Home

Looking back at November’s reading events – and forward to the last month of the year! 😊

36 Comments

Well, November was a month full of events, wasn’t it??? As I mentioned in my end of October post, I hoped to take part in German Lit Month, Novellas in November, Margaret Atwood Reading Month and Non-Fiction November; and I’m happy to say that I did, as well as reading the fourth in the Susan Cooper “The Dark is Rising” sequence – here’s what I read:

Again this was a lovely month of reading with some really marvellous books; of course, I’ve only part read the two Atwoods but that leaves me with more pleasures to come. What was particularly enjoyable about November was the number of books which managed to overlap and ended up ticking the box for multiple reading events! As November is always so busy this did take the pressure off, and also meant that I ended up reading some marvellous books.

Apart from the various events, I also oddly found myself sweeping up a couple of 1929 books which I’d managed to miss when we had our latest club reading week in October; both of them were excellent reads, so I regard that as a very successful month with no duds! 😀

So what’s coming up on the Ramblings in December? Well, first of all, I’m happy to report that I’ll once again be taking part in Cross-Examining Crime’s Classic Crime Reprint of the Year Award and will be nominating two particular favourites of mine – watch this space to hear more about these and how you can vote.

I’ll also be coming to the end of my read of the Cooper books with “Silver in the Tree”, book five – I can’t remember much though I do think I recall one very significant element, so we shall see what I think of it this time round.

The LibraryThing Virago group comes to the end of this year’s themed monthly reads and there is no theme, except to read a book you might not have managed to fit into another one of the categories. I shall see how I feel about that, as it’s a busy month and it will depend on my reading mojo.

And of course there are all the other books eyeing me from Mount TBR and just waiting to be read! There are so many different options, but I have to confess that I have been considering spending the bulk of December wallowing in classic crime; it’s always such a busy month and to relax with GA mysteries might be the perfect option. I’ve gathered a few from the TBR, and as you can see there are a few Christmas themed ones so it would be great fun…

Some potential crime reads for December (plus a BL Women Writers anthology!)

I’ve also snuck into the pile the British Library Women Writers short story collection because that will be a must for December. But we shall see what I read, and that *will* depend on my mood – I can be fickle and change my mind halfway through a reading plan! 🤣 I can’t quite believe we’re heading into the last month of 2022 – where *does* the time go?? Here’s hoping for a good month of reading and also a nice run up to Christmas – when there’s usually some bookish arrivals…. ;D

“Writers are human beings” – exploring Margaret Atwood’s non-fiction writings #MARM

30 Comments

One of my favourite of November’s many reading events is Margaret Atwood Reading Month, which is run by the lovely blogger Buried in Print. I always try to take part in this – my love of Atwood and her writing knows no bounds! – and I was determined to read something of her work this year. Interestingly, having read most of her fiction, I often nowadays find myself drawn to her non-fiction or poetry, and having had a scour of the shelves, one volume I owned appealed very much, and another had to be sent off for! So here’s some thoughts on the Atwood books into which I’ve been dipping this November! 😀

Writing with Intent – Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

I have several non-fiction works by Atwood, but not a collection like this, and when I was scouting around for reading ideas I stumbled across it online. I believe it’s an American edition, published by Basic Books in 2006, and it gathers all manner of interesting pieces… The book is split into sections, and I’ve so far read the first, which covers writings from 1983-89. There’s an interesting mixture; for example, book reviews of “The Witches of Eastwick” by John Updike, Italo Calvino’s “Difficult Loves”, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and “The Warrior Queens” by Antonia Fraser. These made fascinating reading and I was particularly interested to hear what Atwood had to say about Calvino!

The collection also gathers introductions, forewords and afterwords. These relate to “A Jest of the Gods” by Margaret Laurence, “Reading Blind: The Best of American Short Stories 1989” and “Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews”. Atwood is always full of insights when it comes to her views on her fellow authors!

The other pieces in this section were more general prose writings which were all absolutely fascinating. “Laughter vs. Death” takes a long, hard and scary look at the growing effects of extreme porn (and I imagine things are even worse now…); “That Certain Thing Called the Girlfriend” explores the changing role of female friendships in fiction; “True North” is a fascinating autobiographical piece about Canada and changes it had been going through since Atwood was young; “Great Aunts” looked at the importance of female relations in the author’s young life when she was starting out as a writer; and in “Writing Utopia” she reveals her views on utopias/dystopias and her thoughts behind “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Each of these pieces is a gem in its own right; even if you’ve never read the books she’s writing about, or the collections she’s introducing, I’ve never known Atwood produce a dull piece. And the autobiographical works are a particular treat; I’ve read some of her writings on her life before and loved them, so was delighted there were more here.

