Book review – Hiromi Kawakami (trans. Allison Makin Powell) – “The Nakano Thrift Shop” #JapaneseLitChallenge13

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As I’ve said a number of times, I’ve been determined this year to only do challenges from my TBR, rather than rushing out to shoehorn yet more books onto the TBR, or to read at the expense of working my way through books I’ve had since October 2018 (my longest TBR-lag ever, given that I read it in vague acquisition order). Although this is a bit limiting (bye-bye Dewithon; how did I not have anything Welsh?), I am managing to do Reading Ireland in March, Australia Reading Month in (?November, I want to say?), Ali’s Du Maurier week (two books, one I won in last year’s Week, one I received in a Not So Secret Christmas parcel last Christmas), Non-Fiction November (never a problem to find non-fic on my shelf!), All Virago/All August (I have enough Viragoes and Persephones plus Dean Street Press reissues for a year of Augusts) and 20 Books of Summer. Aaaaand, I picked this book up in a charity shop last October, having read a few reviews, and found it on the shelves to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13 this year (which runs from January to the end of March).

Hiromi Kawakami (trans. Allison Makin Powell) – “The Nakano Thrift Shop”

(07 October 2019, charity shop)

Restless young Hitomi settles into a job working at Mr Nakano’s thrift shop (to be honest, I hadn’t really realised they had secondhand/thrift shops in Japan, for some reason), where she works with the monosyllabic Takeo and deals with a range of odd customers and sellers. Relationships ebb and flow and, like in “Convenience Store Woman”, Hitomi falls into an awkward and rather unsatisfying relationship with her colleague, while Mr Nakano himself is a bit of a ladies’ man but gets into scrapes because of this. Mr Nakano then starts to make some changes, but will Hitomi ever make a move to strike out on her own? The last little section is a bit surprising, as we feel like we’ve settled into the shop and its associated sales and hangers-on forever, then … but it works well.

It’s quite flat and somehow floaty feeling, as Japanese novels I read so often seem to be, but also charming and absorbing and a cast of awkward characters try to negotiate one another. Note there are some cats but nothing happens to them apart from them being the catalyst for a row, and one dog that is very minor and disappears very much off-screen.

In a very good serendipity moment for Bookish Beck (who collects such things in her own reading), both this book and “Life’s a Beach”, another bright pink covered book which I actually read immediately before this one (I’ve reviewed out of order this month, and had one from January in this month with two that will seep over from here into March …) featured life-size cardboard cut-out figures of people. I don’t recall these appearing in many other books I’ve read, so the effect was rather striking!


Watch out for my State of the TBR post tomorrow, where I will be sharing some lovely new acquisitions. I know, like I need more books …

Book review – Bernadine Evaristo – “Mr Loverman” #amreading

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Still catching up with those reviews, one Japanese book to go then two more will get finished by the end of the month but will seep over into next month – can’t be helped. Have you been reading up a storm in February? It’s nearly time for a new State of the TBR photo, too, and looking at this one, I have actually changed the beginning of the front shelf a bit, and might be able to squeeze a few more birthday books on to the end. I’m getting there!

So, a great book now that I bought when I thought I didn’t want to read “Girl, Woman, Other” (spoiler alert: I did read it anyway) because it was “in poetry” (it wasn’t, really).

Bernadine Evaristo – “Mr Loverman”

(29 September 2019, charity shop, Penzance)

An astoundingly good book which I absolutely loved and which will probably be a book of the year for me. Elderly Antiguan Barry is coming to a crossroads – does he stick it out in his soured marriage or commit to his lifetime soulmate and lover, Morris (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s the book’s reason for being and is mentioned in the blurb on the back).

In a series of flashbacks, some in that same semi-poetic style of “Girl, Woman, Other” that I bought this to avoid (ha!), we see the history of Barry and Carmel’s marriage and their wider context both back home in Antigua, in the group of people who came over to England with them, and the community in which they settled. There’s a deep, forgiving and often very funny exploration of the effect of immigration on both the immigrants and their hosts. It was lovely to read about Carmel and her group of friends developing through fifty years of their lives, and also the next and further generations and how they’re affected by the family dynamics.

