My Bookshelf #1 – March 2017

When I was younger, I would spend hours absorbed in a good (or, occasionally, bad) book. For as many summers as I can remember, I would plough through books at a rate of knots to complete the local library’s Summer Reading Challenge; I still remember the elated feeling when I finished first one summer. And then, somewhere between Holes and Lord of the Flies, books became a means to an end: passing exams. Along came university, with its mile-long bibliographies and modules with a mélange of interesting and not-so-interesting set texts. (Sorry Boris Vian.) In the holidays, I dipped in and out of my well-thumbed paperbacks; a welcome respite from inventing dozens of meanings for a sentence that, in all probability, only held one for the author. I spent much of last term trying to find my feet and make friends (little headway made on the latter); this term, when I’m not dashing across campus from one class to another, I’m usually scouring the library shelves for another promising read (or reading said promising read in the staffroom). As such, I’ve decided to start a quarterly feature celebrating my favourite reads.

The Cold Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty

Ireland, 1981. Detective Sergeant Duffy is tasked with getting to the bottom of a homophobic serial killer’s crimes – no easy feat, considering he’s a Catholic copper in the predominantly Protestant RUC. As the plot unravels and the killer’s cryptic codes are deciphered, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more to this case than meets the eye – though with so many twists and turns it’s unlikely you’ll figure it out before Duffy. Belfast is a political bloodbath – IRA explosives, snipers and mercury tilts form part of the quotidien – and Ireland is depicted as a nation on the brink of an all-out civil war. Power shortages, paraffin heaters and paramilitaries paint a bleak picture of life in Ulster, but smatterings of normality run through the narrative: 60s records, newspaper clippings from the Yorkshire Ripper’s trial and television programmes about Charles and Diana’s wedding. Had I read this book sooner, I would have integrated sections into my classes this term on Irish history and culture.

Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan

Fifty pages in, I almost put this book down for good. I had anticipated a riveting Cold War thriller and, initially, this simply wasn’t delivering the goods. Inevitably, a niggling thought in the back of my mind encouraged me to persevere – and I’m so glad I did. During her final months at Cambridge, Serena Frome (“rhymes with plume”) is groomed for MI5. Not wholly satisfied by her low-level desk job, her penchant for paperbacks soon sees her drawn into Operation “Sweet Tooth”: a government-backed project, seeking to use up-and-coming writers as a means to counter communism. When a romantic liaison ensues between Serena and her target, Tom Haley, she finds herself torn between loving him and maintaining her professional cover. McEwan consistently blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction, resulting in a narrative which perfectly encapsulates the essence of espionage. It wasn’t until I reached the final chapter that I realised just how much of a narrative genius McEwan was.

Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks

Despite having seen several adaptations of Sparks’ literary creations – namely, The Notebook, Dear John and The Lucky One – this was the first time I actually laid fingers on one of his books. Upon finishing Safe Haven, I felt more than a little bummed that the library doesn’t stock any of his other books! Katie is on the run from her past – but even she knows that, sooner or later, her past will catch up with her. Slowly but surely, Katie settles into her new life in Southport, befriending Jo, who moves into the dilapidated cottage adjacent to Katie’s, and Alex, a widower with two young children who owns the local store. As the weeks and months pass, Katie gradually opens up to those around her and confides in Alex. Yet, as their futures entwine, the present unravels. (This is a real tearjerker – so if you’re anything like me, have tissues at the ready.)

L’infra-ordinaire – Georges Perec

This isn’t my typical read – far from it, in fact. Originally published in a selection of newspapers and journals, L’infra-ordinaire is a selection of short texts about the ordinary – or rather, the extraordinariness of the ordinary. It’s almost impossible to describe exactly what it is that I like about this volume. At first glance, it is a decidedly strange collection of texts: a chronicle of an unremarkable Parisian street; postcards from his travels; a recollection of everything he consumed in 1974. Dipping in and out of the book over the course of a day, I realised it was the strangeness of the text that made it so compelling. Seemingly banal aspects of our existence offer a playful snapshot of Perec’s own life: “Nous parcourons le Lake District. Very romantic, mais on ne risque pas d’attraper des coups de soleil. On rentre le 19.” (p. 60) (“We’re travelling through the Lake District. Very romantic, but there’s no risk of sunburn. We return on the 19th.”) I couldn’t help but find his portraits of countries, especially my own, hilariously accurate. Perec also touches on the linguistic nuances of both English and French, the impossibility of ever truly knowing London (or, for that matter, of describing its charm) and the quirks one encounters when abroad.

