a few interesting titles. However, this year I have read some marvellous titles from publishers like Glagoslav, Columbia University Press, V&Q Books and many others.

Two particular standouts have been hybrid reads: The Naked World” by Irina Mashinski, which combines prose and poetry; and My Hollywood and other poems by Boris Dralyuk, which blends original poetry with translations. Both of these works are original and striking, and will definitely make it into my year-end post. Highly recommended reading from here!

Re-reads

I don’t re-read as much as I like, as a rule, but this first half of the year has seen me revisiting some of the most important books from my younger years. The #Narniathon, which started last year, nudged me into re-reading C.S. Lewis‘s wonderful sequence, and it was such an enjoyable experience; I read these books constantly in my youth, but hadn’t gone back to them for decades!

Then there was “The Lord of the Rings“. I moved on to these books as a child after loving the Narnia ones, and in my early twenties re-read them compulsively. I’ve meant to go back to them in recent years, and in fact purchased a shabby set of the same edition I first read; but it took the #1954Club to nudge me into the re-read and I loved every minute!

Finally, there’s Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books; another set I read in my teens and which really changed my life. I re-read the first, “Titus Groan“, a while back; but it took the wonderful Backlisted Podcast covering the sequence to nudge me into returning to “Gormenghast“. What an amazing experience it was; I really must build more re-reading into my schedule!!

Reprints

Although I do read modern works (and I’ve done so quite a lot recently), I tend towards classics or modern classics, as well as Golden Age crime, often in reprint. As usual, British Library Publishing have been spoiling me with some marvellous reprints plus new collections; a recent anthology, “The Edinburgh Mystery” was a particular treat, bringing together as it did stories related to my home country and city. Another publisher bringing out interesting reprints alongside new works is Renard Press, and their books have the addition of always being so beautifully produced.

And a recent arrival to the scene is Recovered Books with their fabulous series via Boiler House Press; the first title, “Gentleman Overboard“, was a stunner and they’re continuing to release some excellent titles! I do love a good reprint!!

The Penguin Modern Box

I have a number of ongoing Penguin Projects, most of which are moving quite slowly… But I have managed this year to finally finish my reading of the 50 books in my Penguin Modern box set. This was a really enjoyable and rewarding experience; I got to discover and explore so many marvellous new authors; and I really do need to get my act together and get on with the other projects too!!!

ReadIndies

Talking of projects, I have mostly tried to keep reading events and challenges simple so far this year. However, I was particularly pleased to co-host again with Lizzy #ReadIndies (an event which grew out of Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight). Indie publishers are some of my favourites, and in these difficult times when it can be a struggle for them to make ends meet, I was so happy to do what I could to help promote them. Hopefully this is an event which will return next year!

Chunky non-fiction

Several very thought-provoking, chunky, and enjoyable non-fiction books have made it onto the Ramblings recently. I’ve always enjoyed a good non-fiction read, and I find as I get older that I tend to be reading even more. Over recent months I’ve had much mental stimulation from “Letters to Gwen John” by Celia Paul, “A Spectre, Haunting” by China Mieville and “The Life of Crime” by Martin Edwards. All very different, all very chunky and all brilliant reads!

So there you have it – a few of the highlights of my reading year so far. Despite real life often being screamingly busy, I really have been lucky enough to read some marvellous books; and as there are still several months until it’s time to round up the whole year, I have plenty of reading time left for new titles and new favourites. Watch this space to see what I’m reading next – I wonder which books will finally make it onto the end of year best-of???? 🤣🤣

Looking back on highlights of 2021’s reading…

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During December, on book blogs and Twitter, I’ve seen many a ‘best of’ post; however, I always prefer to leave my look back on the year until the very end – I have known, in the past, some of my best reads of a year to arrive at the very end! 2021 has not been an easy year in many ways, but I have read more books than ever (my coping mechanism) and so I shan’t pick a best of – I never do – but instead will look back at some of the highlights… 😀

Classic Crime

As always, I have sought consolation at difficult times with murder, mayhem and mysteries! Golden Age Crime has always been a huge favourite and a comfort read for me, and 2021 was no different. As well as any number of marvellous British Library Crime Classics, I’ve managed to find an excuse to revisit Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. And Edmund Crispin, another long-term love, has made appearances here. Really, I doubt I would have made it through the year without crime!!

As an extra crime treat, I was invited to take part in the Crime Reprint of the Year Award by Kate at Cross Examining Crime, and was happy to nominate two favourite books – such fun! 😀

British Library Women Writers

As well as reissuing some wonderful Classic Crime, British Library Publishing have also been releasing stellar titles in their Women Writers series. I’ve covered a number this year, including Edith Olivier’s The Love Child and Diana Tutton’s Mamma. However, a highlight was their reissue of F. Tennyson Jesse’s A Pin to See the Peepshow, a book I regard very highly. I was delighted to take part in the blog tour and sang the book’s praises – a wonderful and moving read!

