Category Archives: Personal posts

Quick update

Hello all,

Just a quick post by way of update: I had a nasty bout of food poisoning recently which laid me low for a bit, and then I had a much needed holiday. I’m now back but a bit buried at work.

Normal service should resume before too long with my much overdue review of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop. If you can’t wait and don’t already know it the precis version is simple: it’s brilliant; read it. It’ll be on my end of year list.

Otherwise, I’ll probably skip properly reviewing several of my recent reads either because they were full-on SF (always a standby when I’m under the weather) which doesn’t interest most of my readers here or they were a bit disappointing. I’ll do a round-up post though just to say what they were with a paragraph or two on each.

That’s pretty much it for now. Apologies for all the great posts by others that I’ve seen and read but not commented on – after three weeks or so though there’s so many that I’m only going to respond on the backlog where I have a specific query or thought to raise.

See you all soon.

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Ian Curtin’s end of year list – guest post

I recently saw Ian Curtin post some highlights of his reading year on Twitter. It was a really great list and it occurred to me that it was easily missed by anyone who didn’t happen to be on Twitter when he posted his thoughts (or at all) which seemed a shame, so I asked Ian if he wanted to write a guest post so people had another chance to see them. Everything that follows the sub-header below is Ian:

Ian’s 2016 end of year list

My contribution to the end-of-year book list is more in the line of highlights rather than a “best of” – things that made a particular impact on me, that still resonate, or that have lead me off in a particular (hopefully new) direction. Things that surprised or delighted.

I tweeted these out a few days ago, and Max very kindly offered me a guest post here at Pechorin’s Journal to share them in maybe a little more of a thoughtful manner than Twitter allows. I won’t alter the list (much) but I am conscious that there’s an element of unfairness – some fine, very high quality books don’t get mentioned that perhaps would if this was just “best of”. Can’t be helped. I guess if I want to opine on everything through the year I’ll have to start my own blog.

Short Stories

I have fallen into the habit of reading a collection as my first book each year, and I knew when I bought it a few months previously that A Manual for Cleaning Women would be my first of 2016. It was a marvel that did not disappoint. Two elements make Berlin’s book stay in mind – the writing, which is by turns harsh, unsparing, funny, gentle and melancholy; and the context, which is of such a fine writer labouring in relative obscurity before a seemingly miraculous rediscovery. The latter is something I find both immensely depressing but also pleasing. The work is so transparently wrung from her own life, with such skill and need, that you wish she had been able to see the pleasure her rediscovery has given to readers.

A couple of other collections stood out for me: The Means of Escape by Penelope Fitzgerald, because she produces such seemingly effortless and controlled writing, which very precisely describes situations of immense drama and turmoil; and Vertigo by Joanna Walsh which was so unsettling and fractured in its style and tone. I wouldn’t say I exactly enjoyed Vertigo, or not all of it, but it’s the most original and challenging thing I came across this year (and recalls Pond for anyone who has read that).

Honourable mentions must also go to the playful Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan and the marvellously ominous Pre-War House & Other Stories by Alison Moore.

Novels

Most of the books I read are novels – in some form. Some flirt with memoir and biography, some are angrily denounced as pseudo-short story collections, some up-end form and convention, some are just “long single stories told to the end.” What makes them memorable? I think for me they have to have something different about their form, something tricksy, or a game the writer plays, something that forces me to trust and go with the writer. That said, I will always enjoy a good tale as it scrolls past the reading mind. But what I wanted to pick here were things that jumped out at me and made me think.

First I chose The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkhai (translated by the marvellous George Szirtes). This is my second foray into the dense, complete worlds created by K’s early style (his more recent books seem to be quite different) and as with Sátántangó this is a book that the reading of is a genuine experience, something that “happens” to you. It’s impossible not to get wrapped into the folds and slithers of the vast tranches of text that K unrolls, the bleak landscapes, the obsessed and unstable characters, the ambiguous and threatening situations. When I think back to reading this book, the picture in my mind is of me staring off into space, following the writing somewhere in my own thoughts. What a rare state! And yet it is by turns also extremely funny, and despite K’s reputation for endless convolutions of sentence and paragraph, I found I flew through it. Even if his other books fail to land entirely with me, these two will always be part of my evolving canon.

Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, is a very different book – and Kang has been so widely read and praised that is seems a little superfluous to add my own small paean. It’s a really affecting novel, about power and survival, and I loved it for two reasons. Firstly, it did give the vaunted “window into a new world” of an event in Korean history that I was entirely ignorant of. Secondly it is told in a manner that is itself arresting, and marries form and intent in a manner that is very satisfying. (Perhaps an unfair comparison: I finished the similarly constructed Ghostwritten by David Mitchell and thought – great, but so what? Whereas I finished this and thought – wow.) It is also in places harsh, unflinching and tough to read.

Final mentions for 10:04 by Ben Lerner and Outline by Rachel Cusk. Everyone in 2016 has moved onto to Cusk’s next book, Transit, which following this I am immensely looking forward to. Of this book, I must admit its chief value (for me) is that it has totally flipped my view of Cusk, to the point I want to read all her stuff (and, I suppose, make my own judgement on the books that attracted so much negativity earlier in her career). This one is fabulous: judgemental, revealing, honest – perfect. Lerner’s book seems to me to be both sly and knowing and warm and personal. It’s brilliant – funny, immensely interesting about his writing life, has an engaging plot (of sorts), is a New York novel par excellence, and has shed the sneer that I thought was a key flaw in Atocha Station. Recalling the episodes and tone makes me want to re-read it.

Honourable mentions to David Szalay’s noxious blast of consumerism and hangovers, London and the South East, and to a title rescued from an “unjustly neglected” list about ten years ago, The Balloonist by Macdonald Harris, which covers the tired old ground of polar exploration and identity-swapping in the 19th century.

Crime

Is it fair to separate “crime” from “novels”? Probably not. But good crime does something different from the whole other family of novels I read – and I allow things in it I wouldn’t swallow elsewhere. Black Wings Has My Angel was the standout here – incidentally, another book “rescued” after its writer, Elliot Chaze, had slipped into disgruntled obscurity. Guy alerted me to this one, and as with so many of his recommendations, this hits the mark – the crime is just a framework for a tale of cruelty, mistrust and strange, violent love.

