What we are Reading - The 2019 Edition

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  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Has anyone else read (or is anyone currently reading) Sarah Perry's Melmoth? It was given to me as a Christmas gift but I'm just reading it now; enjoying it so far but not sure where it's going to take me. I remember I like The Essex Serpent a lot when we read it for the Ship book club in 2018; wondering how this one will be similar or different.
  • Seconding the recommendation of Oliver Sacks. @Chorister, did you know that he has written a book about music and the brain, called Musicophilia?

    I have just finished The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas, a journey around the places where British Romany families like his own have traditionally used as places to stop for the night. It was really illuminating to read about all the little things of Travelled culture that he describes: the kinds of things owned by people who were on the road, bits of the Romani language, and so on.

    I'm also reading Abigail Santamaria's Joy, a biography of Joy Davidman, the poet and wife of C. S. Lewis.
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    Seconding the recommendation of Oliver Sacks. @Chorister, did you know that he has written a book about music and the brain, called Musicophilia?

    Yes, I have bought it, but haven't read it yet. I gather it is to be recommended.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I enjoy the Rivers of London series, but thought the early ones were better.
    Setterfield's Once Upon A River is the SoF's Book Group choice for December btw. It's certainly high up among the book's I've enjoyed most recently.
    Another book I've enjoyed is Lissa Evan's Old Baggage. Set in 1928 it's the story of a suffragette and her friend's in middle age. Very funny, with a great lead character. I hope someone thinks of turning it into a TV series.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited August 17
    The BBC World Service's World Book Club book this month is Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen. After hearing the programme* earlier this month I had to borrow it.

    Wow. What a story. And what rich detail and vivid imagery in the lives of these brothers in a small Nigerian town, whose friendship and love is torn apart after the prophesy of a local madman that the eldest would be killed by one of his brothers. It also showed how ignorant I was of 90s Nigerian political history, which was woven throughout.


    * I usually don't hear it but couldn't sleep that night...
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    Patience Swift's 'The Last Good Man' - loner finds a child washed up on a beach. You just know it isn't going to end well (but not in the way people these days would necessarily think), but the narrative is so gripping, you just have to read on to the end anyway. A very moving tale.
  • Currently reading Thomas Traherne's Centuries of Meditations, John Dolan's The War Nerd Iliad, and Baudelaire's Paris Spleen.
  • The World Since Yesterday, Jared Diamond
    Discusses the characteristics of humans in tribal societies, and the implications for this having been humanity's normal way of life until just recently. Fascinating. He extrapolates from New Guinea (mainly) which has many tribes and languages. Two things really stand out.

    The average person in a tribal society knows about 5 languages, and these languages are very different from each other, as much as English is to Chinese is to Arabic. Second, that they all seem to have what he calls "constructive paranoia" which means assessment of risks to life and of injury that seems well-reasoned and also superstitious. Also, they all have religion which seems to contain a creation story and then additional aspects which pertain to trying to explain unexplainable things. He also noted that they all talk all the time about everything, constantly.
  • Just finished The Setons by O. Douglas (sister of John Buchan). It was published in 1922, but is set in 1913. Nothing really happens in the first 95% of the book. The Rev Seton is a minister in Glasgow, and the book describes the daily round of his family's life. The characters, both clergy family and their congregants, are charming and their foibles are the subject of gentle humour.

    The only characters that did not ring true were the three boys; David (Buff) Seton and his two chums, Billy and Thomas, who were forever in a scrape rather like the Just William stories. At one point the three boys decided to go "mountaineering" with ropes to the top of a neighbours conservatory, only to fall through the glass at the top. This was regarded with some amusement by the adults as "boys will be boys."

    Despite the trappings of life in 1913 - the tram cars, the housemaids, the galoshes, all the other characters could be transported forward by a century and still be recognisably the same. Worrying about the success of a dinner party, struggling to budget, enjoying a garden, getting a new kitten - life has not changed so very much. But bring the intrepid trio of Buff, Billy and Thomas forward by a century and their lives would be completely impossible. Did small boys of 7 or 8 really clamber over neighbours conservatories with impunity once upon a time?
  • @NOprophet_NØprofit Very interesting comments! I must get round to reading some of his books....
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    Enjoying reading 'David' by Mary Hoffman - a novel about Michaelangelo's sculpture and the young lad who posed for him. I hadn't realised how rough and dangerous it was to live in Florence in the 15th century, with all the warring political factions (tied up with the Catholic church) - even more surprising that such beauty could come out of such difficult times.
  • Reading The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak, whose Forty Rules of Love I had previously read (and enjoyed, at least the part about the poet Rumi: the frame narrative, with a modern-day love affair, seemed to end unconvincingly to me). This one is taking a while to get into, but it is slowly working its way into my head: a series of little interwoven stories about people living in the same block of flats in Istanbul
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    I've just finished Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory. It's a fictionalised version of the lives of Margaret and Mary Tudor (sisters of Henry VIII) and Katherine of Aragon, told in the person of Margaret, who marries James IV of Scotland, and I'm ashamed at how little of the Scottish history of the period I knew before I read it.