There are some delicious surprises in the novel, and I’m glad Carmel was given her voice in her own chapters (having read GWO, I wouldn’t have expected anything different, but Evaristo occupies the elderly gay men just as confidently as she occupies Carmel), and it could move me, make me laugh and bring a tear to my eye in the space of a few pages. Barry’s shopping list for his grandson’s visit is genius, and his and Morris’ late arrival on London’s gay scene awkward, charming and moving. An excellent book which does good in the world and opens up vistas on the Caribbean immigrant experience that it feels to me are rarely spoken about.

Book reviews – Simon Garfield – “On the Map” and John Carter & Nicolas Barker – “ABC for Book Collectors”

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I’ve got behind with reviewing so where there’s a short review I’m combining it with another, hoping February’s books won’t seep too far into March. And I’ve caught up with reading blog posts now – sorry if I haven’t Liked or commented on all of yours but I had to be highly selective in order to catch up there. From now on, I will read more of them.

Simon Garfield – “On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does”

(17 July 2018, charity shop)

A fabulous book which takes a chronological look at map-making from the earliest Ancient productions and discussions up to Google Maps and GPS. Longer chapters are interspersed with shorter pieces on lighter subjects, and it covers all sorts of things, from the Mappa Mundi to map thieves, dealers and collectors, as well as map-makers.

The piece on the Thames pleasingly included some of the landmarks, including Three Cranes, that were in “Mudlarking” (Bookish Beck collects synchronicity in the books she reads and I’ve been happy to notice some this month in my own reading). Garfield takes part in the book himself, but in a good and appropriate way (i.e. not some emotional stuff shoe-horned in), for example going on a map-reading course. There’s also a section on the “Masquerade” treasure hunt, which seems to go with pirate maps in terms of the fantastic being mapped onto the real.

There were nice reproductions of maps and details printed on the paper rather than on shiny plates, and very nicely done, the section breaks being tailored to the chapter, for example folded maps in one section, a line drawing of the Thames in another. So a nice object with good contents.

John Carter and Nicolas Barker – “ABC for Book Collectors”

(17 July 2018, charity shop)

The 2004 edition of this well-reputed but also witty and readable book about how books are constructed and sold. There are memories of John Carter, who died in 1976, in the introduction, and memories throughout of the greats of cataloguing and book collecting. I am not sure which edition I read when I started being a Special Collections Library Assistant at Birmingham University in 1992, but I know I devoured it then and I was very happy to find myself this copy. The parts on pamphlets in particular reminded me of the amazing still-bound and not broken up collections of religious pamphlets we held there.

The book goes back to Incunabula from the cradle of publishing – and indeed to manuscripts before those – and up to Internet selling and eBay. The endpapers and various other features are labelled as such within the book, which always brings a little smile. An invaluable source if you’re interested in this world.

Running etc. update and two light reads #amrunning #amreading

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Trees and sunset

Photo taken on an evening run by the Haunch Brook Pathways

I’ve not done a Sunday running update post for a couple of weeks but I have still been running and have had some lovely runs these past couple of weeks – and some horrible ones, of course – this photo being from an evening run when it was still light at 5pm and the sun slowly set as we went. A quick running update so I can share with the running ladies link-up and an update on two more of the eight books I’ve finished this month so far …

Here are some shots from today’s 8 miler, a lovely run in blustery conditions looking at the flowers blooming and the blossom blossoming. There were lots of daffodils (see below) as well as snowdrops and cherry blossom on the trees, and it wasn’t that cold, even though it was windy (I had to circle back to my house on my pre-meeting up section to post my extra buff, baseball cap and gloves through my letterbox).

Three runners

Trudie, Liz and Mary Ellen, by Highbury Park. By Trudie.

Trude, Mary Ellen and cheese

Because what do you do if you have spare cheese? Give it to your running friends.

Daffodils along the Rea

Daffodils all along the Rea next to Holders Lane Playing Fields

I might as well get this put down and out there: I’ve had to withdraw from being a reserve for our running club’s places in the London Marathon (I hopefully wasn’t going to need to run anyway, as Afshin and Avril’s training is going well and there is another reserve, too). I missed three weekends of attempts at 16/17 miles in a row (a heavy cold / a terrible storm / more “teething problems” with the new cats leaving me drained, anxious and exhausted and low and without the resources necessary to push out long miles).

Yes, I could probably drag myself back onto it but I need to look after myself and rest rather than pushing myself through extra physical and mental stress. It means I’ll miss my round-the-11-route attempt, but I will have other goes at that, and I still hope to tackle the Canal Canter marathon in August (that’s more like an ultra, with a long walkers’ cut off and cake stops). I’ve not been inclined to write up updates because, frankly, I’ve been concentrating on looking after the kitties (they’re fine), adjusting arrangements in the household for looking after the kitties (lots of support, fine) and eating, sleeping, keeping up with my work and resting (getting there, supported). I will still be in London on marathon day supporting fellow sedate lady Tara and lots of other lovely folk.

Books!

As mentioned, I’ve read eight books so far this month, and I have reviewed one, so I’m going to double up on some slighter books and post a review every other day for a while. Hope that’s OK with everyone!

Chloe Coles – “Life’s a Beach”

(22 November 2018)

The second Bookshop Girl novel (read my review of the first one here) finds Paige and Holly by the sea, running the book sales tent at a book festival and getting into all sorts of scrapes, of course. When they have to babysit a diva-ish romance novelist of uncertain but great age, they find appearances can be deceptive and support and empowerment can be found in the most surprising places. Funny and feel-good but with useful, positive messages for young women.

Jane Linfoot – “The Little Wedding Shop by the Sea”

(17 December 2019)

I bought all four of this series after accidentally picking up volume 2 in The Works and realising there was back story that mattered. I was going to save this to read next Christmas (there are two set at Christmas out of the four) but needed something light and engaging.

Poppy lives upstairs at Brides by the Sea, a Cornwall wedding emporium (built up by the hard work of her boss: there’s a decent emphasis on getting what you want through hard work and details on how), licking her wounds after a break-up and trying to get a bit stronger, but also determined to stay in town and not return to the nearby village where she and best friends Immie and Cate grew up. When she gets an opportunity to add to her cake-making business by working part-time as a wedding planner at the farm (near the dreaded village), she clashes with moody boss Rafe while being wooed by a photographer who might be too good to be true, so we know what’s going to happen, but it’s cheerful and jolly and long enough to last well even as a light read. Fun, and I will read the other three.

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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Ignore “Aisles” now in the picture – I’m onto the first in that arc of books behind me, “Marked for Life”, the second book Paul wrote but the first to be published (I think I’ve got that the right way around). It’s the first in the Phoenix Court series of magical realist novels set on North-East England housing estates full of precints and odd goings-on.

I first read this book a little while after it was first published, in around 1997. I was living  in New Cross Gate in my own flat, working up by London Bridge, and I used to catch the number 36 bus on a Saturday to Lewisham and go to the library. It was a Routemaster bus and I’d be havering away on the back platform, trying to steel my nerves to get off, and sometimes it’d whip me all the way round the back of the library and half-way up the high street before I could get off. I read all sorts of books in those years: Lewisham Library had an excellent collection and I broadened my horizons hugely in the books I read by writers of colour, LGBTQ writers and writers from different backgrounds to my own. I found Paul’s books and hoovered them up as they came out, and always remembered these fondly – although I have to say I didn’t remember much about this one apart from Mark, the man tattooed from head to foot (even his eyelids) but a gentle man. Having said that, if I read this book in 1997 that was 22-23 years ago, so I’ll have read around 2,500-3,000 books since then – so I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for a few memory lapses. 

While I’m on not forgetting I’ve only had two entries in my competition to win a copy of “Exchange” so you’re in with a good chance. Do pop over to my review of “Aisles” to enter – you don’t have to answer the competition question to have a go, that’s just a bit of fun.

Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life”

(11 April 2018)

It was so exciting when Lethe Press republished the Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and they’ve included introductions by Paul and special short stories, too, making a lovely keepsake.

In “Marked for Life” we meet tattooed Mark, settled down with his feisty wife Sam and their small daughter, but getting letters from his old best friend Tony, with whom he shared a passionate affair as teenagers. Meanwhile, Sam’s mum Peggy is shacked up with the somewhat mysterious Iris, who claims to be an Orlando-type ageless figure but with the odd touch of regeneration, and they’ve got into some wild walking about the place. Then Sally’s suddenly abducted and everyone, including Sam’s police officer lover, whizzes down to Leeds to get her from a weird old house full of funny objects and odd inhabitants. But where’s Tony? Is he in fact there?