History, Reportage….Other Stuff

Can’t bring myself to say “non-fiction” somehow. Anyway.

Two books immensely relevant to the events that have unfolded in the US this year – Battle Cry of Freedom, a single-volume account of the Civil War; and Ghettoside, a monument through reporting to the epidemic of black male gun violence and how US society perceives and handles it. Appreciate people are sick of all this stuff by now, but these are both magnificent and sadly illuminating books.

Two accounts of crime and aftermath – This House of Grief by Helen Garner, about a terrible domestic murder (as these all are when a light is shone on them) and how the legal process struggles to put order on our messes; and One of Us by Åsne Seierstad, which documents Breivik’s appalling hate crime and incidentally makes a pretty compelling case for why unacceptable racist propaganda should not be allowed roam free across traditional or digital media.

Finally, a book that veers between comedy, farce and ultimately something much darker, The Quest for Corvo by AJA Symons, a biography of the vexing Frederick Rolfe, self-styled Baron Corvo and a writer and personality of unusual extremes.

That’s it – thanks to Max for letting me ramble on – thank you to all bloggers and tweeps for the suggestion, inspiration and discussion – hope 2017 is a rich reading year for everyone.

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2016 end of year roundup

2016 was a pretty good reading year for me. In terms of pure numbers I read around 56 books (plus a bunch of short works that I didn’t blog). As best I can tell that’s fewer than almost any other literary blogger, but I’m happy enough with it given work and other interests and commitments.

It’s been a year of discoveries, which is great. I discovered (more accurately, other bloggers introduced me too) writers such as Elizabeth Taylor, Yuri Herrera and Alain Mabanckou; I finally gave Joseph Conrad a try, with admittedly mixed results but I’ll be reading more by him; and I got stuck into Pushkin Press’s new Vertigo imprint which has proven a very reliable source of quality crime fiction.

[Edit: I thought I’d add a picture to accompany the post. This has nothing to do with anything that follows, I even watched it before 2016, but it fits the blog and I like the movie.]

grand_budapest_hotel_ver2_xlg

Anyway, enough with the preambles. 2016 has been a hard year to whittle down to just a dozen or so end of year favourites, but here they are (the order is based on when I read them rather than any attempt to rank them against each other):

Best Viennese novel: Late Fame, by Arthur Schnitzler. It might not seem it, but best Viennese novel tends to be a highly contested category on this blog. This is arguably a lesser Schnitzler but still a marvellous read and beautifully packaged by Pushkin Press in a wonderful hardback edition. It shares with the Szerb an affection both for its characters and for humanity more generally. I adored it and am really pleased that Pushkin brought it back to us.

Best novel about aging, among other things: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor. A novel about an old woman whiling away her days in a cheap hotel while waiting for infirmity to remove her last independence doesn’t sound funny and warm and human, but it is. Mrs Palfrey is astonishingly well observed, well written and horribly sad while at the same time not being at all depressing. It’s a marvel, much recommended to me and rightly so.

Best novel about, actually I have no idea what it’s about: Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer. A disturbingly brilliant slice of weird fiction.  My review describes it using words such as “slippery”, “disquieting” and “dread”. I meant to read the sequels fairly soon after but got caught up in other reading. Correcting that omission will be one of my priorities for this year.

Best novel about youth, among other things: King of a Rainy Country, by Brigid Brophy. This captures the sense of possibility that comes with youth better than anything else I’ve read in a very long while. It’s also structurally clever, remarkably witty and just generally something of a delight. It’s probably the most romantic book on this list, with a lower case r, and all the better for being so.

Best novel on so many fronts that it’s really a bit shameful it’s not my book of the year: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. This is arguably the best book I read this year in terms of the sheer quality of the writing (though The Easter Parade would be in with a shot on that front too). This is a rich and superbly crafted novel which isn’t nearly as difficult as one might expect. Don’t be put off by her reputation, Woolf is a joy.

Best novel about a porcupine, among other things: Memoirs of a Porcupine, by Alain Mabanckou. Mabanckou uses African folklore to explore a wasted life in what was a very strong contender for my book of the year. I read this in follow-up to Amos Tutuola’s memorable The Palm Wine Drinkard (which Mabanckou gives a shout-out to in the course of Porcupine) and it led me on to Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 (Mujila being influenced by Mabanckou).

Best novel that puts the fucking back into African literature: Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila. This was a last minute addition to the list, replacing St Aubyn’s Never Mind which got squeezed out in consequence. I thought this good but flawed, with phrasing that always impressed but that sometimes didn’t seem to bear too much close examination. Looking back though its energy and imagery have stayed with me and it (rather pushily) insisted on a place on the list.

Best domestic drama: The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad. I didn’t take particularly well to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I found less impressive than I’d expected and unfortunately a bit racist. The comments under the review persuaded me to try another Conrad, and rightly so since Heart of Darkness blew me away with its atmosphere and tremendous psychological insight.

Best overlooked novel: The Small Back Room, by Nigel Balchin. The Brophy was a strong contender in this category, but I don’t think the Balchin is even in print any more which definitely makes it overlooked. This is a taut and impressive thriller which makes an interdepartmental meeting as tense as the defusing of a new type of enemy bomb.

Best Mexican vampire novel: Vlad, by Carlos Fuentes. This also wins the “Best book that probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list category”. This was my first Fuentes and I understand it’s not seen as one of his strongest efforts. Being blunt it’s probably not as good a book as several I’ve not included this year. I really enjoyed it though and I found it interesting and memorable, and it’s my blog so on the list it goes.

Best novel for so many, many reasons: The Easter Parade, by Richard Yates. This was a December read and was very nearly my book of the year. It’s superbly well written, honest and beautiful. The novel as art form doesn’t get much better than this.

Drum roll, drum roll, drum roll …

Best book of 2016: Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera. I read this back in February or March and right through until the Yates in December there was no question but that this was my book of the year. I thought it fresh, exciting, interesting, intelligent, I could easily go on. This uses mythic structures to explore issues of language and identity and does so with flair. The Yates was so well written that it nearly squeezed this out from the top spot, but when I look back to the books that gave me joy in the year (to get a bit Marie Kondo for a moment) this definitely did. Herrera’s The Transmigration of Bodies also came close to making my end of year list, though much as I enjoyed it there’s no risk it would have beaten out Yates or Woolf to the top spot.

