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Tackling mortality the Russian way…. @pushkinpress #tolstoy #borisdralyuk

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Lives and Deaths: Essential Stories by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Boris Dralyuk

Following on from my last post, where I considered a lovely new collection of Gogol’s essential stories from Pushkin Press, I’m today going to be looking at a similar collection bringing together some of Tolstoy’s shorter works. Tolstoy was, of course, more prolific than Gogol (well, he lived a lot longer, for one thing…); and so translator Boris Dralyuk has perhaps had a more difficult task in choosing which works to feature. He’s made what I think is an exemplary selection, one which focuses on what seems to me to be the main thrust of Tolstoy’s shorter works – death, how we prepare for it and how we meet it (as well, I suppose, as the life we lead beforehand).

The four works Boris has translated are “The Death of Ivan Illych”, “Pace-setter: The Story of a Horse”, “Three Deaths” and “Alyosha the Pot”. Of these, two I’ve read before (“Ivan..” and “Alyosha…”) and two are new to me; and certainly I sensed similar themes in each work. “Ivan…” in particular is a very dark story, dealing in the main with the illness and impending demise of the titular man. He’s again hide-bound by that Russian civil service and rigid social structure, but aims for a happy life, marrying and settling down. A random minor accident seals his fate and we watch his gradual deterioration, his wrestling with his mortality and his attempts to reckon his life. It’s a grim struggle for him, and throws up all manner of issues for the reader, as I found before…

“Alyosha the Pot”, which I recognise but must have read pre-blog, is a short tale of the life and death of a simple peasant who spends much of his life doing things for others and can therefore meet his end with serenity. And “Three Deaths” is a fascinating story, new to me, where Tolstoy considers three different types of demise: that of a consumptive rich women, an ancient peasant and – well, of the third death I will say nothing, as does Boris in his introduction, for fear of spoiling the effect. But it is a remarkable piece of writing!

I’ve left “Pace-setter…” till last because it really is something special. It is indeed the story of a horse; the Pace-setter of the title, a piebald gelding of good breeding who nevertheless had a hard life. We initially see him as old and worn out, tormented by the younger horses and struggling to carry on. However, he speaks out at night, telling his tale to the other members of the horse community, and it’s a story of suffering at the whim of humans, cruelty and betrayal, and the loss of a master with whom Pace-setter had a strong bond. Pace-setter’s story opens the eyes of the other horses to what kind of animal their companion was, and it’s a remarkably moving and powerful piece of writing (and excruciatingly sad in places).

via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had my struggles with Tolstoy in recent years, finding it difficult to deal with his dogmatic attitudes at times; and indeed re-reading “Ivan…” I was struck again by his need to constantly blame women for the problems of human relationships. The extreme attitudes of “The Kreutzer Sonata” were starting to creep in, and his narrator’s lack of any empathy at the changes his wife was undergoing during pregnancy is shocking (although perhaps not unusual at that time).

Nevertheless, “Pace-setter…” does much to redeem him in my eyes. It’s tempting, of course, to see the life and hardship of the horses as analogous with that of the peasants. However I think it also reflects Tolstoy’s deep connection with the natural world, an element that comes through in some of the other stories. Deep down, Tolstoy seems to be saying that we should lead a *useful* life, and if we’ve done that we can face death with equanimity. That isn’t in fact a bad philosophy and if more people adopted it nowadays, we might have a nicer world around us…

“Lives and Deaths” is, therefore, an excellent collection and gives a really good flavour of Tolstoy’s writing and core beliefs. The translations read beautifully, there are useful notes where needed, and the stories flow thematically. If you want to get to grips with the essence of Tolstoy, his beliefs distilled into his short works, there can be not better place to start.

(Review copies of this book and Gogol’s Essential Tales kindly provided by Pushkin Press, for which many thanks! Both of these books would make a wonderful introduction to these Russian authors if you haven’t read them before;  but even if you have, these collections are a great way to get reacquainted… :D)

On My Book Table… 4 – decisions, decisions!

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Since I last reported on the state of my Book Table, it has been through several changes as there have been bookish comings and goings as well as raging indecision about what to read next. This of course is particularly bad at what is a busy time of year, but as I’m now off work for the festive season, it seemed a good time to tidy up a little and take stock. So here is the current state of the Table itself:

As you can probably tell, there are a number of heavyweight books on there (and I don’t mean in size necessarily, but in content). Shall we take a closer look?