    I'm getting used to the way she narrates her historical novels in the present tense; I'd still rather she didn't, but I find it less irritating in her books than in the appalling Hilary Mantel ones.*

    * Sorry about that - I couldn't get along with Wolf Hall at all.
  • caroline444caroline444 Shipmate
    edited August 27
    @Piglet I struggled with Wolf Hall too, yet most of my friends (seemingly like the rest of the world), adored it.
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    @North East Quine I am an O Douglas fan! I think that in fact small boys maybe did act like that back then, as the usual overarching critique of Anna Buchan's work, including from her brother, is that she never made things up, but simply rearranged her memories in different settings - and in this story (an early one) most of all.

    My signature on the Old Ship came from that book: "Damp hands and theological doubts; the two always seemed to go together."
  • @Cathscats which one should I read next?
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    Maybe "Penny Plain" There isn't a reading order but one or two books follow or refer to the same characters and the town of Priorsford (Peebles) and Penny Plain is the first of these. Not so clerical! If you want to read more about life in an early twentieth century manse (based, of course on a late nineteenth century manse, because that was the memory she was drawing from) then "Eliza For Common" would be the way to go.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    @North East Quine Thanks for the suggestion of O. Douglas. I've just downloaded 'The Proper Place' and am enjoying it so far.
  • NicoleMR wrote: »
    I am reading The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Fascinating look at immigrants and New York City in the late 1800s.

    Good recommendation. My Dear Wife and I have both read it now. She says it's fantasy; I say it's folklore. We both loved it.
  • Have just finished The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner - brilliant, but a bit scary.
  • Cathscats wrote: »
    Maybe "Penny Plain" There isn't a reading order but one or two books follow or refer to the same characters and the town of Priorsford (Peebles) and Penny Plain is the first of these. Not so clerical! If you want to read more about life in an early twentieth century manse (based, of course on a late nineteenth century manse, because that was the memory she was drawing from) then "Eliza For Common" would be the way to go.

    The second hand bookshop had a copy of Eliza For Common so that's what I'm reading. I am half way through and absolutely rooting for something wonderful to happen to Eliza!
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    edited August 31
    Piglet wrote: »
    I've just finished Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory...

    I'm getting used to the way she narrates her historical novels in the present tense; I'd still rather she didn't, but I find it less irritating in her books than in the appalling Hilary Mantel ones.*

    * Sorry about that - I couldn't get along with Wolf Hall at all.

    I am the same about a present tense narrative and tend to avoid Philippa Gregory for that reason. And I didn't get on with Wolf Hall either.

    I'm reading our current book group book, The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley.
  • Due to the feeling of general uncertainty and unrest in Britain at the moment (not to mention the rest of the world), I decided it was high time to re-read 'Noughts and Crosses' by Malorie Blackman. Very powerful. Has anyone read the new book, 'Crossfire' yet? Is it good?
  • Kazao Ishiguro wrote 'Remains of the Day' many years ago, which was turned into a very enjoyable film. On the strength of that, I decided to read another book of his - 'Never let me go'. Set in a boarding school, somewhere in England, you very soon start to realise that this is not normal British life; something rather more dark is hidden under the surface and will befall the children at the school at some time in the future. What this might be is gradually revealed as you continue to read.....
  • I've struggled my way through Peter May's The Man With No Face It was piled high in Waterstones and I thought it was a "new" book by May. Having bought it, I discovered that it was a re-write of a book published in 1981.

    The front cover carries an endorsement by The Times "Strong on place" I suspect this is damning with faint praise; it may be strong on place, but it is weak on believable characterisation.

    The plot has lots of twists, some of them plausible.