Honourary mentions. Each of these was on my shortlist, but got cut as I put this post together: Azazael by Youssef Ziedan, a fascinating exploration of sectarian conflict which deserves a much wider readership than it seems to have received; Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker, a really well executed exploration of a life sacrificed to music; Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson, probably the best new SF I’ve read in a very long while and a writer and series I intend to stick with; Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys, and you know it’s a good year when I don’t let a Rhys on to the end of year list; Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, which is simply the funniest book I read all year and certainly the most delightful; and Run River by Joan Didion, it’s Didion so naturally it’s good though for me this year it perhaps got slightly eclipsed by the Yates which I read not long after.

I should also mention as particularly noteworthy honourable mentions Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb and Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn, each of which actually did make the list and only got cut as I finalised this post as I decided not to go over twelve total. The Szerb is funny, warm, melancholic and rather wonderful while the St Aubyn is blackly comic and rather vicious. Both are very, very good.

Each of the honourary mentions on another day might well have made the end of year list, and some of them arguably merit it more than some of the books I did include. The gender balance isn’t as good as the last couple of years for those who keep track of such things – only three of the twelve on the list are books by women. Interestingly my balance over the year’s reading is much more even, but the Baker, Rhys and Didion didn’t quite make the end cut which I would have expected them to (and the Spark didn’t even make the honourable mentions, good as it was). Clearly the answer is that I need to read more Taylor, more Barbara Pym and probably more Nicola Barker.

So, there we are. Now I’ve written this I can read other people’s end of year lists (I didn’t want to be influenced by them) and find out what I should have read. I’m on holiday for two weeks in January so while I’ll probably leave some comments and hopefully get another post or two up the blog proper probably won’t be restarting until February.

Happy new Year!

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Looking back on #TBR20 and forward to #TBR10

Last year I took part in the #TBR20 project, started by Eva Stalker. My post about the concept, my reasons for taking part and the books I chose is here.

I finished my #TBR20 just before Christmas, which given I started it in April should pretty neatly illustrate the key problem I ran into. It was just too much of a commitment. Admittedly I departed from my list to read some books I was sent for review, and two or three times when going on holiday I allowed myself a holiday read that wasn’t on the list, but in the main I stuck to it.

Over the course of 2015 I read around fifty books. Forcing myself to take twenty of them from a single list proved to be too much. For a more prolific reader twenty might be a good number. For a reader like me it’s too constraining.

Some constraint however can be a good thing. I chose many of the books on my #TBR20 list precisely because I wanted to push myself to read them. Often they were books I’d meant to read for years, but kept not quite getting to. The list in that sense worked well.

On the other hand, I found myself taking more review books than usual (I suspect to give myself a break from the list) and around book 18 I simply broke and bought some new titles. I didn’t binge as much as many have, but I do think there’s an issue where holding off buying for an artificially extended period may cause one to simply bulk-buy at the end.

For me then #TBR20 was a mixed experience. I’m delighted that I finally made time for Lispector, Pym, Cole, Johnson, Levy, Adler, Wood and others. I’m less delighted that so much of my year was dominated by a single project.

#TBR10

The basic concept of #TBR20 is a good one, even if the length of commitment is too great for me. Going forward therefore I’m going to try a variant, which I’m imaginatively calling #TBR10. The rules of #TBR10 are as follows:

  • choose ten books I already own from my TBR pile;
  • make sure that every other book I read is from that list of ten.

And that’s pretty much it. Exceptions are allowed for review copies and poetry, but otherwise it’s that simple. There’s no ban on buying, but there’s no point in buying loads if half of the next twenty books I read have to come from the #TBR10 list. It’s much more manageable, and allowing myself ten books that aren’t on the list makes it much more flexible (and those ten could also be from my TBR pile, or could be new purchases, or whatever).

My hope is that this will still help me cut into my TBR backlog without ending up frustrating me as #TBR20 did. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

The list

Finally, here’s my #TBR10 list. in no particular order:

HeartofDarkness KingofaRainy Never Mind Nightwood Palfrey  Signs Vinge VoyageToTheLighthouseThe Palm-Wine Drinkard

The Proust slightly concerns me as I’m not sure it’s sensible to have a novel over 800 pages long lined up for the next two or three months, I simply may not have time to read it during that period. It’s therefore open to a substitution. A Fire Upon the Deep for the curious is one of the more highly regarded science fiction novels out there, but it’s very much hardcore SF and not at all a crossover book to an audience more used to pure literary fiction.

My only other concern is that it’s not the most diverse list ever. It would be good perhaps to add in something that’s not middle class European (which admittedly the Herrera and Vinge aren’t, but the rest pretty much are). Any suggestions welcome, though preferably nothing so fat that it’ll take months to read…

Edit: On reflection, the Proust is a definite goal for this year but will work better after the period this will relate to, as I won’t get a solid reading block of the sort I’ll need for a little while. If I do I can always add it back in as one of my non-list choices. Instead therefore I’ve added in Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard which should make for a nice change of pace.

 

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Reflections on a reading year

My 2015 end of year write-up is divided into two parts. The first is some reflections on my reading habits and how they’re affected by time pressures, which you can skip if you just want to get to the list itself.

I don’t have an apposite image for this post as it’s not a review of a single book. I thought therefore I’d include the poster for what was probably my favourite film of those I saw in 2015:

GreatBeauty

Reading reflections

When I wrote up my 2014 end of year review I found myself complaining once again of having read fewer books than I’d hoped. It struck me afterwards that while it had seemed to me 2014 had been particularly bad, in fact dissatisfaction with how much I’d managed to read was an annual refrain. A key goal for me in 2015 was fixing that.