This stack is mainly review books – some lovely British Library Editions, glorious Russians from Pushkin Press, an intriguing title from Michael Walmer and an author new to me from NYRB. Then there’s “Jam Today”, a book I was very excited to track down recently. All of these would be ideal next reads.

This is what I mean by heavyweight… Essays, short fiction, Montaigne, Proust, Pessoa, philosophy. I’d like to read them all at once, which is not helpful. Especially as I feel as if I could quite easily have a month of reading nothing but Fitzcarraldo books!

And finally, Barthes… Three physical books (there is a digital one too) and the Binet book about Barthes which has been on the Table for months. I am nearing the end of “Mythologies”, but unsure whether I should read another Barthes straight off or let the first settle a bit…

Of course, there are the birthday arrivals which came into the house recently and haven’t made it to the Book Table yet (and they’ll no doubt be joined by some Christmas arrivals at some point soon). A further complication exists in the form of the Book Token my work presented me with on my birthday which is itching to be spent. An embarrassment of riches, but I do find that the more choices I have, the harder the decision becomes! What would *you* read next??? 😀

Tackling Tolstoy… again! @almaclassics

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You would think, wouldn’t you, that after my last run-in with Tolstoy over “The Kreutzer Sonata” I would want to give a little time and space before returning to his work. However, I have been determined to read more of his shorter works (although they’re not really anthologised in a logical way) and in particular to finish the collection Mr. Kaggsy gave me, as well as two pretty review copies from the lovely people at Alma Classics. And here is a picture of what is going to feature in this post:

I was reading some of these whilst suffering with a major sinus infection, so perhaps they weren’t the most obvious choice. Nevertheless I enjoyed these a lot more than Kreutzer (although they aren’t without their problems); and frankly, as I commented on Twitter, *any* Tolstoy other than Kreutzer is going to be a doddle.

I’m going to tackle “The Forged Coupon” first, as it kind of stands to one side in its subject matter and is an intriguing piece of Tolstoy’s short work. Published in 1911, after the author’s death, it was actually written in the period of 1880 to 1904 – so quite a long time for a short book. Structurally, and in its content, it’s in some ways unlike anything else I’ve read by the author, as it tackles a kind of butterfly effect of events that are all triggered by a young student falsifying a bank bond (the coupon of the title) and cashing it in. This has a catastrophic knock-on effect, as we follow a chain reaction which impacts on any number of peasants who lose jobs, turn to crime, commit murders and in many cases end up jail – all because of one seemingly small crime. The narrative is economic and cleverly follows each person affected, showing how their lives intertwine and are disrupted by the one immoral act. The book is split into two parts, and the second (shorter) of these two shows some of the protagonists in prison, attempting to come to terms with their crimes and in many cases finding God.

The story does, of course, have a didactic point as by this time in his life Tolstoy was limbering up to be the towering moralist he eventually became. But despite this, the book is entertaining and clever, showing how our lives *do* intertwine and how what we do affects others. There isn’t the hysteria directed at women in some of his other works, there is dry humour and the book is more Dostoevksian or Gogolian in its effect than what you might describe as typically Tolstoyan. I can’t quite explain that any more than to say that at points I felt as if I was reading Dostoevsky and not Tolstoy!

While lying in the ditch, Stepan could see continually before him the meek, thin, frightened face of Marya Semyonovna and hear her words – “You can’t do that “– in her own peculiar, lisping, piteous voice. And again Stepan would go through all he had done to her. And he would become terrified and close his eyes, and rock his hairy head to shake these thoughts and memories out of it. And for a moment he would be free of the memories, but in their place would come to him first one, then a second black figure, and after the second would follow still more black figures with red eyes, pulling faces and all saying the same thing: “You did away with her – do away with yourself as well, or else we’ll give you no rest. “And he would open his eyes, and again he could see her and hear her voice, and he would start feeling pity for her, and revulsion and terror at himself. And again he would close his eyes, and again… the black figures.

“The Forged Coupon” is published by Alma, and so has all the nice extras that so often come with their books (photographs, supporting material, notes). It’s translated and introduced by Hugh Aplin (whose work I always find reliable), and so this one is definitely recommended as a great way to read Tolstoy’s shorter works and see where his thinking was going later in life.