It’s a joyful book, full of play and books and yes, the odd sex scene, but tenderness and family feeling, even if the family is far from traditional. I wondered if it might have dated but the only feel of the 90s, apart from no one having mobile phones, of course, is that it reminds me a touch of one of Angela Carter’s more readable novels: real, down-to-earth people mixed with just a smidgeon of magic.

The first short story, “Patient Iris” I think looks at a previous life of Iris’ and is full of seals and mystery. “Judith’s Do Round Hers” is fuller and reminds me a bit of “Aisles”, a lovely character study of a woman who works in a newsagents and comes home to her twins, a “sensitive” boy and a girl who’s handy with electrics, and, in a place where everyone’s lived there forever and no one seems to leave, has a good handle on everyone’s past lives as well as their present ones.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Shiny New Books review and incoming for review (lucky me!) @ShinyNewBooks #amreading @OUPAcademic @ThamesandHudson

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In January I very much enjoyed reading John Gallagher’s “Learning Languages in Early Modern England”. As I’m currently trying to learn Spanish from an app, but have also obviously experienced language learning in school and guidebooks and phrasebooks, I had several ways in to this book and found it fascinating. Although it’s an academic tome published by OUP, I found it accessible in its writing (more so than some of the other works it quoted) and it’s also enticingly full of lovely illustrations of old language learning materials, both printed and written by the learners. I found out lots that I hadn’t realised before, and I was also pleased to see an emphasis on the work of women and the “invisible” servants, etc. who aided language learning (and some people who were both).

Examining the period 1480-1720, the book, “offers a history of linguistic competences in a polyglot context, investigating the methods by which they were acquired, used, tested and judged”. The concept of ‘communicative competence’ is important in the book: the way in which a language speaker could adjust what linguists call their register, just as we have a different phone voice to the one we use in a conversation with our friends, and could use the variants of a language that were considered high-status (the French of the Loire, but later Paris, for example). This means that there’s a fair bit of fascinating stuff on how language teaching materials encompassed ways to behave, often shown through the dialogues that constituted the practical examples.

Read my full review at Shiny New Books here.

And just as I knew my review for that one was going up, my next read for Shiny arrived – one from Thames & Hudson’s lovely Spring 2020 catalogue (and I’m so very lucky that Thames & Hudson indulge my requests from their amazing catalogues, and hope I do them proud in my reviews). This one is “A History of Pictures” by none other than David Hockney and Martin Gayford. Of course I’ve already read one of Gayford’s books, the excellent book of pieces on life as a writer about art, “The Pursuit of Art”, which I discussed here in September and reviewed on Shiny here (and I’m not sure why it wasn’t one of my books of the year, to be honest).

This is a new edition, with more works by Hockney featured, and the blurb from the first edition makes it sound unmissable:

They privilege no medium, or period, or style, but instead, in 16 chapters, discuss how and why pictures have been made, and insistently link ‘art’ to human skills and human needs. Each chapter addresses an important question: What happens when we try to express reality in two dimensions? Why is the ‘Mona Lisa’ beautiful and why are shadows so rarely found in Chinese, Japanese and Persian painting? Why are optical projections always going to be more beautiful than HD television can ever be? How have the makers of images depicted movement? What makes marks on a flat surface interesting? Energized by two lifetimes of looking at pictures, combined with a great artist’s 70-year experience of experimentation as he makes them, this profoundly moving and enlightening volume will be the art book of the decade.

It’s published on 20 February and I really cannot wait to get stuck into this one and to review it and share it with you, here and on Shiny!

What brand new books are you coveting or reading?

