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My Blog’s Name in Books…. :)

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There is a lovely meme doing the rounds at the moment that I’ve been umming and ahhing about, but I’ve finally succumbed! It originated with Fictionophile and basically you have to choose books from your TBR to spell out your blog name. Sounds fun, yes, and I’ve enjoyed everyone else’s posts on this; however, I hesitated for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because my TBR books are frankly all over the house; and because I figured it would take quite a lot of books. But I gave in at last, and with some helpful suggestions from OH behind the scenes, this is what I came up with:

Yes, there they are – a selection of unread books that spell out Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings! I’ve split them up into the three words (without apostrophe, of course) so that I can run through what they are. Be prepared – as my blog has a long name, this will be a long post…

First up, Kaggsys:

(The) Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte – a fascinating sounding review copy from NYRB – I’m  hoping to get this one to the top of the pile soon!

A Passionate Apprentice – early essays by Virginia Woolf – one day I would like to read through all of Woolf’s essays – one day….

(The) Great Hunger – Patrick Kavanagh – a Penguin Modern from my box set by an author I’ve not read before.

Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries – an interesting title picked up when Verso were having one of their regular online offers (which I can never resist – damn you Verso!)

Silas Marner by George Eliot – another lovely review copy, this time from OUP – I *may* have read this book decades ago, but I can’t be sure….

(The) Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago – I loved my first experience of reading Saramago so I’m glad I had picked this one up in the charity shop. It has connections to Pessoa, too – more of whom later in this post… 😉

Selected Writings by John Muir – I had this on a wishlist for ages; then I had a fit of fedupness and decided to treat myself. So there you go.

Next up is Bookish:

Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac – another beautiful review copy, this time from the British Library. It sounds fun. This meme is making me want to read all these books at once…

On the Beach At Night Alone by Walt Whitman – one of my many Penguin Little Black Classics – I need to get reading some more of those too. Plus the complete Walt Whitman that OH gave me. Gulp. Will the books to be read never end???

(The) Old Man of the Moon by Shen Fu – and another Penguin Little Black Classic. I love the diversity of Penguin books.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell – I was really struggling to find another K book, when OH suggested this. Now, I initially thought I’d read it but I went and had a look on my shelves anyway. And as I don’t have a paperback copy of it, I don’t think I can have – so George to look forward to!! This is a gorgeous hardback edition from a fancy box set that OH gifted me many years ago – he’s a great book enabler! 🙂

I am a phenomenon quite out of the ordinary by Daniil Kharms – this has been sitting on the TBR for a while and I’ve dipped but not read properly or finished. I love Kharms’ strange and beguiling work, and I really must get back to this one.

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate – another lovely from the British Library – I obviously desperately need to catch up with review books.

His Only Son by Leopoldo Alas – and yet another review book from NYRB, one about which I know nothing but I’m willing to explore!

And finally, Ramblings (goodness knows, I do enough of that…):

(The) Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald – I didn’t get Sebald the first time round, but I think I’m probably better placed on a second attempt – we shall see…

Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – another gift from my book-enabling OH who thought it was a pioneering feminist work I should have. I don’t think I’ve read it before, so on the TBR it sits.

Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by Chateaubriand – a review copy from NYRB which is fascinating so far (I *have* started it, I confess) and which promises to stretch into the French Revolution – so *that* should be good! 🙂

(The) Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa – which I’ve been intending to read for ages and which has links to the Saramago above. But I keep wondering which translation/version is best to read – any advice out there??

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy – early sci fi which has been lurking for ages and which I might have nicked from Eldest Child (the sci fi buff of the family). One day I will read this…

Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris by Richard Clay – #Iconoclasm #FrenchRevolution #ProfRichardClay #Coveted book I finally got a copy of. ‘Nuff said…

Notes of a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin – have you noticed several NYRB review books in this meme? I should catch up, I really should…

(The) Gigolo by Francoise Sagan – another Penguin Modern. I have had mixed experiences with Sagan so it will be interesting to find out how I react to this one!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – I have only read a couple of Austens, despite owning them all (sometimes multiple copies). Perhaps this gorgeous hardback review copy from OUP will help a bit.

*****

There – I told you it would be a long post! So what does this tell you about me and my TBR? Probably that I have a grasshopper mind, refuse to stick to genres or types of books, and that I have more books than I need and that I’ll probably die before I read them all. At least I’ll be ok for reading matter if there’s a zombie apocalypse…

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Little Black Classics – Bittersweet Women!

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For my second visit to the Penguin Little Black classics, I decided to read a couple of collections of short works by two very wonderful women writers – Katherine Mansfield and Kate Chopin. Chopin is particularly known for her novel “The Awakening” in which there’s been something of a resurgence of interest recently. Mansfield, of course, needs no introduction; short story writer par excellence, she was the one serious rival to Virginia Woolf and the one author of whom Woolf was jealous. I read “The Awakening” a long time ago, and can’t recall much about it (though I obviously liked it enough to keep my copy!) But I’ve revisited Mansfield more recently, and was even more impressed by her writing than on my first reads.

Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

katherine_mansfield

This little volume contains three stories: “Marriage a la Mode”, “Miss Brill” and “The Stranger”. I recognised the stories from my last encounter with Mansfield, but this is no way spoiled my enjoyment. Mansfield is a sharp observer of the realities of life, of how events can slip out of our grasp because of our lack of ability to control someone else’s emotions. Marriage is central to the first and last stories and Mansfield brilliantly portrays the failure of two people to have a successful union; how we are still strangers within that relationship. And “Miss Brill” is a poignant study of self-deception with Mansfield’s writing capturing the turn of mind of the title character and her delusions about her lonely life. There are no huge, dramatic happenings in these works; instead, events are quietly devastating, with human frailties highlighted and human needs thwarted. Characters are unintentionally cruel to one another, and there’s the sense that human beings will never really understand each other. These are powerful little tales and Mansfield was an incredible writer.

A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin

Kate_Chopin

Chopin’s work is based in the south of America, and like Mansfield’s protagonists they experience self-deception and the unfairness of the world. “Desiree’s Baby” in particular is quite devastating, touching on prejudice and heredity, topics which also feature in “Neg Creol” and “Miss McEnders”. This is a world where men hold the power, where they cannot be expected to be fair, or constant, or kind, and women are very much at their mercy. “The Story of an Hour” particularly highlights this, when a wife receives news of her husband’s death as a liberation not a loss. And the title story features another running theme, that of poverty and temptation – when Mrs. Sommers suddenly finds herself in possession of a large sum of money, it’s so easy to indulge in all the little luxuries she’d gone without while holding her family together and providing for them.

Both of these collections were striking and strong, proving that there are plenty of women writers who can claim high status in the world of short story writing. And both have made me want to go out and re-read more of their authors’ works – which can’t be a bad thing. Another pair of winners from Penguin’s Little Black Classics! 🙂

Little Black Classics – The Russian Edition!

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It’s been common knowledge round the Ramblings that I’ve been suffering from a bit of a reader’s block – not a thing that happens often, but nevertheless very painful when it strikes. For days I was unable to settle to reading *anything* at all and began to wonder if I would ever be able to get through another volume. Fortunately, salvation came in part from the Penguin Little Black Classics! Commendably enough (in my view, anyway) the series features number of classic Russian authors, all of whom I’ve read and all of whom I love. So these were the perfect way to revisit them in small bites and ease back into reading! I tackled them in the order below and I’ll share just a few thoughts on each.

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The Nose – Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809 – 1852) is one of Russia’s most important authors, and generally regarded as the country’s first realist writer. He wrote on classic novel, “Dead Souls”, and some brilliant short works; this volume contains “The Nose” and “The Carriage”. The first is one of his most famous tales, in which a Collegiate Assessor wakes up one morning to find that his nose has disappeared and taken on a life of its own. Of course, without a nose of his own, it’s quite impossible that he should appear in his normal circles, and the story follows his attempts to track down his nose, which makes appearances here and there wearing a uniform and attempts to establish its existence in its own right. This is wonderfully absurdist nonsense which shows up the prejudices of the class system and civil service in Russia as well as being very, very funny. “The Carriage” is a cautionary tale about what happens when you get drunk and boast too much. The protagonist, Chertokutsky, lives in a small town which goes from dull to lively when the army is posted nearby, and is foolish enough to brag about the wonderful carriage he possesses; unfortunately, owing to imbibing just a little too much he oversleeps and forgets to warn his wife that there will be officers calling on them the next day to have a look! Gogol was a satirical genius and these tales display his talents brilliantly!

Gooseberries – Anton Chekhov

Chekhov needs no introduction on the Ramblings, and this volume collects three tales, “The Kiss”, “The Two Volodyas” and “Gooseberries”. Basically, the man could write short stories like no-one else… “The Kiss” is a poignant tale of a man haunted by a mistaken embrace; “The Two Volodyas” about the choices we make in love; and “Gooseberries” about the choices we make in life. Read Chekhov – just read him! 🙂

Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands – Ivan Turgenev

Turgenev is possibly best known for his novels (and his famous dispute with Dostoyevsky) but he was also great at the shorter form. There are two stories in this volume, the title one and “District Doctor”. The latter is very moving, the tale of a provincial doctor and a lost love. The title story portrays serfs living on the land, the hardships they endured and the strangeness of some of their beliefs. Turgenev’s tales apparently helped with the campaign to abolish serfdom, and they’re also excellent reading.

ruskies 2

How Much Land Does A Man Need? – Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy also needs no introduction; the giant of Russian literature produces works that were as short as “War and Peace” were long! The two stories here (the title one and “What Men Live By” are suffused by Tolstoy’s faith and “How Much Land….” (a parable of a peasant’s bargain with the Devil) is apparently considered by James Joyce to be the world’s greatest story. I don’t know about that, but it’s very powerful and thought-provoking!