The other two Tolstoy works I tackled actually feature in two volumes, and there’s a reason for that…. The last story in the Wordsworth Classics collection is “The Devil”, and this is also one of the “Three Novellas” volume from Alma. However, the Wordworth has the title character as Eugene, whereas the Alma has him as Yevgeny. Pedant that I am, I am very uncomfortable with a Russian called Eugene (I had the same problem with character name translation during “War and Peace” – Andrey as Andrew!); so I switched to reading the Alma version, and was very happy with the translations featured here by Kyril Zinovieff (“A Landowner’s Morning”) and April FitzLyon (“The Devil”). The third story, “Family Happiness”, is one I’ve already covered here.

“A Landowner’s Morning” is from 1852, so early in Tolstoy’s career and a time when serfdom in Russia had not yet been abolished. And indeed, the plight of the serfs is the subject of the story, with the central young landowner (based apparently on the author himself) doing the rounds of many of his peasants to see about helping, educating and improving them and their lot. Alas, it doesn’t quite work out for young Nekhylyudov, who meets obstacles wherever he goes, and it seems the serfs do not want his help but only to be left along to go about their lives. Apparently Tolstoy was not in favour of educating the peasants, instead being of the opinion that all they needed was to be kept in thrall and given a bit more help. As serfdom was basically slavery, that’s not a comfortable message… 😦

The final story I’m going to write about here is a very different kind of work: “The Devil” was again published in 1911 and belongs to the later period of works like Kreutzer. And once again, Tolstoy draws on his life for his fiction, telling the story of a young landowner who takes over the family estate to try to rebuild it and save it from financial collapse. Yevgeny has his *needs* (i.e. he has a sex drive); and it’s harder to satisfy these needs out in the country where everything is more noticeable. An enforced period of continence sends him a bit crazy, so he arranges for a local peasant woman, Stepanida, to be sent to him. The latter is willing, and their meetings become more of a liaison, although the impression is that Stepanida is not desperately bothered, although Yevgeny is well and truly hooked. However, he needs to marry and settle down, and does so to the pale and beautiful Liza who brings money to the marriage. Liza is a lot more fragile than a peasant woman; she loses their first child, and the second is touch and go. However, Stepanida is still there in the background and when their paths cross, she still exerts a strong and magetic force which Yevgeny seems unable to resist. Tolstoy gives two alternative endings, neither of which I would have chosen – and it seems he is *still* struggling to cope with the concept of the animal passions…

Although “The Devil” is much less inflammatory than Kreutzer, it still has its problems. The devil of the title is Stepanida, and she’s portrayed as a constant temptation. Well, excuse me, but I think it takes two to tango, and if Yevgeny can’t control himself it’s his problem and not Stepanida’s. We are supposed to sympathise with the poor man, a slave to his urges, entrapped by a woman and unable to break free. Oh really – so it’s all the woman’s fault, is it? (sounds like victim blaming if I ever heard it…) The women in “The Devils unfortunately exemplify that old ‘Madonna/Whore’ cliche – apparently we all have to be either amoral, highly sexed and healthy like Stepanida or pale, frail and spiritual like Liza – there’s no middle ground. This is of course ridiculous…

It’s difficult for me, morally bruised as I am by Kreutzer, to approach Tolstoy’s shorter works entirely objectively; perhaps shouldn’t be reading these with such a sharp feminist eye, but if he’s going to come the moral high horse I don’t see there’s an alternative. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy these works, because I did – the writing was evocative and interesting, and he conjured up rural Russian quite brilliantly. The difficulty is that he so often lets the moraliser in him become more important than the storyteller, which is a shame, because when you’re reading a book with the epic sweep of “War and Peace” or “Anna Karenina” the story takes centre stage and that’s how it should be.

Nevertheless, this *was* a particularly fascinating selection of stories to read and think about. I’ve previous read other shorts by Tolstoy (he was one of the Penguin Little Black Classics) and part of me really wishes there was some kind of collected Tolstoy in English – perhaps volumes with all of his non-fiction works and one with his short stories in some kind of chronological order (the pedant in me is winning out here). Despite my problems and caveats, he *is* an important writer and I still have some of the longer works unread. I reckon, however, I *will* need to be morally strong and tolerant when I tackle even more Tolstoy! ;D

Many thanks to Alma Classics for providing review copies of “The Forged Coupon” and “Three Novellas” – much appreciated!