However, the piece which really knocked me out, and unexpectedly so, was her introduction to the American Short Stories. She read these blind, with no knowledge of the name or sex of the author, and that in itself was fascinating. But what really hit me were the paragraphs where she articulated what I feel about the whole modern trend to ‘teach’ people how to write. I am deeply suspicious of this approach (call me old fashioned if you will), and so it appears is Atwood. I make no excuse for quoting two longer sections which really resonated with me:

Whenever I’m asked to talk about what constitutes a ‘good’ story, or what makes one well-written story ‘better’ than another, I begin to feel very uncomfortable. Once you start making lists or devising rules for stories, or for any other kind of writing, some writer will be sure to happen along and casually break every abstract rule you or anyone else have ever thought up, and take your breath away in the process. The word should is a dangerous one to use when speaking of writing. It’s a kind of challenge to the deviousness and inventiveness and audacity and perversity of the creative spirit. Sooner or later, anyone who has been too free with it will be liable to end up wearing it like a dunce’s cap. We don’t judge good stories by the application to them of some set of external measurements, as we judge giant pumpkins at the Fall Fair. We judge them by the way they strike us. And that will depend on a great many subjective imponderables, which we lump together under the general heading of taste.

and:

I’ve recently heard it argued that writers should tell stories only from a point of view that is their own, or that of a group to which they themselves belong. Writing from the point of view of someone “other” is a form of poaching, the appropriation of material you haven’t earned and to which you have no right. Men, for instance, should not write as women, although it’s less frequently said that women should not write as men. This view is understandable but, in the end, self-defeating. Not only does it condemn as thieves and imposters such writers as George Eliot, James Joyce, Emily Bronte and William Falkner … it is also inhibiting to the imagination in a fundamental way. It’s only a short step from saying we can’t write from the point of view of an “other” to saying we can’t read that way either…

My goodness, I’m so glad I picked up a copy of this book. I absolutely adore what I’ve read so far, and shall continue to make my way through it, pacing myself to savour its treats. I’m so glad that Buried in Print continues this annual event; always happy to be prompted to read Atwood! (In addition, I’ll claim this one for Non-Fiction November!!)

Dearly

The other Atwood book I’m dipping into at the moment is her most recent book of poetry, “Dearly”. I was fortunate enough to pick up a signed copy when it came out, and have been hoarding it ever since – and now seemed the best time to pick it up and take a look!

“Dearly” is Atwood’s first collection of poetry for over a decade and as she reveals in her introdiuction, it brings togethere work from 2008 and 2019, a period in which, as she says “things got darker in the world”. By necessity, much of the writing is elegiac and often introspective, dealing with the losses she’s had over recent years. However, there are some beautiful reflections on nature, thoughts on ageing and indeed it does seem as if death is very much on her mind.

As with my previous read of her 1968 collection, “The Animals in That Country”, I found Atwood’s verse immediate and emotionally affecting. I’m continuing to make my way through it, alongside my other current read, and I can tell it will be a welcome addition to my Atwood shelf!

*****

So those are my reads for Margaret Atwood Reading Month, and both have been wonderful books to spend time with – she’s an author who never lets me down. Have you been joining in with #MARM, and if so which books have you read??

October reads and the #1929Club – what a month it was!- and what’s coming next?? 😊📚

58 Comments

Well – that *was* a month of reading! As well as general bookishness, I ended the month co-hosting the latest of our reading Club weeks with Simon, and 1929 turned out to be a brilliant choice! Here are the books I finally read during October, and as you can see, many of them were from the year in question!

No duds again, which is always pleasing, and some real stunners in there. Revisiting a couple of my favourite French authors, Colette and Cocteau, was a wonderful treat, as was reading a chunkster from John Cowper Powys. Thanks *so* much to everyone who joined in with the #1929Club and if I haven’t linked to your post on my dedicated page, please do leave a comment and I’ll do so!

So where will we go after 1929? Well, Simon and I put our heads together, and Simon suggested we look at the 1940s as we’ve only done a couple of Clubs from that decade; and he proposed actually going for 1940 itself. I was happy to agree as there are some marvellous books from that year. So from 10-16 April 2023 we will co-host the #1940Club! We do hope you will join us! 😊😊

So what’s coming up in November? Well, it’s a month full of events: Novellas in November, Non-Fiction November, German Lit Month and Margaret Atwood Reading Month, to name just a few. Add to that my monthly read of The Dark is Rising sequence and the LibraryThing Virago monthly reads, and potentially the whole of November could be taken up with events.

Truth be told, I may not join in with all of those, depending on my mood, but for the moment, this is a pile of the books which are currently taking my fancy:

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that two particular books appear on both piles… That’s because as soon as I’d gathered the pile of possibles, I immediately flung myself into them, and as they were both slim I finished them before the end of the month! 🤣🤣 What comes next remains to be seen – I’m not sure where my reading mojo is going right now!

Anyway, those are the books catching my eye at the moment – what do you plan for November? Are you joining in with any of the events above???

