I always get a little thrill when I see these giant billboards advertising Christos Tsiolkas' Barracuda across the tube network. He's done well for a Melbourne boy! Not every book from Australia benefits from such a high-profile "outdoor" advertising campaign.
About this time last year I read Michel Faber's Under the Skin, and 12 months later I'm still haunted by it. It has now been adapted into a film due for release here in the UK on 14 March. Having watched several trailers for it, I'm not sure I actually want to see it — it looks creepy as hell.
Between then and sometime in the early hours of this morning, it notched up another million.
That means two million page views have been recorded on this blog. It's not a massive number given I've been hanging around this little corner of the internet for almost a decade and others will achieve the same kinds of figures in a lot less time, but I'm really proud of this modest accomplishment.
Whether you've arrived here via a Google search or are a regular visitor, many thanks for popping by.
I'd especially like to thank those people who take the time to leave comments — your interaction, your responses, your conversations and your friendship help make it all worthwhile.
I'm doing a bit of housework on the blog and figure it's probably time for me to update my blogroll, which I haven't done in an absolute age. In fact, it's probably been about six years, and since then there's been an absolute explosion in the number of book blogs out there.
If you are already on my blogroll please check your link is still working and let me know your new address if it is not.
If you are not on my blogroll and link to me, please let me know and I will be more than happy to return the favour.
UPDATE: Please let me know by Saturday 11 January.
Happy New Year, everyone! Hope 2014 is one filled with love, laughter and plenty of books!
I'm still nursing a horrible chest cold (day 7 and counting...) and haven't left the house in days, so I have had some time to look back at what I read last year and to figure out what I should be doing differently this year, if anything.
Once upon-a-time I used to compile end-of-year reading stats but I stopped a few years ago, mainly because I honestly didn't think people were that interested and I couldn't truly be bothered compiling pie charts and graphs like every other blogger seemed to be doing. Who really cares if I read a dozen novels in translation and that 75 per cent of the books I read were by male writers anyway?
But in 2013 I read far fewer novels than I have read in many years (and only five non-fiction books), which made me question why that was the case. Yes, I was receiving far fewer unsolicited copies from publishers (I contacted many of them to request my name be taken off lists at the start of the year after my Herculean effort to sort out my TBR because I just don't have the space to store endless piles of them) and I wasn't buying as many as I would usually buy, but that wasn't the reason. My pokey flat is rammed with books and I've even sacrificed wardrobe space to store them. So it had to be something else.
I put it down to three things: (1) an addiction to Candy Crunch for the first quarter of the year (it got so bad, I deleted the game from my iPhone); other online distractions (mainly Twitter and Instagram); and my job, which involves editing (and rewriting) great swathes of copy, mostly for specialist magazines, so that the last thing I want to do when I come home is more reading otherwise my eyes might just fall out of my head.
As per usual, I made a deliberate effort not to read all the same shining tomes everyone else was reading (for instance, there's no Goldfinch reviewed here, ditto for The Luminaries, Life After Life or Instructions for a Heatwave), but I still found myself reading an inordinate amount of newly published novels even though I'd set out not wanting to do that. In fact, you may remember that I set myself a project to read more from my shelves — Project 1001 — but alas I failed quite dismally and read just six from the list and only reviewed four of them.
And speaking of reviewing, this year I found it harder and harder to find the energy and motivation to write reviews in a timely fashion. This often meant I was six, seven or eight books behind. At year's end there are still 11 books yet to be reviewed — and for my own sanity, I probably won't bother now.
But on the plus side, I did read loads more Australian fiction than ever before, thanks mainly to my second annual Australian Literature Month, as well as my usual quota of Canadian novels due to my involvement in the Shadow Giller. And I even squeezed in a good handful of Irish novels, though far fewer than I would have liked.
General statistics Number of books read: 74 (5 non-fiction & 69 fiction) Number of books per my "specialised" interests: 18 from Australia, 11 from Ireland and 8 crime novels Number of books in translation: 11 (translated from the Swedish, French, Icelandic, German, Norwegian & Japanese) Gender ratio: 35 female & 39 male Year of publication ratio: 35 published in 2013 & 39 published before 2013
So what are my plans for this year?
I will keep reading widely and stay off the book publicity bandwagon (this has been my motto from the very start).
I will continue Project 1001 (watch out for an update on this shortly).
I will tackle more from my shelves filled with my interests in Irish fiction, crime and books in translation.