The Steel Flea – Nikolay Leskov

I was particularly delighted that Leskov was included in the LBCs, as he’s a Russian author that often doesn’t get as much attention as the others. Also, he’s suffered a lot at the hands of translators as his particular style of vernacular speech and punning is apparently very hard to translate. The version of one of his most famous stories (also known as “Lefty”) is in the translation by William Edgerton, which comes highly recommended by ace translator Robert Chandler (for his thoughts about working on Leskov, see here). This is a fabulous and fantastic little story about the rivalry between craftsmen of different nations (and thus the nations themselves), rendered with verve and lots of punning!

The Meek One – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Last, but most definitely not least – the wonderful Dostoevsky. I’ve read many of his longer works but less of his short ones. This is a magnificent piece of writing, 57 pages of pure genius. The style recalls that of “Notes from Underground” in that it’s in the form of a monologue by an unreliable narrator. He’s a pawnbroker and he’s telling us the story of marriage, leading up to his wife’s story. Initially we’re unsure of the facts, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that the pawnbroker has a somewhat disreputable past and much of what happens is due to his obsessive love of his wife, his inability to express his emotions and his stifling of any natural relations with his wife. As the story builds to a climax, the tension is almost unbearable and the powerful narrative is totally absorbing. At the end it’s not even clear which of the two is the meek one of the title, but the tragic story is brilliantly told. Dostoyevsky is a writer of genius and if you were only going to read one of the Russian LBCs then I would really say that this is the one!

So a wonderful reading experience with these little books. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading the Russians and fortunately there are still plenty I haven’t tackled yet!

(As an aside, I’ve reproduced the author names exactly as they are on the books – and isn’t it interesting how the names can be transliterated with different spellings depending on the translator – languages are fascinating!)

More Little Black Lovelies – and cautious optimism…

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I suppose it was a given that I would feel inclined to add a few more Little Black Classics to my stacks, bearing in mind how well I’ve got on with the Russians so far (review to follow!)  Fortunately, Waterstones still had their lovely display (though they had moved it) and I decided to come home with these beauties:

lbcs

Sappho, Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, Marx and Engels plus H.G. Wells – what fun! It’s yonks since I read The Communist Manifesto so I rather fancy a revisit, and the rest are all authors I’m fond of, and here they are in bite-size chunks. I think these LBCs are definitely the most successful of the Penguin special editions I’ve experienced!

I thought these would be enough for one day, but the charity shops had other ideas…. I blame Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book for this first one, actually, as he was singing its praises on Vulpes Libris this week and so I couldn’t ignore it in the Oxfam:

guest cat

This next lovely book was from the Samaritans Book Cave – a beautiful Everyman hardback collection of four of Irene Nemirovsky’s novellas – “David Golder”; “The Ball”; “Snow in Autumn” and “The Courilof Affair”. I need to read more of this writer (I’ve only read “David Golder” so far) so this is an ideal way to do it – and a rather luxurious hardback for only £2.50 is not to be sneezed at.

nemir

My final find was an original green Virago in wonderful condition from the Crack On charity shop:

holtby

I own several Holtbys, but not this one – so it was worth 75p of anyone’s money!

As for the cautious optimism – well, I’ve read all 6 of the Russian Little Black Classics I picked up last week, and they’re all wonderful, particularly the Dostoevsky, which was stunning. I felt so uplifted after successfully reading them that I plunged into “The Leopard” and am a chapter in with no sign of stopping. So maybe the reading crisis is over – fingers crossed….. 🙂

Little Black Lovelies!

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I have (rather sadly) spent most of this week in a state of great excitement about the impending publication of the Penguin Little Black Classics – 80 volumes at 80p each to celebrate 80 years of Penguin Classics. There’s a remarkably wide of range of authors represented, including many of my favourites, and so I’ve been keen to get my hands on some!

Penguin-330x330I was also very keen to buy them at a proper bookshop, rather than online, so I popped into my local Waterstones last week to find out if they would be stocking them. They told me they were going to be stocking the whole range – yay! – and when I went in today they’d done a wonderful display on the first floor next to the fiction section – I wish I’d had my camera on me, but anyway, well done Ipswich Waterstones!

I confess I came home with several of them – and I could have happy picked up the lot! – but here are the ones I chose:

black stackAnd here they are, all spread out:

black flat

The top row is Russians (of course!) – Tolstoy, Leskov, Chekhov, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Gogol.

The middle row is English language writers – Conrad, Darwin, Whitman, Wharton and Pepys.

And the bottom row is Japanese/Chinese authors – Basho, Kenko, Shen Fu and Pu Songling.

They’re beautiful little books, worth 80p of anyone’s money – and I suspect more of them might make their way into the Ramblings before too much longer…

As for other weekend purchases – well, I was restrained:

lively

A nice hardback of “A House Unlocked” by Penelope Lively – I’ve read all her children’s books and have several adult ones on Mount TBR – but this was only 50p and sounded fascinating!

So today has been a very happy bookish Saturday! 🙂

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