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November – a month with lots of reading events…..

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It seems impossible somehow that we’re up to November; it has been a manic year for me, and October was a particularly tricky month, dealing with frantic times at work and also sorting out stuff around the health of my Aged Parent. Books have therefore been something of a refuge again, and these are the ones I read during the previous month:

As you can see I am even further behind with my reviewing than usual! But it was a good reading month with only one book which didn’t inspire, and so I’m happy with that.

However, as I mentioned in my heading to this post, November is a month with many, many reading events – some of which I shall be taking part in, although I have mostly read the books in question in advance! Here are some of the events I know about!

Those are just a few – I think there are more – and I have read a little for these so I can take part. As for the rest of the month, as usual I’ll let my mood take me where it will, and I do have plenty of choices! There are a good number of review books pending, and here’s just a selection:

Then there are other lovely books on the immediate TBR, and I’d happily pick up any of these next:

I’ll also be taking part in a blog tour for the British Library Women Writers series, and I’ll be covering a book I love – “A Pin to See the Peepshow” by F. Tennyson Jesse. It’s a compelling, powerful and absolutely marvellous read, and so I’m very happy it’s being brought back into print!

Apart from those – well, who knows! Watch this space (plus my Twitter and Instagram) to see what I read next! 😀

November and its challenges – where did it all go…..?

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November was a *very* busy month with reading events, and I had lots of plans – as I revealed in this post… I’m not sure it has gone entirely as I intended, although I *have* ticked the box for each one. But some were read before November, and I did have a bit of a slump in the middle of the month when work was ridiculously busy and then I had a hideous head cold (HOW! How could I catch a cold when I have basically been wearing a mask since March??????) I found it very hard to settle while the American Election drama was taking place, too – so much seemed to hinge on it and thank goodness for the result. Anyway, this is the small pile of books read during November:

Although it’s a smaller pile than I usually feature at the end of the month, there are some really interesting titles and authors in there. The Gallic Revolutionary Women books are something I’m covering for Shiny New Books. There are items from some of my bookish subscriptions, Penguin Moderns, crime, Atwood and Barthes! I did enjoy all the books I read, and there will be a review of the Barthes coming up this week; I will count that as a Non-Fiction November read as it’s definitely non-fiction and was definitely read in November! 😀

Looking forward to December, with all the stress and strain and confusion in the world at the moment, it’s going to be a difficult one I feel. So I plan to try to keep the reading simple and go with things I really want to read, and which will give me some escapism from rotten reality. One of the main issues I’ve been having is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of book piles lying around unread, so I had a bit of a tidy up and coralled a lot of the pending titles onto a little bookshelf which now looks like this:

This has made me feel a lot calmer and now I feel I can just pick what I fancy off the shelves and enjoy following my reading mojo. To look more specifically at the options, here are the possibles in the various rows…

The top shelf has some beautiful books sent by BL Publishing – Sci Fi Classics, Crime Classics and Women Writers. Any of these would be perfect comfort reads for a long month. Then there are subscription books from Fum d’Estampa, Renard Press and Sulunary Editions – I want to read them all at once…. There are review copies of Chekhov and Penguin classic sci fi, all of which look and sound lovely. And at the end, my collection of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence. I’ve wanted to re-read these for ages, and of course December is the time to do it. Should I? Could I?

Here’s the middle shelf! There are some incredibly beautiful NYRB editions here, and all of them are screaming for attention. Then there are some lovely books that wonderful people have sent me (thank you Olga Zilberbourg and QC Fiction). I still have a little stack of unread Fitzcarraldos, which I could read now, or hang onto in case Lizzy and I decide to do another Fitzcarraldo Fortnight! And I have a huge pile of Mike Walmer’s lovely editions to catch up on – such wonderful titles!!

The bottom shelf is more of a mish-mash, with a number of books which have been lying around for a while with no real connection between them. Again, all are interesting and would be good reads – it’s just a case of deciding! 😀

However, decisions are a little more complex thanks to the arrival of some new titles this week:

Some are review copies, and some are purchases (thank you Blackwells and Hive!) However, the arrival of five new Penguin Great Ideas editions has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works as far as my reading plans are concerned!