Sharing the love for Margaret Atwood Reading Month #MARM

31 Comments

I have to confess that I do love an excuse to rummage amongst my bookshelves; so the fact that I managed to get involved in Margaret Atwood Reading Month, and also that so many people have been sharing pictures of their Atwood collections kind of spurred me on to take down all of my copies of her books with a view to providing some gratuitous book images. What I hadn’t quite taken on board was the number of Atwoods I actually own… Here they are, firstly, in a little row:

So – quite a few…

And here are the lovely Green cover Virago editions:

I prefer to get the Green Virago versions when I can, though they’re becoming harder to track down. I read these decades ago, so memories of them are fairly fuzzy. There are a couple of what I would class as Green Viragos, although they only have a green coloured spine, and these are they:

As you can tell, “Conversations” was picked up from the Loros charity shop on a visit to the Offspring and if I recall correctly was spotted by Eldest Child.

And here are the non-Green Viragos:

Some are much older than others, and I *do* quite like the modern style ones. As not everything she wrote is available in Green, there’s not much I can do about it, is there??? 🙂 These two, however, are big chunky book club editions:

The image on “The Blind Assassin” is striking, but I don’t find the format particularly nice.

Then there are the hardbacks:

I don’t think I bought all of these new, although I’m pretty sure I picked up “Alias Grace” as soon as it came out – it’s one of my favourite Atwood books. They’re bulky and heavy to read, but I do like a chunky hardback.

Last but not least are the oddities!

“The Tent” is a small format hardback; “Lady Oracle” is an American edition with a striking cover which I don’t need as I have a Green Virago but I don’t like to get rid of it; and “The Labrador Fiasco” is the Bloomsbury Quid I reviewed a couple of days ago.

So there you are. My Margaret Atwood collection. She’s a very prolific author and I don’t have anywhere near all of her books. Except – I have a collection of her poetry (and I know this because I’ve reviewed some on here) and it’s not with the rest of the books and that’s most annoying….  😦

Sharply poignant and evocative #MARM

34 Comments

The Labrador Fiasco by Margaret Atwood

Despite my extreme rubbishness at taking part in challenges and readalongs and the like, I couldn’t help but be tempted by the concept of November being Margaret Atwood Reading Month (hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink). I love Atwood’s books, and so it was a no brainer that I’d try to get to something of hers this month. However, as usual, time ran away with me and the end of November has been getting closer and closer. So I cast my eye over my Atwood shelves, and suddenly spotted a tiny volume peeking out – “The Labrador Fiasco”, a small Bloomsbury Quid edition which has been there since, oooh, 1997…

Now the problem I have, as I’ve talked about before, is often not being sure whether I’ve read a book or not (except when it’s something so massive and monumental and memorable and life-changing that it’s etched in my brain). I read a *lot* of Atwood in the 1980s while I was commuting – 25 minutes each way on the train is great for getting through books – and many of them came from the local library. However, “Labrador” came from a time when I was surrounded by children of various ages (the youngest being quite small) and I struggled to read much at the time. So I may or may not have read this – but it was slim enough to digest in a very short session and still bring with it the enormous satisfaction that always comes from reading Margaret Atwood.

The Bloomsbury Quids were a series of small books that cost just that (a quid is one pound sterling, for those from other climes…) The list of titles in the back makes interesting reading as several of the books and authors might well have slipped out of sight nowadays. But what of the Atwood? Well, it’s 41 pages long and mingles the story of a disastrous expedition with the failing health of the narrator’s father. Atwood is, of course, known for her writings about the Canadian wilds, and so the expedition story is familiar territory. However, the blending of the narrative with the effects of ageing and illness on father in the story adds a level of poignancy and gives the little book an emotional heft you might not expect from its length.

Their hopes are high, adventure calls. The sky is deep blue, the air is crisp, the sun is bright, the treetops seem to beckon them on. They do not know enough to beware of beckoning treetops.

This is very much about losing your bearings, whether out in the world or in your everyday life. I found that “The Labrador Fiasco” had a particular resonance for me because of my own father’s gradually failing health before he passed away in 2015. Watching a loved one coming adrift is always difficult and the narrator’s responses to her father’s issues chimed in with many of my feelings. So I guess I may not be responding to this book unemotionally…

A further level of strangeness came about when I started to use the book receipt which was still sitting inside the front cover as a bookmark. As you can see from this image, that was how I could date the purchase of this book:

My parents were still living in Hampshire at the time (I grew up there after we moved down from Scotland) and when the Offspring were younger we would go down to spend a week with them. That always included a visit to the nearest bookshop (of which I have very happy memories….) and I can see from the receipt that I also bought an “Owl Babies” board book for Youngest Child. I think this is why I have problems parting with books – they’re so often linked with specific bits of my life (and I suspect Owl Babies is still somewhere in the house…).

But back to Atwood. This is, of course, 41 pages of brilliance from one of my favourite authors. In that ideal world, where I had nothing whatever to do but read, I would spend much of the time reading and re-reading her work. As it is, I’m very glad that #MARM has spurred me on to drag something of hers off the shelf, even if it has stirred up a few emotions in the process!

 

%d bloggers like this: