Here we are, then: my top 5 reading memories from the last decade. I knew how this countdown would end before I started compiling the list. The reading experiences I’m talking about here… more than anything, this is why I read.Continue reading
Today I’m rounding up three reviews that I’ve had published on other websites in the last few months. I would recommend all of these books…
First, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder). It’s one of my favourite books from this year’s International Booker Prize, a tale of loss set on an island where things disappear from living memory without warning. I’ve reviewed it for Strange Horizons.
The second book is Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin (translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins). The narrator is a young woman working at a guest house in the South Korean tourist town of Sokcho, who’s ill at ease with her life. The novel is a quiet exploration of a moment when that might be about to change. I’ve reviewed Winter in Sokcho for Shiny New Books.
Finally, we have Four by Four by Sara Mesa (translated from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore). This is a novel about the use and abuse of power, set in an exclusive college. I’ve reviewed the book for European Literature Network.
Nina is a long-time friend of this blog, and one of the authors I’ve written about most often – but never quite at this length. It was a pleasure to spend time thinking through The Dollmaker: on the surface, the novel is about a maker and collector of dolls paying a surprise visit to a correspondent, but it also explores how lives lived beside each other can be as distant as parallel worlds.
Over the last few weeks, I have been moderating a discussion for the Strange Horizons book club about a classic Japanese SF novel: Ryu Mitsuse’s Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights, sees Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha, and the demigod Asura travelling far into the future, to witness the end of all worlds. Taking part in the discussion were regular Strange Horizons reviewers Benjamin Gabriel and K. Kamo; and Kathryn Hemmann, who lectures and blogs on Japanese literature. Interesting book, fascinating discussion; do take a look.
Book details (publisher link)
Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by (1967) by Ryu Mitsuse, tr. Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander (2011), Haikasoru paperback
Strange Horizons have my review of Saint Rebor, the latest short story collection from Adam Roberts (published as part of Newcon Press’s Imaginings series). I wanted to say a few words on my approach to this review, because it grew out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the other reviews that were out there.
Saint Rebor itself hadn’t garnered much commentary at the time I was putting together my review, but the book’s opening story, ‘What Did Tessimond Tell You?’, had several reviews following its appearance in a year’s-best anthology . The story is about a scientist who discovers why the members of her project team are quitting even though they’re on the verge of winning the Nobel. Generally, the reviews I read revolved around the plausibility of the science, and didn’t go much further than that.
This approach wouldn’t do for me because I had a very different sense of what was interesting about the story. To me, the issue of scientific plausibility was simply not important in terms of what Roberts was actually doing – in my experience of his fiction, it rarely is. I wanted to write a review that offered a different way of looking at the stories in Saint Rebor.
I was a little daunted by the prospect: Roberts’s style can be dense and allusive, and I know that his references are often beyond my own sphere of experience. I may well not have been the best person to engage with what I saw in Roberts’s stories – but it looked as though if I didn’t, no one else would, and I felt strongly that it needed to be done. (This, incidentally, is one of the impulses behind book blogging: that you feel something has to be said about a book, and nobody else is saying it.)
So I have a review which focuses in on a few of Saint Rebor‘s stories and (taking a cue from Roberts’s introduction) attempts to examine how – on the structural and linguistic levels – they exploit the tensions between ‘science’ and ‘fiction’. I hope you find it interesting.
These last few weeks, I’ve been moderating the latest instalment of the Strange Horizons book club – a discussion of Ghalib Islam’s debut novel, Fire in the Unnameable Country. I find the book nigh on impossible to summarise succinctly, for reasons you’ll discern from the discussion!
The Strange Horizons book club on Patricia A. McKillip’s Ombria in Shadow is now live; go and take a look. We had a really good discussion, which looks set to continue in the comments; I hope the SH book club goes on to be a regular and reliable source of interesting discussion about books.
This experience (amongst other things) has set me thinking about reading and what I want to get from it. I’m not the only blogger who’s been doing that sort of thing recently – see this post by Simon Savidge, for instance. Now, I’m happy enough to be a prolific – and relatively fast – reader; but Simon’s points about reading mechanically, in a way that does a disservice to a book and yourself resonated with me. This is not necessarily an issue of quantity: for me, it’s a matter of what I want reading to be.
The truth is, in the last few years I’ve read too many books which have essentially done little more than pass the time along, which is not what I want. The most powerful books I read change my world, get under my skin, inspire thoughts that I have to write down and share – that’s what I want.
Of course there will be ups and downs. The odd makeweight book is inevitable, especially when you like to take chances in your reading. Equally, I’m not saying that every good book has to scale the highest of heights to be worthwhile. But there have been too many times when I’ve knowingly kept on reading something just for the sake of it; or when I’ve read with more of an eye for having something to post on the blog than for why I’m reading. It shouldn’t be that way.
So here’s a resolution to be more selective in what I read and keep reading.There may be fewer posts on the blog, but maybe not; I expect I will read fewer books, but shouldn’t feel short-changed for that. After all, reading is not a competitive sport, not even if it’s just competing against yourself. Rather, it’s a journey of discovery, and the point of this blog was to share that discovery – so that’s what I aim to keep in mind.
I have a new review up at Strange Horizons, looking at Widow’s Dozen by Marek Waldorf (published by Turtle Point Press). The book is a collection of eleven linked (or fractured) short stories revolving around the fictitious Bearden County, NY, where something strange has happened to the laws of nature. I won’t say more: I’ll just invite you to check out the full review here.
No would also be a good time to mention that Strange Horizons’ annual fund drive is currently under way; if you like what they do, why not consider making a donation? You might even win a prize in their raffle.
News about some external stuff today. There’s a new issue of Shiny New Books out, where you’ll find a couple of pieces by me. One is a celebration of the short story, with a few recommended story collections. The other is a review of Mark Watson’s new novel Hotel Alpha, which chronicles forty years in the life of a hotel and its people, and comes with a hundred bonus short stories online – one of which is also up at SNB.
Then there’s something new over at Strange Horizons: a monthly round-table book club. Each month, a panel of participants will discuss a particular title, with the opportunity for others to contribute in the comments. I’m involved in two of the initial instalments: later this month, I’ll be taking part in the discussion on Patricia A. McKillip’s Ombria in Shadow; then I’ll be moderating the December panel on Ghalib Islam’s Fire in the Unnameable Country. The other discussions coming up concern Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman (November) and Rachel Pollack’s Unquenchable Fire (January). I’m really excited by the book club, which is planned to be a regular feature; I hope you’ll take a look and perhaps join in.