One of the advantages of having a blog is it gives you moderately hard numbers on what you’ve read during its life. Only moderately, as while I blog pretty much every novel I read I only tend to write-up shorter works if I think there’s something interesting to say about them (I just don’t have time to write-up every short story I read much as I might like to). In addition, there’s been a couple of times I’ve had too big a review backlog and have had to skip a couple of reviews (though I keep note of them in case I get a chance at a later date). Still, overall, counting my posts gives me a pretty good sense of how much I’m reading.

Back in 2009 I read around 56 books. Skip forward to 2012 and I’ve slipped down to somewhere between 30 and 40 books. By 2013 I’ve only read 32 books and in 2014 again it’s 32 books. Admittedly some of them were chunksters, but even so that’s not great.

I carried out that analysis around the beginning of 2015, and it shook me up a little. I’m busy, but not more so than in 2009. The issue isn’t free time. The issue is prioritisation. What changed between 2009 and 2014 wasn’t how much time I had to read, but how much time I used on other stuff.

The decline in my reading dates roughly to when I got an iPad and started watching tv shows on my commute home. It aligns too with my getting into the habit, when tired of an evening, to watch an episode of a show I’m following rather than to read a little. Basically, it ties to my taking time away from reading and putting it instead towards tv. It’s pretty much that simple.

There’s nothing wrong with tv. It’s a valid artistic medium, and if (as I do) you actively choose what you watch then I don’t see it as necessarily more passive than any other art form one might enjoy. Still, since I found myself each year disgruntled at not having read more that did raise questions about whether I was using my time well.

The result was that in 2015 I tried to make a more conscious effort to make time for reading. That meant cutting back a bit on other interests, but the truth is if you’ve got a full-time job you just don’t have time for all the things you might enjoy. I don’t play computer games much any more – I didn’t have time for that and films and tv shows and reading and other interests all of which come after family time and have to come after work. Something had to give, and that’s ok.

At the end of 2015 I’d read around 50 books. That number could still be better, but it’s a hell of an improvement over 32. I’d made a choice over the past few years to watch more tv instead of reading without realising what I’d done. Once I noticed, I made a conscious choice to the contrary and the result is I’m a lot happier writing up this year’s list than in the past couple of years writing up the preceding lists.

2015- prize categories and winners

This year the books are in roughly chronological order based on when I read them, save for my favourite book of 2015 which I’ve put right at the end (which I guess tells you that I didn’t read it in December).

Best overlooked impressionistic Modernist classic that hardly anyone seems to actually read: Jacob’s Room, by Virginia Woolf. Arguably Mrs Dalloway is the better novel, but Jacob’s Room was my first Woolf and I loved it. Woolf seems to me a writer more referenced than read, overshadowed by the endless praise for Beckett and Joyce. Her prose though is exquisite, and yet her novels are still effortlessly readable and not precious at all. Woolf is one of my great discoveries of 2015.

Best wryly intelligent hyper-contemporary novel written in the second person: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid. Being honest this almost got cut, as with more books read this past year the competition is fiercer. When I looked back at the year though it still stood out as fresh, original and ambitious. Hamid doesn’t get the critical attention I feel he deserves and while I doubt one end of year blog post will do much to change that he still deserves a place on the list.

Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men was also a candidate on the hyper-contemporary front (if not on the second person front, but that’s pretty much Hamid’s thing). It’s a fascinating and enjoyable novel and on another day it could easily have squeezed out the Hamid.

Interestingly, both Hamid and Kunzru seem to me to be writing with an almost SFnal sensibility, which may in part be why both seem so good at capturing that sense of the contemporary that I think most novelists miss (usually in fairness as they’re not aiming for it). Both are fairly close to me in age, Hamid has a background in corporate law and Kunzru like me is a Londoner born and bred so perhaps it’s not surprising I find resonances in both their work. They’re both writing about worlds I recognise.

Best 500+ page novel structured around a train journey: Zone, by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell). This was a candidate for my best novel of the year, but ultimately only came third in that category. It stands out however for its depth, its structural cleverness (without being off-putting), its rhythm and momentum and for its sheer bloody size. I’m looking forward to my next Enard, and I’m looking forward to it being shorter too.

Best absolutely delicious sun-washed novel somewhat reminiscent of a nouvelle vague movie: Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan (translated by Irene Ash, though apparently the Heather Lloyd translation is better). I just loved this. The image of Cécile eating an orange while drinking a scaldingly hot cup of coffee remains with me. A gorgeous novel.

Best Californian first person narrative: Cassandra at the Wedding, by Dorothy Baker. Dorothy Baker takes that old standby, the well-off family in crisis, and manages to do something interesting with it. There’s a lovely use of twins and parallels; subtle structural complexities that don’t need to be noticed to be effective; and a narrative drive which made me at least want to know how it would all turn out (impressive given the novel hasn’t much of a plot).

Best novel restoring my faith in ProustSodom and Gomorrah, by Marcel Proust (Kilmartin and Moncrieff translation). I struggled a bit with The Guermantes Way, so it was an utter relief to find Sodom and Gomorrah such a wonderful read. It’s funny, yet as perceptive as ever. Only Proust can cover grief, sexual obsession, forbidden desire and garden party comedy all in the same book (though it helps he has so many pages in which to cover it all of course …) Looking back on my year, this was literally the only book I read in April 2015. It took me over a month to finish, but it was more than worth it.

Best short story collection featuring Cornish folkloreDiving Belles, by Lucy Wood. This is just a marvellously inventive short story collection, rooted in place and yet unconstrained by the puritan realism of so much literary fiction. It was one of the first books to come to mind when I started thinking what would be on this list, and while it wasn’t in the top three for the year it is so refreshing and so enjoyable that I couldn’t ignore it. Look for Karen Lord to occupy this spot next year, save that her book’s not a short story collection and isn’t set in Cornwall.

Best novel in which basically nothing happens and where everyone is really rather nice: A Glass of Blessings, by Barbara Pym. Nice is such a damning word. When I was a teenager and later when dating the worst word you could ever hear applied to you from a woman was nice. Nobody wanted to be nice. Nice means safe, unexceptionable, unexciting. Nice is your ticket to indifference at worst, tepid friendship at best.