Russia

Inevitably there are Russians, as books and authors from that country are some of my favourites. I spent time with Dostoevsky for his bicentenary; squeezed in Nabokov short stories; read a wonderful anthology of classic short works, and a brilliant collection of new writing; and reacquainted myself with a recently rediscovered author who wrote for the drawer. I can never read enough Russians, and frankly I think you’ll see plenty more books from that country appearing here in 2022!!

France

As well as a love for Russian culture, I also have a passion for all things French, most particularly Parisian. There were plenty of French treats this year, from unpublished fiction from a favourite writer, a marvellous non-fiction work exploring the culture of mid-century Paris, poetry from that city, some hypnotic prose from Marie Ndiaye and a lovely look at Sylvia Plath‘s relationship to the place. All lovely, and all have drawn me back to reading French authors; I’m currently rediscovering Jean Genet, and have a good number of unread Sartre, Camus and others on the TBR!

Of course, I have to mention Roland Barthes, who has been much on my mind this year. I’ve only read one of his works in 2021, and also Derrida‘s piece on him, but I am keen to continue with him in 2022. A readalong on Twitter of A Love’s Discourse went by the by leading up to Christmas, as my head was in totally the wrong place, but I shall hope to get back to this one soon.

New to me authors vs old favourites

I must admit to being a reader who loves to discover new authors and books, though this year I’ve also sought comfort from the familiar. I don’t do statistics, but I do see from the list I keep that I *have* explored new writers this year. Margarita Khemlin, Marguerite Duras, Amanda Cross, Gilbert Adair and Alex Niven are just a few names who have intrigued this year, but I’m happy to keep the mix of old and new going. From the old guard, George Orwell continues to be a constant delight – I can’t foresee a time when I’ll ever stop reading him! John Berger is a more recent favourite and I’ll definitely be continuing with his works in 2022. Burroughs and Beverley Nichols, a disparate pairing if there ever was one, are both names I love to revisit regularly. Really, there are so many books and so little time, as we always say!

Projects and Reading Events

We get onto shaky ground for some of these, as I’m often a bit rubbish at keeping up with this kind of thing. As far as events go, I co-hosted Read Indies Month in February with Lizzy and this was wonderful fun – so many great independent publishers to support! And Simon and I co-hosted two reading club weeks this year – 1936 and 1976. Both years had an excellent selection of books available to read, and the response was wonderful! I’m happy to say we’ll be running the #1954Club from 18-24 April 2022 and there are some really great books from that year, so do join in!

As for other events, I have dipped into Spanish Lit Month, German Lit Month, Novellas in November and a few more – I like to take part in these when I can and when it fits in with the TBR and also what I fancy reading!

My own personal reading projects, which are all really centred round various Penguin collections, have been pretty intermittent this year – whether from lack of focus, the state of the world or just wrong book at wrong time, the only one I’ve made headway with is the Penguin Moderns box set. I’ve had great fun with this little series of books – there are some marvellous authors and titles in it – and I have high hopes that I might actually finish reading it in 2022!

Disappointments…

I always try to be selective in what I read, but there are occasional misfires and DNFs. I started the year with one, The Housekeeper and The Professor, which really didn’t gel with me; I struggled with Confessions of a Heretic, which was not for me; and I tried to read a high profile book about Russian authors and frankly disliked it immensely. But the balance is heavily in favour of successful reads, so that’s good!!

Poetry

2021 also saw me spending a good amount of time with poets and poetry, and this was a real pleasure. There were biographies – John Sutherland’s marvellous Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me was a highlight, as was Gail Crowther’s magisterial Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, which explored the lives of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I discovered new poets, too, often via the NYRB Poets imprint, and this was particularly wonderful.

Translated works

I generally read a lot of work in translation. And I continued to read a lot of work in translation during 2021 – yay! And I shall continue to do so in 2022. Thank you *so* much to all those who translate works into English – my reading life is richer because of you!

Favourites?

I can *never* pick favourites or a top ten or a book of the year, and my BFF J. always reckons it’s because I read such a disparate range of books. I tend to think she might be right, and in any case I’ve read so many stunners this year it seems wrong to pick out one. But to satisfy those wanting me to choose *something*, a few which particularly stood out were In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, every short story I read by Nabokov, Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, New Model Island by Alex Niven, The Edge of the Object by Daniel Williams and Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis. All of those were oustanding reads, but probably all for very different reasons!!

Well, there you have it! Some of my reading highlights for 2021. Come back to the Ramblings tomorrow to see if I have any plans for the new year, so you can place bets on whether I’ll stick with any of them! 🤣🤣🤣

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