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A lost novella from a feminist icon – over @ShinyNewBooks! #simonedebeauvoir

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I have a new review up on Shiny New Books today which I’d like to share with you, and it’s of a fascinating and moving novella which has recently surfaced from an author who’s been something of an idol of mine for much of my life – Simone de Beauvoir.

Beauvoir is of course probably best known for her “The Second Sex” and her series of memoirs, but I absolutely love her fiction too. “The Inseparables” was never published in Beauvoir’s lifetime, but it tells the story of a pivotal friendship in her life, one she also revisited in “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter”. The novella makes wonderful reading, and this edition is enhanced with some lovely additional material. Do pop over and have a look at my review – it’s here! 😀

An evocative and atmospheric look at summers past – over @ShinyNewBooks #WITMonth

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After a couple of posts which moved away from #WITMonth, I want to share today a review I’ve done for Shiny New Books of a wonderful book which has been garnering a lot of love lately – “Three Summers” by Margarita Liberaki.

Set in Greece between the wars, the story follows three sisters over the summers of the title as they grow and change, make decisions which will decide the paths of their lives, love and lose, and explore family secrets. It’s a wonderful read, beloved in its native land, and the recent attention it’s been getting is much deserved. You can read my thoughts here! 😀

A lyrical look at a lost life – over @shinynewbooks @PushkinPress @Bryan_S_K

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I have a review up on Shiny New Books today which I’m really happy to share with you, as it’s from a favourite publisher, author and translator! The book is “An Evening with Claire“, the author is Gaito Gazdanov, the translator Bryan Karetnyk and the publisher Pushkin Press!

Gazdanov is one of my favourite recent discoveries; an émigré Russian author who slipped out of the limelight after a fascinating career and life, he’s been rediscovered thanks to the wonderful translations of his work by Bryan Karetnyk which have been issued in lovely editions by Pushkin Press. I’ve reviewed all of them so far, and the newest one is a real treat as it’s Gazdanov’s first published work. It was a delight to read and cover it, and you can read my post here.

Now I just hope that Bryan and Pushkin will turn their talents in the direction of his novel “Night Roads”, as I would love to read that one soon…. ;D

The passions of a great Russian author – over @ShinyNewBooks #dostoevskyinlove

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I’ve been lucky enough to read some wonderful non-fiction titles for Shiny New Books recently, including Friday’s “Monica Jones…” and the recent look at Paris during the 1900-1950 period. Today I want to share another marvellous book which knocked my socks off – “Dostoevsky in Love” by Alex Christofi.

Dostoevsky is, of course, one of my favourite authors (Russian or otherwise) and so I was intrigued to see what this book would have to say about him. It turned out to be a brilliantly constructed, totally engrossing and very moving take on the great author’s life, and particularly his loves, using many of Dostoevsky’s own writings. I absolutely loved it – check out my full review here! 😀

The shining stars of the City of Light – over @ShinyNewBooks

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I have a new review up at Shiny New Books today which I want to share with you, and it’s a book which turned out to be a particularly interesting read! Paris, the City of Light, holds a great fascination for me, as do its writers and artists. So when I was given the chance of reviewing a book which explored the creatives passing through Paris in the first half of the 20th century I jumped at the chance – and this is it!

Twentieth Century Paris (1900-1950) – A Literary Guide for Travellers by Marie-José Gransard takes a look at the city in what was a golden age. From Josephine Baker to Jean Cocteau, James Baldwin to Ernest Hemingway, the place was bursting at the seams with brilliant, creative people. It wasn’t all glitter, though, as characters like Jean Rhys and George Orwell found poverty did not go down well there.

The book is a fascinating read, and made me wish for a time travel machine! You can read my full review here. 😀

April reading – and whence May??

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I really *don’t* know where April went to; I do think that living under a pandemic has done something weird to time. Nevertheless, it is now May and so I think I’ll have to regroup once more and consider what shape my reading will take this month!

April itself was, of course, brim full of (mostly) good books, and here’s what I actually read during the month:

As you can see, there are a number of chunky ones! Several were for the #1936Club (though I hasten to point out I did *not* read the whole Nabokov short story collection!); and I have a couple of titles to review for Shiny New Books. There was, of course, one dud for me, but c’est la vie – mostly I enjoy what I choose.

Looking forward to May, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to read next. I finished the “Monica Jones….” book last night and have a bit of a hangover, and probably want something of a change. Plus I have a number of review books in the stacks demanding attention, and they’re all very appealing:

Mainly chunky review books…
This one is calling strongly!
Some lovely titles from the British Library

These are some other options – what I’ll pick I don’t know!

Is there anything here which takes your fancy or which you’d recommend??? 😀

Exploring British modernism – over @ShinyNewBooks :D

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As if there isn’t enough excitement going on at the moment, what with the #1936Club and all, I have a new review up today on Shiny New Books which I want to share with you!