Tolstoy gets worked up (and not in a good way)… :(

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When it comes to Russian literature, there’s often a Tolstoy v. Dostoevsky split, and despite having read quite a bit of the former, I always come down in favour of the latter. However, as I’ve read both Tolstoy’s epic big works, I’ve been trying to make my way through some of his shorter works, though it’s a little while since I got to any. However, I was reminded recently of this little volume of four collected works that Mr. Kaggsy gifted me some time ago:

I’ve read the first two stories, “Family Happiness” and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and found them both interesting, although I could see Tolstoy’s rather troubling views about marriage forming. However, I confess to having stalled at the third story in the book – “The Kreutzer Sonata“. I tried to read this some years back (possibly pre-blog) and I abandoned it after a few pages – the extreme anti-women spouting of the main character was just too much for me. However, I’m pretty sure this was before I read “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”, so I determined to be strong and give it another go. I rather wish, however, that I hadn’t….

“The Kreutzer Sonata” is a later work by Tolstoy, and the introduction to my edition describes it as controversial; it’s not hard to see why. Set during a train journey, the narrator encounters a fellow passenger who turns out to have murdered his wife, and this man tells his story to the narrator. It’s not a pretty one, laced as it is with misogyny, guilt, obsession, jealousy, lust and moral rantings. It’s uncomfortable reading at the best of times, particular as a woman, and this is made worse with knowledge of Tolstoy’s behaviour to his long-suffering wife and the fact that some of the nastier elements in the story are drawn from the author’s life.

I guess it’s worth remembering that later in his life Tolstoy had become a bit of a religious fanatic, and this informs much of the narrative. However, if the views of the husband are those of Tolstoy, they’re actually terribly worrying. One minute he’s berating men for seeing women only as sexual objects, then he’s chastising women for taking sexual pleasure, then saying women should be virgins, then saying that any act of sex is debauchery, and so on. It’s desperately contradictory and when you read the afterword where Tolstoy states his views following the release of the story, it gets worse. He *does* have a point when he goes on about the marriage market, as pre-Revolutionary Russian was notorious for this, marrying young women off to rich old men (although I’m sure just about every Western country did the same). However, he seems to believe that love between man and woman can’t and doesn’t exist, marriage is only to allow the “animal” love, and that basically everything is the woman’s fault. This is not nice, to put it mildly, and if he had such a problem with sex he should have stopped putting it about, frankly. For goodness sake, he even thinks that music is an issue!

“The Kreutzer Sonata” is a horrible book to read; a madman raving about the horror of sexual relations, about his wife being burdened by childbirth and then rediscovering some kind of pleasure in life, about his wild jealousy and his murder of his wife, and this is someone who’s supposed to be making a moral point for Tolstoy? His beliefs were obviously pretty extreme by this point (as well as contradictory), and the fact that the murderer is acquitted just reinforces the nastiness of this story. Apparently G.K. Chesterton was very critical of Tolstoy’s beliefs as reflecting that what the Russian disliked was being a man, going on to say, “You are at least next door to hating humanity, for you pity humanity because it is human”. Certainly, I think Tolstoy had problems…

Tolstoy used real instances from his life in “Kreutzer” (for example, the fact he showed his wife to be a diary of his earlier sexual activities) which kind of makes this book even worse. By the end of his life he’d obviously moved to a position of rigid fanaticism, and as someone who has no problem with the sexual act I can’t begin to get into his mindset. This really is a nasty book; I have no sympathy with Tolstoy or his characters, and I can’t imagine what his poor wife had to put up with. The book is hysterical, muddled, skewed, dismissive of sexuality (female in particular), judgemental and downright disturbing. I’ll continue to read Tolstoy, and explore more of his shorter works, but I shan’t touch this one again with a bargepole. And it’s going to be Dostoevsky for me *any* time….

“…to immerse yourself, to become possessed…” #elifbatuman #dostoevsky @bananakarenina

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The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them by Elif Batuman

There have been any number of fascinating books arriving at the Ramblings recently, and some of the most inspired were the two lovely Valentine’s Day gifts from Mr. Kaggsy. I reviewed the first of the pair, “To the River”, here and it was a most wonderful reading experience. The second book was perhaps a surprise – a book on the Russians which I don’t already have and which looked very intriguing. So it was a given that it would come off the shelves soon – I can’t resist the Russians….