Book review – Lara Maiklem – “Mudlarking” plus birthday acquisitions in a lovely neat pile #bookconfessions @PersephoneBooks @ViragoBooks @DeanStPress

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I get worried when I borrow books about keeping them for too long, so I dived into this one, loaned to me by Mary Ellen, almost as soon as it was in the house.  It’s a very pretty book with lovely endpapers (more about them later). The same day that Mary Ellen passed me this, I had a small pre-birthday tea with friends, and received some enticing rectangular parcels, and lovely post came on the day itself. I’ve just had my Christmas present from my friend Sian (a mooch around the local charity shops, clutching a “charity shop token” I was allowed to spend on books) and she gave me my birthday present then, so now I have a Lovely Pile of those to share with you, plus the three books I managed to find to buy (isn’t that always the way: I was allowed to splurge and couldn’t find that many books I wanted; last time Sian and I were searching these shops, for Christmas not so secret santa gifts, I bought myself a good few!). Review first, though …

Lara Maiklem – “Mudlarking”

(21 Jan 2020, loaned by Mary Ellen)

A very entertaining book on the treasures to be found in the mud of the River Thames, taking a themed journey chapter-by-chapter from the highest tidal point of the river to the estuary, and looking within each chapter at both general matters and aspects of that particular area. The sense of companionship, both with other mudlarkers and with the people of the past who owned the items she finds is palpable. Indeed, she sensibly won’t go out on the mud of the estuary without someone to guide her and keep watch.

There’s enough of her own history and life to provide a framework, but it doesn’t intrude. She is obviously obsessed with the river and its mud and writes convincingly about how, “It comes knocking at all hours”, and it’s also clear that it’s an escape for her and an opportunity to experience ‘flow’, as she can get lost in staring at the mud or sand for hours. And although she does admit to lying and cajoling and almost abandoning her family for her hobby, she does say of her wife, “[She] likes running marathons, which is an obsession in its own right so she understands” (p. 233).

There’s the obligatory and expected section on human bones and bodies, clearly signposted so not a problem, although I did skip forward to the estuary to get that bit read when I wasn’t reading it over my mealtimes

My one criticism is that, although there’s an image of a historical mudlarker and two maps, and the author does have a presence on Instagram and Facebook, there are no illustrations of her finds, save for a few things on the front cover which might be, the title itself being made up of an Easter Egg that’s created for the book. Those lovely endpapers whose illustrations I shared when I acquired the book turn out not to be her own notes and drawings but those of a colleague, duly mentioned, thanked in the text and acknowledgements and referenced, but still nothing to do with the text and her own finds. She does describe objects well but I think it’s a real missed opportunity not to have any of her own images on at least the endpapers.

An entertaining and interesting read nonetheless.


PIle of birthday books

My lovely birthday books, in order of receipt. I also received some book tokens (hooray, Foyles splurge in around May) and a Pizza Express token I’m going to use for a meal with my best friend soon.

Those two Persephones first – “Expiation” by Elizabeth von Arnim is a ‘lost’ novel of hers about adultery in the suburbs which takes married life and cleverly and ironically unpicks it. Stella Martin Currey’s “One Woman’s Year” is a charming looking book with quotes, diary entries and woodcuts taking us through a 1950s woman’s life. You won’t be surprised to find that these were given to me by the redoutable Heaven-Ali, who also has both of them.

Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” has been a must-read among the booky runners I know – given to me by a non-running friend, I can’t wait to read about runners familiar and unknown.

Then we have two lovely Furrowed Middlebrow at Dean Street Press books from Emma – Susan Alice Kerby’s tale of magic in WW2, “MIss Carter and the Ifrit” and the new Miss Read, “Fresh from the Country” which is a standalone novel but still about a village teacher. Completing the set of Persephone – Furrowed Middlebrow – Virago, the lovely Verity sent me “The Serial Garden” which collects together all of Joan Aiken’s Armitage Family stories.

And yesterday Sian gave me “Because Internet” by Gretchen McCulloch which was a massive favourite of hers and is all about how the Internet has changed/is changing language.


You want more?

So the books I bought with my Christmas charity shop token (so far: I still have some left!) are Sathnam Sanghera’s “Marriage Material” – a novel set in a shop in the West Midlands, Thurston Clarke’s “Islomania” which looks at our obsession with islands over the ages, and Mark Beaumont’s massive tome, “The Man who Cycled the World” – I’ve watched a documentary about him and recall him having to eat many, many calories to fuel his endeavour and can’t wait to read about the whole thing.

Lucky me!

And my reading up a storm in January and bringing some books from the front and middle of the TBR to read this month have allowed the Christmas books to pop onto the end of the TBR itself (OK, in a pile), and these have all found a nesting place in a pile on the shelf below.


Usual question: have you read any of these? Any recommendations? Or Mudlarking, left all the way up the top of this long post?!

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