Blessings though is a nice novel, and it’s a nice novel filled with largely nice people. The challenges its characters face aren’t terribly serious and nothing too bad is likely to happen to any of them. Despite that it’s a wonderful read and a comic delight (it’s the kind of novel that asks for phrases like comic delight, I’m not sure why, tradition I guess). It’s charming, and charm isn’t something there’s so much of that it should be lightly disregarded.

Best reinvention of narrative: Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector (translated by Ben Moser). This did make it into my top three for the year, edging out Zone to take the number two spot. No small achievement given it’s literally less than a fifth the length of Zone. For all that size disparity Hour is ingenious, challenging, masterful in its command of language and generally is just exceptional. A truly amazing novel.

Best novel set in early 20th Century ViennaMaster of the Day of Judgment, Leo Perutz. Oddly enough, if I ran this category exactly as worded over the whole history of this blog it would probably be one of the most contested. An incredible place and time for quality literature. I found this wonderfully clever and even audacious. For much of it I wasn’t even quite sure what genre I was in: crime or horror (or both?) Pushkin have turned me into a Perutz fan, and I’m seriously looking forward to their next by him.

Best novel about being a woman in 1920s Paris with your looks fading and no certain incomeAfter Leaving Mr Mackenzie, by Jean Rhys. Rhys pretty much always wins this category to be fair. There’s a cold clarity to Rhys’ prose and an honesty to her gaze which makes Rhys just a marvel: you feel the impact but it’s hard to say quite how she achieves it. She’s easily one of my favourite authors.

And finally, drumroll please.

Best novel of 2015The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. This was actually the first novel I read in 2015, and here after the year’s ended it remains the best. It’s just extraordinary. A densely murky yet brilliantly written unreliable narrative where everything is “all a darkness”. This is a novel which not only could bear rereading, but which demands it (not that I have yet). Superb.

What else? I’ve not included Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon as it was a reread, but it was a bloody good reread. Otherwise, I’ve cheated a bit above by including links to the Kunzru but I was struggling between that and the Hamid. Even with that little bit of fudging I’ve omitted books which could easily in another year have made the list (Open City leaps to mind, which is genuinely excellent and might well have appeared above if I’d written this on a different day; similarly William Golding’s The Inheritors with its dazzling evocation of the internal experience of Neanderthal man).

In all truth Open City and The Inheritors probably have better cause to be on the list above than say the Hamid or the Wood. Both the Cole and the Golding are superbly well written: the Cole daringly undermines itself and risks entirely losing the reader’s sympathy; the Golding takes huge risks in terms of language and subject. In the end, however, it’s my list and an emotional response is as valid as any other. Perhaps it’s the best response.

Right, now that this is written I’m finally free to see what others put in their end of year lists. Hopefully at least a few books I overlooked, some of which will may end up on my 2016 list as I catch up. Thanks as ever to everyone who bothers to read the blog, and thanks too to all those who maintain their own blogs and keep my to be read pile ever longer than my managed to read pile.

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Filed under Personal posts

Spam poetry

I was emptying my spam folder today, when I saw the text below. I think it’s an executable spam script which my spam folder has shown as a message. The result is oddly poetic. I do wonder how much time it all took to put together, and how often people are fooled by them. Few of us twice I suspect.

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today,
yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
{It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and
bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be
{much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.
{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t}
{in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any? {Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me
{realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order
that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe. Thanks.|
{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make some plans for the future
and {it is|it’s} time to be happy. {I have|I’ve} read this post and if
I could I {want to|wish to|desire to} suggest you {few|some} interesting things
or {advice|suggestions|tips}. {Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write next
articles referring to this article. I {want to|wish to|desire to} read {more|even more} things about it!|
{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make {a few|some} plans for {the future|the longer term|the long run}
and {it is|it’s} time to be happy. {I have|I’ve} {read|learn} this {post|submit|publish|put up}
and if I {may just|may|could} I {want to|wish to|desire to} {suggest|recommend|counsel} you {few|some}
{interesting|fascinating|attention-grabbing} {things|issues} or {advice|suggestions|tips}.
{Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write {next|subsequent} articles {relating to|referring to|regarding} this article.

I {want to|wish to|desire to} {read|learn} {more|even more} {things|issues}
{approximately|about} it!|
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} {online|on-line} {more than|greater than} {three|3} hours {these days|nowadays|today|lately|as of late}, {yet|but} I {never|by no means} {found|discovered} any {interesting|fascinating|attention-grabbing} article like yours.
{It’s|It is} {lovely|pretty|beautiful} {worth|value|price} {enough|sufficient} for me.
{In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made
{just right|good|excellent} {content|content material} as {you did|you probably did}, the {internet|net|web} {will be|shall be|might be|will probably be|can be|will likely be} {much more|a
lot more} {useful|helpful} than ever before.|
Ahaa, its {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {discussion|conversation|dialogue} {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic
of} this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} {here|at this place}
at this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}, I have read all that, so {now|at this time}
me also commenting {here|at this place}.|
I am sure this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph}
has touched all the internet {users|people|viewers|visitors}, its really really {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} on building up new {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}.|
Wow, this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these kinds of} things,
{so|thus|therefore} I am going to {tell|inform|let know|convey} her.|
{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I
like|I love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your
website}!|
Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points! I appreciate
you {writing this|penning this} {article|post|write-up} {and the|and also the|plus the} rest of the
{site is|website is} {also very|extremely|very|also really|really} good.|
Hi, {I do believe|I do think} {this is an excellent|this is a great} {blog|website|web site|site}.
I stumbledupon it 😉 {I will|I am going to|I’m going to|I may} {come back|return|revisit} {once again|yet again}
{since I|since i have} {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} it.
Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way
to change, may you be rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the template/theme of this {site|website|blog}.
It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to
get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
I must say {that you’ve|you have|you’ve} done a {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|fantastic|excellent|great} job with this.
{In addition|Additionally|Also}, the blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
These are {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic} ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.
You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.

Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys
{are|are usually|tend to be} up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This
kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated||added|included} you guys to {|my|our||my
personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared
this {site|website} with us so I came to {give it a look|look it over|take
a look|check it out}. I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information. I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my followers!
{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog
and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys
{are|are usually|tend to be} up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated|added|included}
you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would you mind {stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re {working
with|using}? I’m {looking|planning|going} to start my own blog {in the near future|soon} but
I’m having a {tough|difficult|hard} time {making a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your {design and style|design|layout} seems different then most blogs
and I’m looking for something {completely unique|unique}.
P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting
me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re {utilizing|working with|using}?
I’ve loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different}
{internet browsers|web browsers|browsers} and I must say this
blog loads a lot {quicker|faster} then most. Can you {suggest|recommend} a
good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at a {honest|reasonable|fair} price?
{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate
it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share
{opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}. Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a amusement
account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to
give you a quick heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something to
do with {web browser|internet browser|browser}
compatibility but I {thought|figured} I’d post to let you know.
The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find
out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to
{books|textbooks}, as I found this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at this {website|web site|site|web page}.|
Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page?
I’m having {a tough time|problems|trouble} locating it but, I’d like to {send|shoot} you an {e-mail|email}.

I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas}
for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great {site|website|blog} and I
look forward to seeing it {develop|improve|expand|grow} over time.|
{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web
site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the
{bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you a shout out from {New
Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!

Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided
to {check out|browse} your {site|website|blog}
on my iphone during lunch break. I {enjoy|really
like|love} the {knowledge|info|information} you {present|provide} here and
can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
I’m {shocked|amazed|surprised} at how {quick|fast} your
blog loaded on my {mobile|cell phone|phone}
.. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. {Anyhow|Anyways}, {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|good|wonderful|fantastic|excellent|great} {site|blog}!|
Its {like you|such as you} {read|learn} my {mind|thoughts}!
You {seem|appear} {to understand|to know|to grasp} {so much|a lot} {approximately|about} this,
{like you|such as you} wrote the {book|e-book|guide|ebook|e book} in it or something.
{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that
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{a bit|a little bit}, {however|but} {other than|instead of} that, {this is|that is} {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent}
blog. {A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will}
{definitely|certainly} be back.|
I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web sites|web pages|blogs} {but|except|however} the audio {quality|feature} for audio
songs {current|present|existing} at this {website|web site|site|web page} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely}
{marvelous|wonderful|excellent|fabulous|superb}.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and i
was just {wondering|curious} if you get
a lot of spam {comments|responses|feedback|remarks}? If so how
do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it, any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}?
I get so much lately it’s driving me {mad|insane|crazy} so any
{assistance|help|support} is very much appreciated.|
Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within this|in this particular}
{article|post}! {It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will make|that produce|that will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most important|the most significant} changes.
{Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme.
Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this web site|this
amazing site} yourself? Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying to|planning to|wanting
to|hoping to|attempting to} create {my own|my very own|my own personal} {blog|website|site} and {would like
to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find out} where you got this from or {what the|exactly what
the|just what the} theme {is called|is named}. {Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could
not} be written {any better|much better}! {Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me of my previous roommate!
He {always|constantly|continually} kept {talking about|preaching about}
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{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going
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{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just}
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{There is|There’s} {definately|certainly} {a lot to|a great deal to} {know about|learn about|find out about} this {subject|topic|issue}.
{I like|I love|I really like} {all the|all of the} points {you made|you’ve
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{You made|You’ve made|You have made} some {decent|good|really good} points there.
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{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your {new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like every week|daily|on a regular basis}.
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{doing what you’re doing|up the good work|it up}!|
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on|check out|inspect|investigate cross-check}
new posts|
{I wanted|I needed|I want to|I need to} to thank you for
this {great|excellent|fantastic|wonderful|good|very
good} read!! I {definitely|certainly|absolutely} {enjoyed|loved} every {little bit of|bit of} it.

{I have|I’ve got|I have got} you {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} {to check out|to
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{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, just wanted to {mention|say|tell you}, I {enjoyed|liked|loved}
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Keep on posting!|
{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your
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I {always|constantly|every time} spent my half an hour to read this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web
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My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince} me to
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Is there a way I can {transfer|import} all my wordpress
{content|posts} into it? {Any kind of|Any} help would be {really|greatly} appreciated!|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day}!

I could have sworn I’ve {been to|visited} {this blog|this web site|this website|this site|your blog} before but after {browsing through|going through|looking at} {some of the|a
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{Anyways|Anyhow|Nonetheless|Regardless}, I’m {definitely|certainly} {happy|pleased|delighted} {I found|I
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and checking back {frequently|regularly|often}!|
{Terrific|Great|Wonderful} {article|work}! {This is|That is}
{the type of|the kind of} {information|info} {that are meant to|that
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{Disgrace|Shame} on {the {seek|search} engines|Google} for
{now not|not|no longer} positioning this {post|submit|publish|put up} {upper|higher}!
Come on over and {talk over with|discuss with|seek advice
from|visit|consult with} my {site|web site|website} . {Thank you|Thanks}
=)|
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I hope to give something back and {help|aid} others like you
{helped|aided} me.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|Hello there|Howdy|Greetings}, {I think|I believe|I do believe|I do think|There’s no doubt that} {your
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{browser|internet browser|web browser} compatibility {issues|problems}.
{When I|Whenever I} {look at your|take a look at your} {website|web site|site|blog} in Safari,
it looks fine {but when|however when|however, if|however, when}
opening in {Internet Explorer|IE|I.E.}, {it has|it’s got} some overlapping issues.
{I just|I simply|I merely} wanted to {give you a|provide you with a} quick heads up!
{Other than that|Apart from that|Besides that|Aside from that}, {fantastic|wonderful|great|excellent} {blog|website|site}!|
{A person|Someone|Somebody} {necessarily|essentially} {lend
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{This is|That is} the {first|very first} time I frequented your {web page|website page} and {to this point|so
far|thus far|up to now}? I {amazed|surprised} with the {research|analysis}
you made to {create|make} {this actual|this particular} {post|submit|publish|put up} {incredible|amazing|extraordinary}.
{Great|Wonderful|Fantastic|Magnificent|Excellent} {task|process|activity|job}!|
Heya {i’m|i am} for {the primary|the first} time here.
I {came across|found} this board and I {in finding|find|to find} It {truly|really} {useful|helpful} & it helped me out
{a lot|much}. {I am hoping|I hope|I’m hoping} {to give|to offer|to
provide|to present} {something|one thing} {back|again} and {help|aid} others {like you|such as you} {helped|aided} me.|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day|Hey there}!
{I just|I simply} {would like to|want to|wish to} {give you a|offer you a} {huge|big} thumbs up {for the|for your} {great|excellent} {info|information} {you have|you’ve
got|you have got} {here|right here} on this post.
{I will be|I’ll be|I am} {coming back to|returning to} {your blog|your site|your website|your web site} for more soon.|
I {always|all the time|every time} used to {read|study} {article|post|piece
of writing|paragraph} in news papers but now as I
am a user of {internet|web|net} {so|thus|therefore} from now I am
using net for {articles|posts|articles or reviews|content}, thanks
to web.|
Your {way|method|means|mode} of {describing|explaining|telling} {everything|all|the whole thing} in this
{article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, {all|every
one} {can|be able to|be capable of} {easily|without difficulty|effortlessly|simply} {understand|know|be aware of} it, Thanks a lot.|
{Hi|Hello} there, {I found|I discovered} your {blog|website|web
site|site} {by means of|via|by the use of|by way of}
Google {at the same time as|whilst|even as|while} {searching for|looking for} a {similar|comparable|related} {topic|matter|subject}, your {site|web site|website} {got here|came} up, it {looks|appears|seems|seems to be|appears to be like}
{good|great}. {I have|I’ve} bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