I had intended to read all 120(!!!!) in order, although after the first set of 20 I only have a piecemeal collection. These five were the ones I most wanted from the new set, and I got them at very reasonable prices. And now I’m thinking – as I don’t own the whole lot, would it be cheating to read them in whatever order took my fancy?? Do I actually *need* to read them in the order 1 to 120, bearing in mind that that wouldn’t be chronological beause each set of 20 starts with an ancient classic and ends with a more modern work? So I could maybe just read whichever one I wanted when the mood takes me….?

So what to you think? *Is* that cheating? Should I just read the Great Ideas in whatever order suits my reading mojo? And which of these books appeals most? Really, I don’t know what to pick up next!! ;D

“Writing itself is a little peculiar” #MARM

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Although I am often rubbish with challenges, I have managed reasonably so far with November’s, fitting in some non-fiction, a novella and a German book (even though the last two were one and the same…!) So I was determined I would also read something by Margaret Atwood; I love her writing very much, and it’s always a joy to revisit her, but the hardest thing was choosing what to actually pick up. I’ve not been so much in the mood for fiction lately, and had earmarked poetry or essays; in the end, it was the latter I went with, in the form of her collection “On Writers and Writing” (originally published as “Negotiating with the Dead”).

As I mentioned in my post on November challenges, it turns out that I purchased on “On Writers…” not realising it was the same as “Negotiating…”, which I already own. After reading it, I’m still unsure as to whether I’ve read it before! Some of the material seemed familiar, particularly the parts dealing with her early life; but as this has turned up in other non-fiction writings by her which I’ve read, it could simply be that I’m remembering that. Anyway, reading Atwood is always a joy, so in the end it didn’t really matter if this was a new read or a re-read.

“On Writers…” has its roots in a series of essays Atwood presented to the University of Cambridge for their Empson Lectures series, and was first published by Cambridge University Press in 2002. In the essays, Atwood explores the whole ethos of writers and writing: why a writer writes; their role in the world; the way they regard themselves and the reader; and much, much more. Spanning autobiography, thoughts on great writers and their works, the conflict between art and money, and whether it’s essential to sell your soul to the Devil, Atwood ranges far and wide over these and other topics in a way that is always entertaining and thought-provoking.

What to do? Where to turn? How to proceed? Is there a self-identity for the writer that combines responsibility with artistic integrity? If there is, what might it be? Ask the age we live in, and it might reply – the witness. And, if possible, the eyewitness. (On the relationship between the artist and the real world)

Atwood is an excellent and erudite commentator; and she’s also a humorous one, with her dry wit cutting through the chaff to get to her point. Her discussion of the relationship between reader and writer, with the necessary distance they should keep between them, is particularly fascinating; and her understanding of our need to make a mark on the world during our transient existence, to leave some kind of sign saying “I was here!”, is telling. We write for ourselves but we also write for others; and that can be a complex tightrope to walk.

In what ways, if any, does talent set you apart? Does it exempt you from the duties and responsibilities expected of others? Or does it load you up with even more duties and responsibilities, but of a different kind? Are you to be a detached observer, pursuing your art for its own sake, and having arcane kinds of fun – or rather, experiences that will enrich your understanding of Life and the Human Condition…

Although I know a reasonable amount about Atwood’s life from documentaries and her essays, I found the sections which dealt with her life and experiences really interesting. Spending many of her young years in the backwoods of Quebec, becauses of her father’s work, she had a non-traditional upbringing; it was fascinating to read about this, and the effects it had on her attitudes to her life and work. Her drily self-deprecating take on her journey to becoming a poet and then an author of fiction is wonderful, and as I read I couldn’t help but hear her words as if they were being spoken in her very distinctive voice.

Needless to say, I loved reading this book; I’m rarely disappointed with an Atwood, and I’ve come to appreciate her non-fiction work much more in recent years. She’s clear-eyed about her profession, willing to discuss all shades of opinion about writers and writing and reading, witty and erudite. The more I read (and I have read a lot…) the more I admire writers who communicate their ideas well, and do it in prose that’s engrossing and transformative. Atwood is an author who changes the way you look at things, and these essays will certainly make you think more about why writers write, why readers read and what you’re doing with that book you’re holding in your hand! Highly recommended!

*****

So there you have it. Full house! I have managed to read books that fit into each of the categories for November challenges (and it’s entirely possible I shall read more non-fiction this month, the way things are going!) Onward and upward! 😀

 

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