I will try to read more non-fiction (I own loads and loads of it).
I will host another Australian Literature Month (details to be announced at a later date).
I will continue to read Canadian fiction as part of the Shadow Giller.
I will try to fill in some of the gaps in the back catalogues of my favourite authors, such as Alex Miller, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve and Chuck Palahniuk (I have most of these books already).
I will try to keep on top of my reviews and post them as soon as possible after reading the book!
I hope that by sticking to these goals I will be less reliant on reviewing new stuff so that the ratio of new books to old books is not 50/50 as it is currently, but more along the lines of 25/75.
How about you? Do you make reading resolutions? Do you have any reading plans for the year ahead?
Apparently the catering side of the business (the shop serves hot lunches, cakes and coffe) is doing well, but the book side of the business is not pulling its weight. You can read more about the decision on the firm's blog.
As much as I love the store, I'm not surprised.
In recent months I've felt that the bookshop element has become more and more marginalised, as the food aspect has taken over.
Earlier this week, I visited the shop but found it was almost impossible to browse or to look at the book stock, because there were so many tables and chairs crowding the space. (I did buy two paperbacks though.)
And the smell of wafting cooking as delicious as it is, really isn't conducive to book buying — I associate book shops with the heady smell of paper and ink, not spicy curries. (Perhaps I'm being picky, but I wouldn't want to buy a special book as a gift, just in case the pages had been impregnated with that smell.)
Still, the shop will be sadly missed by many — me included.
I've purchased several paperbacks there over the past year, and have loved and admired the eclectic range, with its emphasis on translated fiction.
I've also attended a couple of events — namely Meike Ziervogel's talk on her debut novella Magda (which I'm still to read) and Canadian author Joseph Boyden's only London appearance to promote The Orenda — which turned out to be real highlights of my literary year.
Woolfson & Tay's presence has added a certain "bling" to an up-and-coming area — and made my lunchtimes a little more exciting (I freelance in a building just around the corner) — so it's sad that it will no longer be there for the community and visitors to enjoy.
Whatever the owners end up doing next, I wish them the very best. They should be proud of what they achieved when the odds were so stacked against them — Southwark will definitely be a poorer place without Woolfson & Tay.
Can you believe the first week of December has already rushed by? I've had a terribly exhausting week working day shifts on one magazine and then subbing pages for its sister title in the evening, so I'm feeling a bit bug-eyed and I've not had much time, nor inclination, to do any reading. But I'm certainly not complaining — as a freelancer I'm always very grateful for any work that comes my way, even if it means that it comes my way all at once!
On another note, I hope you're all enjoying the advent calendar that kicked off on this blog last Sunday. If you are like me, your wishlist will already have grown substantially as a result — rest assured there are plenty more interesting and diverse recommendations to come.
And if you need any more recommendations, I should point you in the way of a list compiled by We Love This Book, which asked 10 UK-based bloggers (including me) to name their favourite book of the year. It's another eclectic list well worth checking out.
In the meantime, stay tuned for more daily recommendations here via the advent calendar — and if I can summon enough energy I might even get around to writing a review or two, as well.
If you were wondering why things were a little quiet around here last week, it's because I was barely home. My social schedule went into overdrive — and it's all thanks to this blog.
These days it seems that being a book blogger (or at least one who has been around for as long as I have!) is more than just writing about books on a blog — something I've been doing pretty religiously since 2004 — it also means being invited to various book industry events. These invites tend to come in waves: there's nothing for months and months, and then six things come all at once and you have to make a decision about what you really want to attend. Last week I had two invites I didn't want to miss; the third event was something I'd been looking forward to for awhile and I'd already booked my ticket and paid the £3 fee.
I don't normally blog about these events, unless they're exceptionally interesting (such as the recent Picador showcase evening I attended), because I'm never quite sure whether they add anything to this blog. But a few people have told me they'd love to find out more about things I go to, so I hope what follows gives you a glimpse of what sometimes goes on behind the scenes...
MONDAY, 15 NOVEMBER
WHAT: Windmill, William Heinemann & Hutchinson party (invite only)
WHERE: Arts Theatre Club, Soho
PURPOSE: To meet the authors being published in Autumn 2013 and Spring 2014 and to hear about the books they've written. Each author took it in turns to do a reading.