Batuman is a new author to me; a staff writer at the New Yorker since 2010, “The Possessed” was her first book and also came out that year. Since then she’s also written a novel “The Idiot” (hmmmm – I sense a theme here…) and she describes herself as “A six-foot-tall first-generation Turkish woman growing up in New Jersey”. “The Possessed” itself probably falls comfortably into that genre of what you might call ‘enhanced or themed memoir’ which seems to be so prevalent nowadays (you could perhaps put the Laing in there with it) and is none the worse for it – especially, from my point of view, when it turns out that the focus is on Batuman’s encounters with classic Russian literature and how it impacts on her. The result is a heady mix of memoir and experience with tales of how reading Russians has been a thread influencing important parts of her life – something with which I’d obviously empathise, though I don’t think mine has been quite so exciting!

Central to the book is a summer Batuman spent in Samarkand, studying the Uzbek language in the company of her then boyfriend Eric. Three chapters on their adventures are dotted throughout the book, and like all of the narrative it’s entertaining, funny and yet often very moving. Batuman’s encounters with other cultures can be quite eye-opening, and there are often near disasters as she stumbles through situations not quite knowing what to expect. In fact, the subtitle would have more accurately started with the word “Misadventures”!

Isaac Babel

Inevitably, as the book deals very much with Batuman’s experiences in the university sector, there are tales of boredom and bad temper at academic conferences and these are often hilarious; her dry humour captures the silliness and the rivalries and the tensions of these events wonderfully – although there are many uncomfortable conversations which are funny to read about but would be less so to experience… There are encounters with Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky biographer and scholar; and with Isaac Babel’s daughters at a high-profile Babel conference, an event that sounds extraordinarily stressful! Her visit to the Tolstoy Conference at his estate was fascinating, ending with some fascinating musings on Tolstoy and Chekhov; interestingly, she finds less of Chekhov’s presence in her visit to his house than she does of Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana. Dostoevsky features in the book towards the end, in perhaps a rather low-key way, given that the title is from one of his books, and there is the inevitable comparison between the two authors. Batuman is definitely a woman who prefers Tolstoy and although I’d choose Dostoevsky in the debate, I had to smile at her analysis of his style!

“Like much of Dostoevsky’s work, Demons consists primarily of scandalous revelations, punctuated by outbreaks of mass violence.”

“The Possessed” is an unusual book in many ways; choosing to define your life by your experiences in the sphere of Russian literature is not your everyday approach. But a book that discovers the connections between “King Kong” and Babel has got to be special, and Batuman is always an engaging, witty and self-deprecating narrator. As well as telling of her fascinating (mis)adventures, which are entertaining enough on their own, she brings much insight to the Russian authors she discusses. Dangerously, she gives a list of books and sources at the end which set me off researching; frustratingly, some seem to be untranslated, but the core chapters in Samarkand drew on a piece of writing by Pushkin I hadn’t encountered and have unfortunately led to me having to invest in this:

Yes, I’ve already read the “Tales of Belkin” and have at least two translations of them on the shelves; however, this collection contained the only non-P/V version I could find of his travelogue “Journey to Arzrum” and so inevitably I need to read this after the Batuman.

“The Possessed” was really a marvellous read, a wonderful mixture of funny and entertaining memoir alongside some beautiful discussions of, and insights into, many of my favourite authors. I came out of it not only even more impressed with Mr. Kaggsy’s Book Choosing Skills, but also with a very strong need to read a book that’s been languishing on my TBR for too long and which has had a number of versions of its title in translation – yes, “The Possessed” or “The Demons” or in the version I’m embarking on, “The Devils”.

698 pages…

I’m really in the mood for FMD’s revelations and mass violence, and in the immortal words of Captain Oates, I May Be Some Time….. ;D

 

A little more library love…

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That heading is a bit of a giveaway, I suppose – yes, it’s time for more pictures of books…. 🙂 Not that I suppose anybody who drops in at the Ramblings will mind, and I like to keep singing the loud praises of libraries – what would we do without them, I often ask myself.

I picked up a few titles recently, all of which have Very Good Reasons for me borrowing them.

I was bemoaning on a recent post the fact that there was so little available by Bruno Schulz. Then, whilst browsing the library catalogue, I discovered there was a Collected Works, so I of course had to have a look to see if it contained anything I hadn’t read. Well, it weighs a ton and I had to haul it round town with me… However, it has letters and artwork as well as the stories so I shall have a bit of an explore.

