Another 20 Books of Summer book finished, and another from April 2019. I’m really pleased with how my TBR is looking (which you will see on Saturday, of course) – very different from its appearance at the start of 20 Books! I really liked finding these birthday books from Sian in my pile – we did the same this year and it’s fun to have some books that come in as gifts part-way through the year (this year, I notably had a book and then a charity shop “voucher” so I could browse for some more lovelies, something I was glad to be able to come back to last week at Oxfam Books (and I haven’t come down with anything after that, a week later, so fingers crossed it is all safe!).

I have also read in the interim Nadiya Hussain’s novel “The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters”, however, as this is part of a trilogy and I seem to be reading a bit more recently with lots of review posts flying out, I thought I’d save that until I’ve read the other two, to do a joint review.

Tim Parks – “Where I’m Reading From”

(21 April 2019 – from Sian)

The subtitle, “The Changing World of Books” should perhaps have given away to me that there was going to be quite a lot about the death of the modern novel in this collection of essays – which turn out to all be articles from the New York Review of Books, therefore a lot more serious and, well, ‘hard’, than the popular pieces I was expecting when I put this on my wishlist. I was also irritated early on by a note explaining that the writer was going to use “he” instead of “he and she” (with a very few exceptions, apparently), as in “the old impersonal he”, not to be chauvinistic, but for clarity. Then I would say about half the pieces used “he or she” and the note only served to emphasise the clumsiness of this construction! The book was published in 2014, however: maybe he’s keener on singular they now. However there was a lot to enjoy amidst the discussion of modern novels I don’t know well and slight irritation.

I liked very much the pieces on translation (and the one on editing, which also had something decent to say about too-careful adherence to in-house style guides at the expense of readability), and the insights into his own writing and translating life. The pieces on translating an author’s style, especially when they say things in ways contrary to expectations, is fascinating, as is the piece on the untranslateable quality of cultural items of which US fiction can be particularly full (reclining chairs, foosball tables, etc.) while European writing seems to be moving towards a simplified, translateable norm; and even towards English as opposed to its own syntax, creating almost a lingua franca for easy translation. His piece on writing a book for the US market and the localisation he had to endure made me smile, as I work on this kind of thing from US to UK English and it does feel quite fussy sometimes.

In the essay entitled “Where I’m Reading From” he posits the theory that people’s family background and the particular aspects of life and personality that a family is concerned with (whether that’s good and evil, cautiousness and profligacy, bravery or timidity) affects what books the person growing up in that family will be drawn to. Thus, his hatred of his father’s Bible concordances feeds into his dislike of over-complicated literary theory which he criticises in a later piece. I’m not sure I completely subscribe to this myself, but it is an interesting idea.

Finally, the pieces on his personal experience as a writer, from being a different writer in England, Italy and the US to the stupid questions people ask at book events, were engaging and easier to read. So on balance a good read with some tougher pieces, as you’d expect from a book of essays.

This was Book 12 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Jon Bloomfield’s “Our City” which is about immigrants in my adopted home city of Birmingham and a fascinating, warm and very readable book, although making some hard-hitting points about exploitation and economics. That’s my last non-Virago etc Book of Summer so I feel I’m doing quite well there. It’s hard to put down so should be finished soon!