{Hello|Hi} there, {simply|just} {turned into|became|was|become|changed into} {aware of|alert to} your {blog|weblog} {thru|through|via} Google, {and found|and located}
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{watch out|be careful} for brussels. {I will|I’ll} {appreciate|be grateful} {if
you|should you|when you|in the event you|in case you|for those who|if you happen to} {continue|proceed} this {in future}.
{A lot of|Lots of|Many|Numerous} {other folks|folks|other people|people} {will be|shall be|might be|will
probably be|can be|will likely be} benefited {from your|out of your} writing.
Cheers!|
{I am|I’m} curious to find out what blog {system|platform} {you
have been|you happen to be|you are|you’re} {working with|utilizing|using}?
I’m {experiencing|having} some {minor|small} security {problems|issues}
with my latest {site|website|blog} and {I would|I’d} like to find
something more {safe|risk-free|safeguarded|secure}.

Do you have any {solutions|suggestions|recommendations}?|
{I am|I’m} {extremely|really} impressed with your writing skills {and also|as well
as} with the layout on your {blog|weblog}. Is this a paid theme
or did you {customize|modify} it yourself? {Either way|Anyway} keep up the {nice|excellent} quality writing,
{it’s|it is} rare to see a {nice|great} blog like this one {these days|nowadays|today}.|
{I am|I’m} {extremely|really} {inspired|impressed} {with your|together with your|along with
your} writing {talents|skills|abilities} {and also|as {smartly|well|neatly}
as} with the {layout|format|structure} {for your|on your|in your|to your} {blog|weblog}.

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And I’m back.

I’ve been on holiday for a week, diving in Gozo which was marvellous. Unfortunately, I then had an unrelated back injury immediately on my return which has led to be being pretty much entirely offline the last week and in a fair bit of pain, which was (and for another week or so will continue to be) less marvellous.

Diving-Underwater-Photo-Gozo

Not my photo I hasten to add, but I had views like it while there. Lots of fish to see, good visibility and the water was generally fairly warm. I’ve not posted a photo of someone with a bad back as it mostly involves lying on the floor and grimacing a lot while trying to get mobile again (which I now am thankfully).

Apologies therefore if I’ve missed any particularly interesting posts (and feel free to flag anything specific to me in the comments), but as I’m still recovering I’m probably going to have to be fairly ruthless in terms of what I read from when I’ve been offline.

On the more positive side, I have read some bloody good books while away. I’m now on the strength of A Glass of Blessings a confirmed Barbara Pym fan, and Charles Williams’ Dead Calm is much better than it has any right to be. Also, Clarice Lispector, OMG! as the kids used to say about ten years ago.

I’ll start posting up some reviews over the next two or three days, and start to catch up on some of the many posts I’ve missed while offline, but it may be a bit slow at first since I’m still not 100% and am now back at work and need to catch up on that first of course.

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#TBR20 and how I buy books

I’m off on holiday soon, returning the week of 7 September. Before I go I thought I’d post a quick update on how I’m getting along with #tbr20.

tbr20

In one word the answer would be slowly, given I’m currently only on book seven of my 20. To be fair I did interrupt the 20 for one reread (The Maltese Falcon) and one exception purchased for my last holiday (Gods without Men), making nine books total since I started. Still, it’s been an active summer and so a slow reading summer.

That’s fine, and I’ve no particular problem with how quickly I’m getting through the pile. It has though made me pay attention as to how books come into my life and how my TBR pile keeps growing even though I’ve been trying for some time now to reduce how much I buy.

I have a general no review copies policy, but I occasionally break that. I’ve broken it twice during my #tbr20, once for In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González and once for Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things.

On the purchases front, I’ve not been entirely virtuous either. I bought a hardcopy of Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities in response to an appeal on behalf of its publisher who were in a financial squeeze and needed to shift some units to make the end of the month. I don’t regret that – I was going to buy it anyway so all that changed was the timing.

How I interact with my kindle is more problematic, particularly Amazon’s constant offers. I’m generally fine avoiding overbuying hardcopy books – I have to go to a shop, pick up the book I’m considering, decide to buy it and then to carry it home. It’s all very there, very physical. You can’t be unaware that you’re doing it and once you have the evidence is now in your home taking up space.

Peter Watt’s Echopraxia, sequel to his groundbreaking SF novel Blindsight, has long been on my radar as a book to pick up. When Amazon dropped the price in a daily deal to 99p it seemed a no-brainer, and so without engaging my brain I bought it. I’ve no plans to read it soon but there it is on my virtual bookshelf.

Similarly, I’ve long planned to have a go at Elena Ferrante’s Naples tetratology. Amazon dropped My Brilliant Friend to 99p as part of a monthly deal and I grabbed it. I was going to buy it eventually and at that price it was practically free. Again though, I’ve no plans on reading it soon and yet I have it.

