Book Blogger Holiday Swap: Thank you Vasilly!

I’m back home after celebrating Christmas with family, and before I go out to watch the fireworks, I just need to say a quick thank you to Vasilly, whose book blogger holiday swap gift has been patiently awaiting me in the letterbox.

Vasilly gave me two books I’m looking forward to reading: Shiver which she wrote she really enjoyed, and The Wednesday Sisters which is literary fiction which has done well in the States.

Lest we forget

To mark Remembrance Day, I’ve just finished re-reading and being put through the wringer by All quiet on the Western Front.

It’s hard to do justice to it in words-  Remarque’s brevity, brutal honesty and black humour make the novel hard to read but even harder to put aside.  I’m quite simply overwhelmed all over again by how monstrous the first world war was.

Remarque’s own words say it best I think:

“This book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war- even those of it who survived the shelling.”

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

bbhs_teaser_smallJust a quick heads up that the annual Book Blogger Holiday Swap is on again this year.

The holiday swap is a way for book bloggers to connect and celebrate the holiday spirit by sharing gifts. It’s done secret Santa style; all of the participants are randomly assigned a blogger to send a gift to, and these assignments are kept secret until the gift has been delivered. So no one knows who their gift is coming from!

I participated last year and enjoyed it-  anyone who wants to join in this year has until the 12th November 2009 to sign up at the website.

Runaway by Alice Munro, 2004

Alice Munro is a firm favourite of mine, and in Runaway her strengths as a writer are once again apparent. The stories focus on women trying to escape unhappy or at least unsatisfactory lives and perhaps unfortunately invoke recognition and reflection in  me as a reader.

Munro has a remarkable  abilty to make the apparently mundane suprisingly dramatic and full of interest and insight, capturing what seems to be the essential truth about a life in rarely more than fifty pages.

It is difficult to avoid a bare bones synposis of each story sounding dull (although as one character observes to another in the story Powers “I am not sure I like the word ‘prosaic’. I don’t know if this is any more a prosaic place than anywhere else and what do you expect it to be- poetic?”) and I also hesitate to ruin the pleasure of  discovering the often unexpected destination of each. Suffice it to say then that I found  each story in this collection superb and will not leave it long before reading more Munro.

(as a postscript, my Vintage edition of this contains an introduction by Jonathan Franzen which may persuade anyone who hasn’t yet read Munro to change that. It begins “Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America, but outside of Canada, where her books are No. 1 best sellers, she has never had a large readership. At the risk of sounding like a pleader on behalf of yet another underappreciated writer — and maybe you’ve learned to recognize and evade these pleas? The same way you’ve learned not to open bulk mail from certain charities? Please give generously to Dawn Powell? Your contribution of just 15 minutes a week can help assure Joseph Roth of his rightful place in the modern canon? — I want to circle around Munro’s latest marvel of a book, ”Runaway,” by taking some guesses at why her excellence so dismayingly exceeds her fame.” and can be read online here.)

BBAW interview swap

Now that I’ve finished sulking over the Ashes and Spring has bought the sunshine back, I thought I’d come out of hibernation. I’m currently re-reading Cate Kennedy’s short story collection Dark Roots before starting her debut novel and will post my thoughts later this week

BBAW_Celebrate_Books

In the meantime, as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week I participated in an interview swap for which fellow book blogger Jenny‘s answers to my questions are below.

My answers to Jenny’s questions will be up on her blog today, and the BBAW site will link to everyone particpating. It’s a good opportunity to get to know people, so take a look!

1. Who are your favourite authors, and why?

Jane Austen: Her accurate descriptions of people, society, and behavior during her time, and her sense of humor. 

Tasha Alexander: Victorian England never sounded so enticing and dangerous.  There are mysteries to be solved.  Her heroine is fantastic with a another good sense of humor.

2. Any authors you really don’t like? If so, why?

Not in particular.  Although, I did read Slaughter House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, and he is not for me.  Sorry but I just don’t get it. 

3. What is your reading comfort zone i.e is there a particular genre, subject, style that you read a lot of and usually enjoy?

Historical fiction, mysteries, and a good romance book or bodice ripper every now and then.  I do try to incorporate more of the classics, but I have been hit or miss lately on those.
4. Is there anything you’ve read and enjoyed that you didn’t expect to?
 
 A wonderful little book of short stories by Melanie Haney, titled The Simplest of Acts.  I don’t normally read short stories but the majority of hers resonated with me.

5. Where’s your favourite place to read?

 Oh anywhere really, but probably outside on a bench or on my front step.

6. What do you do when you’re not reading? Any hobbies?

 Knitting and while watching television.  I watch entirely too much television!

7. Do your family and friends know about your blog? If yes, what do they think?

 Yes, they know, but I don’t believe they have ever looked it up.  I share an ignored knitting blog with my one girlfriend, and I know she checks out my book blog, but as for the rest, I believe they think I’m a little out there.  My mom thinks it’s just great I have this wonderful hobby of blogging.

8. I notice you’ve read some ARCs. Do you generally enjoy them? If there were any exceptions, did you find it hard to review them?

I only accept ARCs of books that appeal to me.  If it’s a subject I don’t read, like a biography, then I turn it down.  I have had pretty good luck so far with my ARCs, however I do have one now I just couldn’t finish.  I will write the review saying as much, but it’s still difficult, because the book will probably appeal to others.  It just didn’t work for me.  I try to be tactful and honest.

9. How do you work out what rating you give to each book?

 I am terrible!  I have yet to publish my rating system.  Generally I base it on a 100 point system, with 100-90 representing an A, 89-80, a B, and so on.  I feel I can be more accurate than using a 1-5 point system.  High A versus low A.  Very nerdy, I know, but I use numbers in my job so it makes sense to me.
 
10. What would you like to improve about your blog?
 
Oh, I am always trying to fix my blog.  I recently added two tabs up at the top, but now I’m trying to work out some pictures to represent the tabs.  Way beyond my skill set, but I keep trying.  I would also like to become better with my comments back to people.  Sometimes I email them back directly, sometimes I address them right on the post.  Oh yes, and learn HTML, or at least have a working knowledge of it.
 

Congratulations Alice!

alice

I am delighted to see that Alice Munro has won this year’s Man Booker International Prize. (Press release here).

Having recently read most of her work, Munro has become a great favourite of mine (to the point where I’m rationing out the few collections I haven’t read) . If you’re not acquainted with her masterful miniatures of writing, now would be a good time to fix that.

(My review of Alice Munro’s first book, Dance of the happy shades, is here for anyone who needs further persuasion.)