WHO WAS ON THE BILL? Carys Bray (Sweet Home: A Song for Issy Bradley, June 2014); Helen Dunmore (The Lie, January 2014); Nick Harkaway (Tigerman, May 2014); Adelle Waldman (The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, out now) and Lindy Woodhead (Midnight Mother, July 2014)
ATMOSPHERE: The setting was a subterranean private club with lots of red decor, low-level lighting and books on display. It was very crowded — in fact, there were so many people the cloak room ran out of space and I had to put my heavy wool coat on a vacant stool and then keep my eye on it. There was a free bar serving beer and wine, and lots of canapes — including savoury and then dessert ones — to keep us all sustained.
HIGHLIGHTS: I won the tombola (how embarrassing!) and got to take home two hefty coffee-table-sized beauties (pictured above), which are filled with short stories, articles and illustrations from the New Yorker magazine. I also asked David Vann, who was there as a guest, to sign his new book, Goat Island, for me. It was also lovely to catch up with fellow bloggers Jackie from Farm Lane Books and Dan from Utter Biblio.
TUESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER
WHAT:Half Bad media launch (invite only)
WHERE: The Secret Garden at Shoreditch House, Shoreditch
PURPOSE: To launch Sally Green's debut novel, Half Bad, which is due to be published by Penguin Books in the UK next March. The book has already been sold in 27 languages and the film rights sold at auction to Fox 2000, to be produced by Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight, The Book Thief and Percy Jackson)
WHO WAS ON THE BILL? Sally Green, who gave a lovely, slightly rambling, but heartfelt speech about what it was like to suddenly have her life transformed by the sale of her book. She used to be an accountant in a previous life.
ATMOSPHERE: Quite glitzy in a large, undercover garden, lit by low-level red lights and heating lamps. There was plenty of drink and an endless supply of fancy canapes on offer. The crowd was largely young and female (I may have been the oldest person there!), perhaps a reflection of the book's intended audience, which is young adult.
HIGHLIGHTS: I'm not sure if this counts as a highlight, but the "centrepiece" was certainly memorable — and slightly surreal. In the middle of the room stood a large cage containing a young man called "Nathan", the main character of the novel who has been kept in cage since he was 14. I certainly hope they paid the chap playing this role a lot of money, because he had to spend several hours in this cage guarding a huge pile of proofs while the crowd around him was enjoying the party. After Sally's speech, the cage door was opened and most of the young women in attendance formed an orderly queue and then, one by one, entered the cage and negotiated with Nathan for a proof. Me? I'm too old for that sort of stuff: I cheated and stole mine through the bars of the cage when Nathan wasn't looking.
WEDNESDAY, 18 NOVEMBER
WHAT: Canadian author Joseph Boyden's only London appearance (£3 per ticket)
PURPOSE: To promote Joseph's latest book, The Orenda, which I read and reviewed as part of my Shadow Giller duties last month. You may remember that we went against the official jury, added it to our shortlist and named it as the winner!
WHO WAS ON THE BILL? Joseph Boyden, who read the first three chapters of his book. Afterwards his friend, Tamara Podemski, performed some Ojibwe drumming and sang a song.
ATMOSPHERE: Very friendly and low-key. The Canadian High Commission even supplied free Canadian wine, which was delicious.
HIGHLIGHTS: Definitely meeting and chatting to Joseph, before his reading and afterwards. He was delightful and charming — and told me how thrilled he was to win the Shadow Giller after having missed out on the shortlist for the real prize. When I asked him to sign my book I was surprised to see he dedicated it to me and my fellow jurors (he knows Alison personally)! Fortunately, he never asked me for the $50,000 prize-money! Phew.
"For Kim — and for the Shadow Gillers! So good to meet you. Joseph Boyden"
I'm quite belated with this, but back in the (northern hemisphere) summer, Australian writer Annabel Smith asked me to take part in her Friday Faves. This is a regular slot on her blog in which someone is invited to talk about one of their favourite books.
I had been looking forward to attending Picador's "showcase" party — previewing titles to be published in 2014 — on Thursday evening, but I was more excited than ever when I received this intriguing email a couple of days before:
"We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Picador event on Thursday. The venue’s dilapidated exterior hides secret wonders within — so if you think you might have arrived at the wrong place, don’t worry. You haven’t. The address on the invitation is correct. Just ring the bell, and you’ll soon be welcomed inside."