    I feel that republishing a buffed up 1981 novel, knowing that people will buy anything by Peter May is a cynical exercise in marketing.
  • Almost as cynical as publishing an Agatha Christie mystery under two different titles. Some of them were re-titled for the American market...but then, a couple years later, the American publisher also printed them with the original title! One could easily buy the same book twice.
  • Alternative titles have been around for donkey's years, at least since the time of Shakespeare. Some have different names for different countries / languages as they will have particular resonance in a certain place. And of course, others are changed for the film of a book. I wouldn't recommend buying from Amazon as a first choice (better to support your own independent book shop) but their information can be a useful first point of call to check you haven't already read the book under a different name.
  • Chorister wrote: »
    Alternative titles have been around for donkey's years, at least since the time of Shakespeare. Some have different names for different countries / languages as they will have particular resonance in a certain place. And of course, others are changed for the film of a book. I wouldn't recommend buying from Amazon as a first choice (better to support your own independent book shop) but their information can be a useful first point of call to check you haven't already read the book under a different name.
    Also fantasticfiction.com is a useful resource.
  • Sally Rooney's book 'Normal People' drove me nuts - two people who are obviously really suited to each other but just keep so beautifully almost (but not) becoming an item. Their relationships with other people are deeply unsatisfying, so the reader feels as if they are cast in the role of marriage counsellor, begging them to look at the most obvious solution.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Oh, Normal People is up next on my to-read list ... everyone I know has been raving about it and it was on for something like 2.99 in the e-book store, so I'll see if it drives me nuts too.

    Right now I am finishing Janet Fitch's Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, the sequel to her book The Revolution of Marina M -- a vast sweeping epic about the Russian Revolution, which I am loving, but also reading very slowly as I'm having an extremely busy month and it's a book I can dip into and out of.
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I've been sinking into some Dorothy Sayers, as into a comforting warm bath. I've been investigating the AO3 fan fiction website, which won a Hugo this year, and found a fun little story in which Lord Peter Wimsey visits Aziraphale's bookshop from Good Omens - which made me want to re-visit Clouds of Witness, and as I was finishing that I came across a copy of The Late Scholar, one of the Jill Paton Walsh follow-ons to the original stories, in a local charity shop.
    I find that even fan-fiction Wimsey makes me happy.
  • Classic Robert E Howard Conan tale, "The Scarlet Citadel".
  • Eigon wrote: »
    I've been sinking into some Dorothy Sayers, as into a comforting warm bath.

    Ha! Me too. Life feels very fraught personally, professionally and nationally and this is my escape!
  • Malorie Blackman's 2019 book 'Cross Fire' - simultaneously continuing the 'Noughts and Crosses' theme which runs through the whole series, but also being a (fictional) commentary on current political issues. Especially interesting as I watched 'The Cameron Years' on TV tonight.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    I'm rereading Rosamunde Pilcher's "September" as it seems an appropriate time of year to do so.
  • TukaiTukai Shipmate
    Climacus wrote: »
    [snip]

    In the non-fiction department I am greatly enjoying David Spiegelhalter's The Art of Statistics. I've heard him on several radio programmes and he certainly has the skill in explaining how to understand, and not be misled by, statistics*; and this book continues that excellence looking at how we can use data to make decisions. He chooses, to me at least, interesting examples and has a very engaging writing style.


    * hardly surprising given he is Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge

    A classic in the same vein is How to lie with statistics by Darrell Huff, with which I used to regale my social science students. It was first published in 1954, so the examples are a bit dated, but still pertinent as they deal with such advertiser's favourites as "9 out of 10 film stars use Brand X soap" - who says so and do they have a vested interest? how do they know? how did they choose the sample? [perhaps they kept asking film stars until we found 9 who used Brand X] and so on.

    My Penguin edition is enlivened by cartoons by Mel Calman, of which my favourite shows a psycho-analyst lying on a sofa with a naked lady. He says to her: "I'm afraid this sample is not quite as random as I claimed."
  • The local library has been coming up trumps again. I've just finished ploughing through Galina Vishnevskaya's autobiography (simply called "Galina"). For those unfamiliar with her, she was the starring soprano of the Bolshoi opera in the Soviet period, and more famously the wife of Mstislav Rostropovich. I loved it, both for the description of her musical career and of being a
    famous dissident in Soviet Russia. (I read it in French but an English translation exists; she wrote it in Russian.)

    Moving on to something completely different, I've discovered that the library has a not half-bad selection of books in English. Oh frabjous day! John Le Carré! In English!
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I've finished my binge reading of Lord Peter Wimsey with The Attenbury Emeralds - Jill Paton Walsh starts with a re-telling of Peter's first case and brings it up to the (1951) present. Fascinating to see how the lives of the upper classes changed between the 1920s and 1950s.
  • Eigon wrote: »
    I've finished my binge reading of Lord Peter Wimsey with The Attenbury Emeralds - Jill Paton Walsh starts with a re-telling of Peter's first case and brings it up to the (1951) present. Fascinating to see how the lives of the upper classes changed between the 1920s and 1950s.

