Books to read in JuneHello, regular readers and new blog friends! Today I’m rounding off my holiday reading with the book I read on the plane and train from Iceland to Birmingham and finished in the early evening when we’d got back home, and then we’re back working our way through my TBR with a book that I’ve thought I’ve wanted to read for YEARS. I also report on an innocent walk past the town square in my neighbourhood which, upon my friend uttering the words, “I wonder if there’s a book stall”, turned into a minor book-buying fest. I can also report that the TBR hasn’t suffered too badly from this, and I’ve also added to my Century of Books reading project list, so it’s all good!

Chitra Divakaruni – “Queen of Dreams”

(Acquired via BookCrossing 05 June 2014 – from Icelandic BookCrosser Bjorg)

I’d arranged to meet Bjorg while we were in Iceland, and we’d offered each other the choice of our availables (as my availables were a bit low, I ended up giving her “Mr Lynch’s Holiday”, which I enjoyed on the journey out and she read almost immediately). I’d read others by this author and was intrigued by this one. I did collect a few other books from Bjorg and Birna which I had to leave behind owing to packing issues (too many DVDs and a dictionary) but I read this one on the plane and then on the train journey from Manchester Airport back to Birmingham.

Rakhi is a second generation Indian-American running a cafe with a friend who’s in the same situation but trying hard to shake off her ethnic roots and dealing with her divorce while trying to maintain her painting practice and caring for her daughter. When a big chain cafe opens over the road, matters for the cafe and its owners take a turn for the worse, and Rakhi’s parents try to help in their different ways.

Devastated by her mother’s inexplicable death, Rakhi starts to read her journals, with the help of her father, to whom she has never been close until now, and discovers more about her life – and this is where the magical realism kicks in – doing ‘dream work’ for people, which involves both providing consultations and dreaming other people’s dreams and tracking them down to tell them about it. Rakhi used to long to do this work herself, but now, as her daughter starts to experience terrifying nightmares, she begins to think twice.

Set against this inward exploration is a very overt and outward theme: when the 9/11 attacks take place, suddenly it’s not that safe to be of any kind of South Asian heritage, and fighting back, as Belle’s new Sikh boyfriend finds to his cost, is not the answer. Tensions heighten, and the characters are forced to examine what it actually means to be ‘American’.

Well written, with a magical and mysterious element which adds depth and emotional intensity as well as a range of voices to the novel.

Michael Simkins – “What’s my Motivation?”

(25 December 2013)

I’d had this one on my wish list for literally years; I think I saw a friend reading it ages ago and thought it looked fun. As with some things that are wished for for a long time (but not Iceland!) it was disappointing. But I’m glad I finally got hold of it and read it!

It’s the autobiography of a semi-successful actor, taking in drama school, the early years and then jumping around a bit, mainly treating his (semi-successful) relationships. It’s supposed to be self-deprecating and Bill Brysonish and while it does use some phrases like Bryson’s, it was more on the silly end of things, and didn’t have much to say for itself when it all came down to it – the detail about acting classes and auditioning was the most interesting part of the book. It also runs out of steam rather when he begins to have some decent work, as there’s not so much of amusement to say then, as things settle down (much like a difficult second album, I suppose).

I was put off by an early nasty anecdote about a pet which was really not necessary to include, and was then on the watch for unpleasantnesses. There are some fairly grimy descriptions, but then a jobbing rep actor’s life can be a bit grubby, so that’s fair enough. But it’s not really one to read while you’re eating, for example. It didn’t ever really engage me, and it was odd that it simultaneously mocks actors’ self-absorption and egocentricity and plays heavily on Simkins’ being at RADA with Timothy Spall, although oddly doesn’t mention another actor in the RADA sections with whom he later claims he studied.

Patchy, in sum: I read it, but it wasn’t brilliant.

Book - Zine by Pagan KennedyNew acquisitions! First off, a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book – “Zine” by Pagan Kennedy. This is a reissue of a book published about ten years ago, all about how Kennedy started and ran her own zine. It fortuitously fits in really well with a brilliant film I saw last Sunday called “The Punk Singer”, a biopic of Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna (more info here: see it if you can, and I really hope they do a DVD version as I want to share this with a few people!). It has lots of pages from her zine and the book, reissued by the San Francisco Writers’ Collective has a good indie feel to it, too. Of course I’ll be reading this SOON as you are supposed to read LTER books and review them within a month of receipt.

Newby, Lees-Milne, Litvinov, SinclairAnd those books from the town square? There was a Green Fair on, with lots of stalls on solar panels and recycling, but the book stall that’s run on Farmers’ Market days (normally inside the church so invisible therefore not tempting to me) was out in the sun, and so we had a browse.  Ian Sinclair’s “Edge of the Orison” is a work of psychogeography about travelling in the footsteps of Essex poet John Clare. I really enjoyed his “London Orbital” (bought in 2002 and due for a re-read) so am looking forward to this. I’d not seen James Lees-Milne’s “Harold Nicolson” biography before: this is Volume 1, taking us up to 1929, and there is a second volume available. It fits in to my collection on the various Nicolsons (he was father of Nigel and grandfather of Adam) and looks like a good read. I also collect Eric Newby’s travel books but didn’t yet have “The Big Red Train Ride” so was pleased to spot that (he’s one of my favourite travel writers), and I saw a few Virago original greens that I already had, but had never heard of Ivy Litvinov’s “She Knew She Was Right”, which is short stories set in Russia and England.

Even better, when I added these to my TBR, I found that three of them (all except the Sinclair) added new items to my Century of Reading list – and nothing could have been further from my mind when I was browsing the boxes of books. So I can report that I now have 41 books in my collection and on the list, 16 of which I’ve read and reviewed (well, the review is to come for one of them) and the remainder of which are on my TBR. I haven’t had to desperately look for any or hunt too much through my own collection to fill in the gaps so far. So it’s going well.

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That’s it for now. Two more reviews to come for the week, and I’m going to be doing some Icelandic saga reading and possibly starting one of the bigger books on the TBR picture at the top of this post. What are you reading this summer?