So, that’s how the books come in. I notice myself buying physical books and give real thought as to whether I should or not. What #TBR20 has taught me is that I don’t apply the same logic to virtual books. I thought I did, but I don’t. Instead I wishlist a book and Amazon runs constant sales and so when something I’m interested in (or potentially interested in) gets reduced I pick it up.

Every individual purchase made on this basis makes sense. Every 99p book, or £1.99 book or whatever, is a noticeable saving on the price I’d otherwise have paid. I don’t buy anything I wouldn’t at least otherwise have considered buying. I can only read so fast though, and those sensible purchase decisions add up over time to hundreds of unread books. They’re intangible, digital, so you don’t see them piling up as you would physical books, but they’re there all the same.

When I noticed this I stopped looking at Amazon sales. Savings make sense, but not as much sense as not accumulating vast numbers of books I may never read. It turns out book buying is like many other things – it’s not the conscious choices that catch you out, it’s the choices you didn’t realise you were making.

On a last note, #tbr20 itself is a bit risky. I thought the other day about what I’d put on a new #tbr20 after this one and ten of the books were ones I would have to buy. From reading other blogs I’m increasingly wondering if #tbr20 is the literary equivalent of a crash diet, with the same consequence that once you stop you put back on more than you lost.

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Oh say can you see…

America in tweets

I recently returned from my three-week road trip across the US. One day last week I summarised my thoughts on the trip in tweet form. For those who don’t follow me on twitter or didn’t see the tweets, I thought I’d set them out here as my review of the US.

San Diego, really nice: Tucson, definitely worth a visit, great scenery; Phoenix, a 16 lane highway? Really? 16?

LA, we didn’t leave the freeway; SF, lovely and great shopping in Hayes Valley but the worst disregard for the homeless I’ve ever seen.

Coastal Highway, very pretty; redwoods, very big; Seattle, really really nice. Seriously, why doesn’t this get more attention? Great place.

Grand Canyon stunning, especially at dawn as colours soak in; Montana, there’s a lot of Montana. It’s the Hotel California state. Endless.

Jackson, most patriotic; Wyoming, rugged landscape; Yellowstone amazing; Glacier really pretty, exceptional too. US has great national parks

Vegas, didn’t need the extra day. Restaurants shut surprisingly early. Chicago, best food on the trip, attractive city, good for walking in.

Chicago also had the only bookshop I saw on the trip. I wasn’t looking for them, but most places you don’t need to seek them out.

In all seriousness I saw more open carry handguns (is Walmart so dangerous?) than bookshops.

Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, Seattle and Chicago among highlights. Haven’t listed everything of course.

Food mostly awful to mediocre, and insanely huge portions. Took to skipping meals.!Amazed anyone isn’t fat.

Ate in a McDonalds that only played Christian Rock; ate chicken fried steak with biscuits and gravy; ate many, many hamburgers.

Saw only one classic diner, and that was intentionally retro. Casinos seemingly everywhere. Fireworks on sale at every national park border.

Vegas, everybody having fun except the people at the tables. They look like they’re losing money. Slot people look dead.

Gathering around a craps table not nearly as fun as it looks in the movies. Mostly as in movies people are winning, in Vegas they’re losing.

It was a great trip, and Seattle and Chicago in particular really are worth a visit (it’s hopefully obvious that the national parks merit a visit). Still, while a long holiday is good, it’s also good to be back. Of course, being back does mean I have hundreds of emails, missed blog posts, articles and whatever to catch up on…

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My #TBR20

Scroll down if you just want to skip straight to the pictures of books…

TBR20 is an idea of Eva Stalker’s, with the aim being to focus on reading more and on buying less.

The concept is very simple, and since I’m very late to it already familiar to a lot of people. Basically, you read 20 books you already own before buying any more.

Most people who’ve taken it up have interpreted that as pick 20 books you already own and read those before buying any more, but strictly speaking that wasn’t the original concept. Originally it was just read any 20, deciding which out of the ones you own as you go along.

I rather like the idea. I’ve posted before about my own concerns with buying replacing enjoying here and by way of follow-up here. I also link in that first post to an article by an old friend of mine about why people buy things they don’t then use, that’s here to save digging around and it’s very much worth reading.

The interesting thing about following the pick 20 approach is it forces you to think about your reading. 20 books is probably two to three months reading, quite possibly more if I get very busy at work. That’s a hell of a commitment.

What do I actually want to read? How much literary fiction? What if I feel like some SF? What about books to unwind to when I’m under pressure elsewhere in life? All Modernism and no crime sounds indigestible.

On the other hand, making lists is sort of fun if you’re the sort of pedantic individual I am, and there are quite a few books I’ve been wanting to read for a while but which keep getting put off for no particularly good reason. A little discipline pushing me to read them would be no bad thing.

So, after much amendment, consideration, reconsideration, re-reconsideration and so on, here’s my #TBR20:

Physical

IMG_0383

Kindle

IMG_0385

The Grimwood is an SF/crime title, because potentially three months without any SF seems excessive. The Killer inside Me is just long overdue, and fills the hard-bitten noir gap. The rest are a mix of books I’ve wanted to read for a long time chosen in part though to give me a little variety.

Diving Belles and Jesus’ Son are both short story collections, but both are better read as single works in one go rather than interspersing them between other reads. As such I’ve effectively treated them as novels. Otherwise, I’ve not included any short stories or poetry and I plan to let myself read as much of those as I want along the way (provided I already own them of course).

I do plan to break the rules in one way, because there’s a good chance this project will overlap with my Summer holiday in the US, and I don’t own some of the books I’d planned to read on that trip. I may therefore allow myself to buy Hari Kunzru’s Gods without Men specifically to read while out there, if I haven’t finished the #TBR20 by then (which I probably won’t have). I considered having an exception for Seth’s Golden Gate on the same basis, but practically I doubt I’ll take a hardcopy book with me on holiday when I have a kindle so unless I’m sure I can read it immediately before I go that would just be a fudge.

Eva’s original post, for the curious, is here and her #tbr20 posts generally can be found here. Her original post in particular really is very good, and very well written, so if you haven’t already I do encourage you to read it.

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