    I've just come across the realisation that Jill Paton Walsh didn't just finish Dorothy Sayers' work (Thrones, Dominations) but continued it. How interesting, and worth checking out.

    I was particularly impressed with 'Knowledge of Angels', although 'The Wyndham Case' looks to be more in keeping with Sayers' detective genre.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    Jonah the Whale made a recommendation in the 'Christian' Fiction thread for the books of Francine Rivers. I (semi reluctantly) downloaded her book Redeeming Love and started reading it last night. I read half the book and only quit because I only had three hours left to sleep before getting ready to take my parents to church! It's much, much better than I had anticipated.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    I was rattling through Jasper fforde's Early Riser until about two thirds of the way through, and then I sort of lost interest.

    I think his lines of fantasy, while entertaining, are somehow too artificial. Even in fantasy, you have to feel some engagement and identity with the characters.
  • I've just started David Bentley Hart's new book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Firenze wrote: »
    I was rattling through Jasper fforde's Early Riser until about two thirds of the way through, and then I sort of lost interest.

    I think his lines of fantasy, while entertaining, are somehow too artificial. Even in fantasy, you have to feel some engagement and identity with the characters.

    I've loved everything Jasper Fforde has ever written but I just could not get on with Early Riser. I did finish it, and felt like it got better, but I spent so much time ploughing through his complex and detailed worldbuilding that I felt, like you, that I never engaged with the characters (and also didn't know what was going on half the time).

    However my husband, who is likewise a Fforde ffan, liked it just ffine.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    I've just started David Bentley Hart's new book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved.

    Have you? I'll be very interested to know what you think of it.
  • Nenya wrote: »
    I've just started David Bentley Hart's new book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved.

    Have you? I'll be very interested to know what you think of it.


    So far, I love it, though admittedly I was already inclined toward its central thesis. He does a very thorough (and characteristically snotty) demolition of all the standard pro-eternal torment apologetic tricks.
  • 'One Day' by David Nicholls. Not too sure about this one yet, reading the first chapter it sounds depressingly like several other books I've read recently, where people never quite get it together permanently with their most obviously suitable partner. A sign of the times, maybe, that people want to have it all and are not willing to settle? But you can't judge a book by its first few pages, so I shall persevere, and hope.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    Nenya wrote: »
    Piglet wrote: »
    I've just finished Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory...

    I'm getting used to the way she narrates her historical novels in the present tense; I'd still rather she didn't, but I find it less irritating in her books than in the appalling Hilary Mantel ones.*

    * Sorry about that - I couldn't get along with Wolf Hall at all.

    I am the same about a present tense narrative and tend to avoid Philippa Gregory for that reason. And I didn't get on with Wolf Hall either.

    I'm reading our current book group book, The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley.

    Philippa Gregory's latest book Tidelands looks interesting and I leafed through it at our local book seller to check whether it's written in the present tense. It isn't. :smiley: So I may pounce, once it's out in paperback.

    We had a good discussion last night at our book group about The Girl On The Cliff. I was tired and grumpy at the end of a working day, and the discussion plus good food, wine and chocolate was just what I needed.

    Next up in book group - Silas Marner.
  • Having read an article on Susan Ferrier (1782-1854) a couple of weeks ago, in which she was described as a "Scottish Jane Austen" I couldn't wait to read Marriage (written in 1810, but not published till 1818). The fact that the Virago edition turned out to have an introduction by Val McDermid just whetted my appetite.

    I ended up having a love/hate relationship with the book. In wit and observation, Ferrier is the equal to Austen, but Marriage also contains turgid passages of improving thought. Ferrier excells at wickedly observed pen-portraits of characters, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes it seemed as though the heroine made a social call solely so that Ferrier could include another character, without advancing the plot in any way.

    Some of the characters (Aunt Grizzy, Lady Juliana, Lady MacLaughlan, Mrs Pullens) ought to be amongst the best of C19th literary characters, but in this book they are jostling for attention amongst the host of other characters.

    I have asked for Ferrier's second novel The Inheritance for Christmas - I don't think I could face it any sooner, but I definitely want to read more of her work.

  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    I've finished Silas Marner which I first read years ago when studying English literature. I'm not sure how well it will go down at book group and am quite glad I'm not leading the discussion.

    I've been lent Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell which I thought I would enjoy (have never read any of his before) but am getting tired of the brutality and fast losing interest about whether the ruddy place gets built or not (no spoilers, please :wink: ).
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Regarding Stonehenge, Nenya, I know what you mean 😂!
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