As for the Russians – well, Steiner’s “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky” is kind of essential for me and Steiner has been getting a lot of love on Melissa and Anthony‘s blogs, so I really needed to have a look. The Tsvetaeva is just so I could see whether any of her Mayakovsky poems have been translated into English. I suspect not, although there *is* a fragment in the Penguin Book of Russian Poetry …

Now for some Golden Age crime, courtesy of my BFF J. She’s taken to sending me books (not that I’m complaining – ta muchly!) and these three have arrived so far this year. So kind, and ones I haven’t yet read!

Aren’t they enticing?

And yet *more* GA Crime has arrived in the form of review copies from the lovely British Library in their Crime Classics range. This is another author new to me and I can’t decide which one I want to try first…

Last but not least, I confess I *did* actually pick  up a couple of books (yes, actually bought them though I’m trying not to…) The little Swiss travel book came from The Works and just sounded fun. The Pasolini was from a charity shop for £1 so it would have been rude not to. So yes, I’m definitely going to have to abandon sleeping very soon…. =:0

Books. Tomes. Publications. Texts. And a marvellous festive treat from @BL_Publishing !

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It’s the usual story on the Ramblings: despite my best intentions, books *will* keep finding their way into the house… In fairness, I have bought very few of them, and I *have* piled on the floor in one of the Offspring’s ex-bedrooms at least 100 volumes to be sold or donated or passed on to friends. So the house rafters will hopefully survive for a little longer, and in the meantime I thought I should share some book pictures – because, let’s face it, we all get vicarious pleasure from seeing other people’s book hauls!

First up, the charity shops. I should just avoid them, I suppose, but *do* pop in every week – and mostly I’m good, reminding myself that I have plenty to read at home.

However, the previous weekend I couldn’t resist another Allingham (I kind of think I might have read this once, but I can’t remember) – it sounds good and was terribly cheap! The Capote short stories is a book I haven’t come across in my second-hand book searching, and I blame Ali – she’s reviewed Capote’s short stories glowingly, and although I’ve read his longer works I haven’t read this, so I had to pick it up.

The rather large volume that is “Middlemarch” is a Bookcrossing book – they have a little selection in my local Nero, and since I always have a coffee there on a Saturday I always check the books out. I have a very old and gnarled Penguin of the book, but the type is so small that it’s off-putting – so I figured this might spur me on to read it. It’s in almost new condition with decent size type and lovely white pages (as opposed to the brown and crispy ones of my old book) so that’s a bonus!

However, the bestest find (so to speak) of recent weeks is this lovely!! I’ve written about Anthony Berkeley’s works before on the blog – I love his Golden Age fictions, as he brings such a twist to the format, and in particular the British Library Crime Classics reprint of “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” was a really outstanding addition to their range. It seems the BL are not the only ones going in for classic crime reprints (although I would say they are leading the field), as this is a Collins reprint which seems to be part of a series of ‘Detective Club’ reissues. A lovely hardback in a dustjacket, for £2 not to be sneezed at. I can see myself picking this one up very soon!

Then there are the review books…. gulp. As you can see, a few have been making their way into the Ramblings – some rather substantial and imposing ones amongst them, particularly from the lovely OUP. The hardback Russians are calling to me, particularly “Crime and Punishment”, which is long overdue a re-read. Then there’s another edition of the quirky and entertaining Stella Benson from Mike Barker.

As for the Christmas paper… well, you’ve probably picked up on social media and the like that the British Library have a rather special volume planned as their Christmas Crime Classic this year, and this is what popped through my door, beautifully wrapped.

Early Christmas present – has to be good! This will be the 50th British Library Crime Classic, and it’s being released in a hardback with special extra material. Inside, it looks rather like this:

Isn’t it beautiful? The story itself sounds wonderful enough, but the book comes with an exclusive essay on the history of Christmas crime fiction, as well as an introduction, all by the marvellous Martin Edwards. And the book itself is beautifully produced, with the usual gorgeous cover image, plus a ribbon bookmark (I *love* books with a built in bookmark). What a treat! Part of me wants to devour it straight away, and part of me wants to wait until Christmas – what torture. Thank you, British Library!

So – some fascinating incoming books, I feel, and yet more difficult decisions to be made about what to read next. At least there’s not much risk of me running out of things to read…. 😉

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