The book in question comes with the rather long title “Circles & Squares: The Lives & Art of the Hampstead Modernists” and it’s written by Caroline Maclean. She takes a look at a group of creators based in the Hampstead area of London during mainly the 1930s, including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, and any number of others who moved in and out of their orbit, extending even to European luminaries like Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus.

“Ancestor 1” by Barbara Hepworth at the University of Birmingham (Francisclarke, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The book is a fascinating read, particularly if you have an interest in Modernism. I know it’s not for some – I’ve heard, for example, the sculptures of Hepworth and Moore described as “quite nice” and “inoffensive” which is faint praise… I personally like the Modernist ethic in buildings and furnishings, and I’m fond of abstracts too, so I really enjoyed reading this. The book is not without its flaws – in many ways, it suffers from trying to fit too much information into too short a work – but it’s definitely a wonderful introduction to the subject. You can read my review here!

2020 in Books – in which I once again fail to pick an outright winner…. ;D

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As is traditional on the Ramblings, I’m going to take a look back over my year of reading to pick out some highlights. It certainly has been a very strange and unpleasant year, unlike any I’ve known – I hope 2021 will be better, but who knows what’s to come. Books have, as always, been a comfort and my coping mechanism; and I *have* read a little more than usual, despite the strains of coping with a pandemic world. As usual, I’m not going to do any kind of countdown or top ten – let’s just look at the bookish things which have kept me going!

Comfort reading

A favourite from this year’s BLCC’s releases!

2020 has most definitely been year when there’s been a need for comfort reading. My go-to books are Golden Age crime and once again the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of great joy. I’ve read a good number, and not a dud amongst them! I’ve also felt the urge to do a sudden bit of re-reading – for example, at one point needing pick up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and revisit the wonderfully perfect ending. Longing for less complex times, I guess.

Indie Presses and Subscriptions

Some of the treats from my Renard Press sub.

If this year has been anything for me, it’s been the year of indie presses and subscriptions! Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, it’s been a joy to see independent publishers flourishing, supported by the love of serious readers and booklovers. I have spent happy hours with many wonderful indie imprints, authors and books, including Notting Hill Editions, Little Toller, Fum d’Estampa, Salt, Galley Beggar, Sublunary Editions and Renard Press; in fact, I did a nice little Q&A with Will Dady, the man behind the latter, for Shiny New Books. And of course it’s been lovely to keep up with Fizcarraldo Editions, who’ve released some quite marvellous volumes this year.

Which leads me on to…

Challenges/Events

I tend to steer away from most of these nowadays, as I find I get all enthusiastic about joining in then instantly want to go off in another direction! However, I did get involved in a Twitter-based readalong of the marvellous Malicroix (published by NYRB Classics), thanks to the influence of Dorian Stuber! A wonderful book and a great joy to take part in this! I’ve managed to reboot some of my personal reading projects, and even expand their scope – let’s see how that works out then…

Fitzcarraldos – I love Fitzcarraldos…

I also ended up co-hosting a two week celebration of the aforementioned Fitzcarraldo with Lizzy – Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight. Not only was this great fun, but it also got me reading quite a bit of my TBR – result! 😀

Which leads me on to…

Reading Weeks

As usual, Simon and I co-hosted two Reading Club Weeks this year, focused on 1920 and 1956. These are always such fun – if you haven’t encountered them, we basically read whatever we want from the year in question, review, post on blogs and other social media and share ideas of great books from the year. We’ll be hosting another in April 2021 so do join in! 😀

Social Media

Social media of all kinds has become pretty much a lifeline over 2020 and it’s been great to be able to keep in touch over the various platforms. Book Twitter is particularly lovely and I have been lucky enough to interact with some wonderful people on there. There have been postcards going around the world and moral support offered to our online friends who have suffered losses over the year. It is a lovely place to visit. Of course, there are always so many reading events to tempt me there, but mostly I manage to hold back because I know I will fail… I didn’t with Malicroix though, so result!

A little pile of my Harvill Leopards!

Twitter was also responsible for the Harvill Leopard Hunt, as it shall be titled, where a number of interested bookish people contributed to a wonderful master list of books issued in that imprint by Tim at Half Print Press. It was huge fun being involved in the detective work, and the resulting checklist is a thing of great beauty and use – you can check it out here! (Do take a look at Half Pint Press too – they produce some gorgeous things!)

Roland Barthes, a documentary and another interview!

Although I was often looking for comfort reads, it hasn’t all been lightweight this year. In particular, I seem to have been haunted by the spirit of Roland Barthes! I first read his Mythologies back at the end of 2019, reviewing it in January this year, and have revisited his work at various points over the year. He’s not always an easy read, but certainly fascinating, stimulating and thought-provoking!