They weren't wrong. When I arrived on time for the 6.30pm start — having endured a bus ride that traversed London from south to east in the cold and the dark — I was taken aback by the shabby exterior. The building looked like a run down old pub, a place to be avoided at all costs, but when I stepped inside it was like entering a parallel universe.
There was lots of dark wood, ruby-red velvet and low lighting throwing shadows across the walls. But the centrepiece was a GIANT STUFFED TIGER in full-on attack mode suspended over the bar.
The decor on the first floor was even more surreal. There, in the middle of the room, but up against a wall papered in blue flock, was a MASSIVE POLAR BEAR standing on its hind legs.
And just when I thought it couldn't get any more weird, it did.
Later, when I climbed the staircase to the second floor, I looked up to see a whirlpool of stuffed BIRDS "flying" overhead in a kind of suspended animation in the airspace over the stairwell.
When I turned right I entered an exotic BIG CAT kingdom with lions, cheetahs — and more — perched in all kinds of unexpected places, another POLAR BEAR, and two ZEBRA trophies framing each side of a mantlepiece.
An additional room was lined with BUTTERFLIES of every shape, size and description (all behind glass) while two SWANS, wings outstretched and light bulbs wedged in their beaks, filled the ceiling space.
A third room was slightly more sedate, even though it featured a double-bed, a giant bookcase, a bathtub and a bar.
And yet, despite this unique, strangely bonkers, venue the setting didn't upstage the authors on the bill. How could it when the stellar line-up included poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Australian author Tim Winton and fashion designer turned political activist Dame Vivienne Westwood?
Comedian Mark Watson (who also happens to have a book coming out next July) hosted the event, which gave each of the eight authors five to 10 minutes to talk about their new title or to do a reading. It was a heady mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by new authors and more established ones.
And there was definitely a kind of rock star element to the whole proceedings, which kicked off with Ian Kelly telling us about his biography on Vivienne Westwood. Little did I realise his subject was sitting in the front row, so when she stood up to take the microphone I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I couldn't believe I was in the same room as her, let alone listening to her talk in that beautiful Derbyshire accent about her take on politics and marriage — "I don't like to talk about fashion" — while all I could think of was Vivienne Westwood! Punk! New Wave! The Sex Pistols! Malcolm McLaren! The King's Road! British icon! Fashion icon!
I would have been happy to go home then, because how could you possibly top that? But, of course, I mainly wanted to see Tim Winton, who was second-to-last on the bill, and this meant waiting a good hour or so to hear his dulcet Australian tones. When he finally took to the stage it appeared he wasn't going to waste anybody's time. "This will be quick," he explained, "because I really need to take a piss!"
Could the man be more Australian? Well, yes, he could, because he then cracked a joke about farting, before reading an extract from his new novel, Eyrie, about a man who wakes up with a massive hangover and isn't sure if the wet patch on the carpet was created by him or a leak in the ceiling!
Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy ended proceedings by reading a few poems from her last collection, The Bees, which turned out to be an exercise in hilarity. I didn't expect her to be so warm, nor her humour to be so dry and funny. And I didn't expect to enjoy the poetry, because I'm not a huge poetry fan. But I can tell you it is all in the reading — her softly accented Scottish voice really brought the poems to life and I could have easily listened to her all night.
Alas, formalities over, it was time to head upstairs into those oh-so-surreal rooms to enjoy an after party that was astonishingly good fun. It was crowded and noisy and almost impossible to hear people speak, but I met lots of new people, caught up with others I've known for awhile, including Jackie from Farm Lane Books and Dan from Utter Biblio, put faces to names from people I follow on Twitter and chatted to authors not on the bill such as David Vann.
Many thanks to Picador for such a brilliant, memorable and TOTALLY BONKERS evening. I loved it.
Ian Kelly and Vivienne Westwood (Vivienne Westwood, publishing September 2014)
Naomi Wood (Mrs Hemingway, February 2014)
David Adam (The Man Who Couldn't Stop, April 2014)
Zia Haider Rahman (In the Light of What We Know, May 2014)
Reading Matters features hundreds of book reviews of mainly modern and contemporary literary fiction, with a special focus on novels from Australia and Ireland, and occasional forays into crime, true crime, translated fiction, narrative non-fiction and memoirs.
Your host is Kim Forrester, otherwise known as kimbofo, who has been blogging about books since 2001.
Books featured on Reading Matters are from kimbofo's personal collection -- unless otherwise stated.