Titles | January – March 2017

Mr Nice (Howard Marks) / The Parisian Christmas Bake Off (Jenny Oliver) / The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams (Fiona Harper) / Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee) / Goat Mountain (David Vann) / A Pale View of Hills (Kazuo Ishiguro) / La Place de l’Étoile (Patrick Modiano) / The Children Act (Ian McEwan) / The Cold Cold Ground (Adrian McKinty) / Sweet Tooth (Ian McEwan) / The Engagement (Chloe Hooper) / Freedom’s Child (Jax Miller) / Safe Haven (Nicholas Sparks) / The Danish Girl (David Ebershoff) / The Shadow of the Crescent Moon (Fatima Bhutto) / L’infra-ordinaire (Georges Perec) / The Train to Warsaw (Gwen Edelman) / Dog Eats Dog (Iain Levison) / The Fate of Katherine Carr (Thomas H. Cook) / C (Tom McCarthy) / I Saw a Man (Owen Sheers) Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin)

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17 thoughts on “My Bookshelf #1 – March 2017

  1. I have just stumbled across your beautiful blog (while I should be studying of course). I have literally just bookmarked this post to ensure I get my hands on all these book suggestions! I am currently reading Child 44, after having just finished The Farm (a weird choice for my mum to give me as a parting gift as I moved to Sweden….but it was an excellent book!)

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    1. That often seems to be the case – I usually find myself stumbling upon others’ blogs when I should be lesson planning, or marking (or both)! I still haven’t read Child 44, though my sister read it a year or so back and keeps recommending it to me. I haven’t heard of The Farm – what genre is it? I’ve finally got my hands on a copy of Brooklyn – I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I saw the film and I’m really enjoying it. (As per, the book is better than the film, though the film does seem to stay true to the book so far.)

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  2. Hi there! I just came across this post of yours and your blog in general and I couldn’t help but comment and tell you how much I love this! Keep up the great work, I am going to follow you so I can keep up with all your new posts!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, and glad you liked the post 🙂 I’ve just checked out your blog and noticed ‘Gone Girl’ was your most recent review – a book that’s been on my TBR list for far too long!! I’ll definitely be browsing your blog for inspiration 🙂

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      1. Aww you are so welcome! You have a great blog keep it up (: Gone Girl is so amazing I cant say enough about ! Comment below it if you have a chance to read it and let me know if I have convinced you! Also do you have Twitter or Instagram? I just made accounts and would love to follow you!

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      2. I’m hoping to borrow my mum’s copy of it when I’m next back in the UK (not til June/ July), but I’ll keep you posted. I’ve seen the film and really liked it, so have high hopes for the book 🙂 Apologies, but I don’t – I don’t think I’d ever find the time to keep on top of more social media accounts!

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  3. I was an obsessive bookworm growing up but haven’t read enough books (especially novels) in recent years. (Although I did read several books in line at the Préfecture!) It’s great that you make time to read new books. I’m impressed that you managed to read so many on top of your job and blogging!

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    1. I just found that novels went a little by the wayside due to exams, essays etc. It always felt like I should be reading books for my course, rather than reading for pleasure, which is rather sad when I think about it. I can imagine those legendary queues would give you plenty of time to read! I find it’s a good way to unwind a bit between classes, especially when I have a busy day. Most books I’ve read have been +/- 300 pages as I find that’s a manageable length, though I certainly didn’t think I’d manage to read this many! I think having planned all my classes for the term in December/ January helped free up time this term though.

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  4. Really enjoyed reading this! Looks like I’ve got a lot of reading to be getting on with as well – I haven’t read loads of the books you’ve mentioned! The Georges Perec book sounds really interesting. I recently read A Pale View of Hills as well – it was actually the first Kazuo Ishiguro book I’ve read, so I’d love to read some of his other ones too. What did you think of it?

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    1. That’s one of the things I love most about others’ book-related posts – you always end up discovering a load of new titles! It was a surprising little novella (not entirely sure that’s the right word but it’s almost too short to be a book…); I studied another book by him (W ou le souvenir d’enfance) in my final year and liked his writing style so that’s why I picked it up! I found A Pale View of Hills really interesting, especially having visited Japan (though not Nagasaki) last year. I liked how subtle it was – in that it never really spoke openly of the disaster – and the intricacies of Japanese culture that were depicted in the book. I’ve only read one other book by Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for more books by Ishiguro; there’s also a film adaptation, starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, which is well done.

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  5. As someone who considers myself a bookworm, I’m saddened to admit that I haven’t read any of these! L’infra-ordinaire sounds right up my street though, so definitely adding that to the (now stupidly long) to-read list.

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    1. In all honesty, I would probably never have read half of these if it weren’t for the rather random selection in the university library! L’infra-ordinaire was great – it was refreshing to come across a French book that wasn’t intimidatingly huge or full of words I didn’t understand. I’m hoping to read ‘La Disparition’ (also by Perec) at some point, purely out of curiosity to see how he managed to write a book without using the letter ‘e’!

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