Professor Richard Clay with Dr. Lonnie Bunch (c. Clearstory/BBC)

This also tied in with my Documentary of Year (and Decade!) 21st Century Mythologies with Richard Clay – it was quite superb, and I was delighted to welcome Richard back onto the Ramblings for a return interview. He’s always such an interesting interviewee, brimming with ideas! No doubt I shall continue to return to Barthes – there are several titles I have lurking on the TBR…

Shiny New Books

I continued to provide some reviews for Shiny New Books, the wonderful independent recommendations website. I always enjoy reading other people’s contributions and SNB covers such a wide range of books. Always worth checking out if you’re not sure what to read next, or want to find out what’s come out recently and is worth reading!

Trends in my reading

A translated work I enjoyed very much this year, which led on to many other reading ideas…

I’ve continued to read a lot in translation, from the Russian of course but also from French, German, Portuguese, Polish…. I’ve enjoyed poetry, and also a lot of non-fiction this year. There have been times when I’ve felt that I couldn’t engage properly with fiction, and so essays, philosophy, history, nature writing, travel writing and books which don’t actually fit into any category have been there for me to turn to in times of need. I plan to continue to follow no path but my own and read what I *need* to read!

Outstanding books

I’m not going to pick a best of the year, because I can’t. The kind of books I read are so disparate that it seems unfair to measure them against each other. However, I *shall* highlight some particularly special reads from 2020.

First up, I have ended the year reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland and it’s a stunning book. Mesmerising writing and brimming with ideas and visions, it certainly lives up to its hype and it was the perfect book with which to finish off the year.

I’m a huge fan of Paul Morley’s writing, and so was delighted to be able to review his latest book, A Sound Mind, for Shiny New Books. A wonderfully Morley-esque exploration of classic music in all its shapes and forms, I absolutely loved it.

Another author whose work I’ve loved for a long time is M. John Harrison. He’s hit the public eye a bit more than usual recently, and this year saw the release of a new novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again. It’s another stunning read, proof that Harrison’s powers only increase with the years, and I was so pleased to see it win the Goldsmiths Prize! Lovely Comma Press also released a collection of his stories, Settling the World, which was another outstanding read.

A newer discovery for me is Andrew Lees; I read his wonderful book Mentored by a Madman last year, in a lovely paperback from Notting Hill Editions; it was a marvellous read, and Lees is such a good writer – in this book proving that literature and science go together. NHE published a new book by Lees this year, Brazil That Never Was, and I absolutely loved it. I described it in my review as a “wonderful blend of travelogue, memoir and reflection”, and Lees’ storytelling skills produced an atmospheric and memorable read. I can’t wait for his next book!

I can’t finish this section without mention of Square Haunting, which I covered in February for Shiny New Books. A quite brilliant book covering the lives of five inspirational women living in the same square in London, although at different times, it was an unforgettable read as well as an amazing work of scholarship – and it deserves all the praise it’s had!

*****

Frankly, that’s probably enough for one post – if I go on any longer I shall end up reliving the whole year and with 2020, that’s not something I necessarily want to do. The books I’ve read this year have been 99.9% pure joy (with the very occasional dud…) Whatever 2021 chucks our way I shall hang onto books as a way of maintaining some kind of sanity. Here’s to a better year for us all!

Exploring a new series of lost revolutionary French women authors – over @shinynewbooks :D

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I have a new post up at Shiny New Books today which I’d like to share with you, and it focuses on a fascinating new range of books being issued by Gallic Books. The series is called Revolutionary Women, and the publisher has initially released three titles, by Violette Leduc, Renee Vivien and Marie-Louise Gagneur. The first two authors are ones I’m familiar with; but it’s the second two I cover in my piece, and both these books are fascinating reading from a pair of intriguing and often transgressive authors!

As you can see from the image above, as well as the Gallic editions, I already owned some collections of Renee Vivien’s poetry; I picked these up back in the heady days of the 1980s, from the much-missed Silver Moon women-only bookshop in Charing Cross Road. (I do also own several Leduc books, not shown in the picture!) It’s wonderful to see these writers back in print, and also to be able to discover new authors too! My thoughts on the books are here – do pop over and have a read! 😀

(Interestingly, Juliana at the (blank) garden, who always covers such a fascinating range of women authors, has published a post on Vivien today – it’s here, if you want to read more about this intriguing woman!)

A powerful and moving book over @shinynewbooks #rosemacaulay @KateHandheld

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I have a review up on Shiny New Books today of a remarkable and powerful book collecting together the war writings of Rose Macaulay – “Non-Combatants and Others”, published by Handheld Books. Macaulay is an author I’ve covered before – her “What Not” was a very intriging book – so I was happy to be able to read and review this one.

The book is subtitled “Writings Against War, 1916-1945”, and its centrepiece is the title novel “Non-Combatants and Others”. It’s a stunning and moving story, first published slap-bang in the middle of the First World War and revealing some of the horror of that conflict. Also included are some marvellous pieces of between the wars journalism, and an emotional short story from the Second World War. It really is an excellent collection which I highly recommend – and you can read my review here!

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