Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Week Scotland – My Top Ten Scottish Books

I love book lists – browsing them for things I haven’t heard of, getting an idea of other people’s reading habits. Today I decided to make my own.

Monday saw the start of Book Week Scotland, an initiative run by the Scottish Book Trust to promote reading in Scotland. There has been lots going on on twitter, and you can read what it’s all about here.

They have some pretty awesome book lists on a variety of topics from Best Twisted Romances to 10 Books with Really Good Bad Guys. Have a look at their full list of lists here.

A lovely example of some of the things they are doing is the treasure hunt to find paper sculptures (the first to be won this week was based on Alasdair Gray’s Lanark). This all links back to a story a last year when a mysterious sculptor left a paper sculpture in the Scottish Poetry Library (pictured above) with a message in support of libraries. You can read the full, charming story on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website and take a look at some of the beautiful paper sculptures here.

So naturally, all of this focus on books and reading in Scotland has gotten me thinking about my top Scottish books and what I would recommend to people as a starter. My list, and a few thoughts on each book, is below. As ever, I have missed out so many that I love but wanted to include a few that are a bit different from what might be set texts when it comes to Scottish literature. Quite the mixed bag! Here goes…

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Recent Reads

After neglecting to write notes on the following novels, and pondering how to write book reviews, I came up with this handy idea of doing a brief review of recent reads to catch up on books I’ve missed out of reviews recently. I would probably like to say more about them, and I know there were many interesting things about them but I just can’t remember where in the novels said things were. Here’s a round-up:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I had been meaning to read this book for a long, long time. It’s bookish subject of a young woman brought up in a bookshop, persuaded to write the biography of mysterious writer Vida de Winter was immediately going to appeal to my interests. I hadn’t expected the novel to be so Gothic – and I LOVED it. The references to Jane Eyre, Lady Audley’s Secret, madwomen and ancestral homes and family secrets. It was an engrossing read and will appeal especially to fans of Gothic fiction.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Another that had been on my list for a while, in fact I think it’s one of the only books from my 2012 Reading List that I have read recently. I seem to have been neglecting that list… But I digress. I enjoyed this book and its take on how past events shape us and the distinction between documentation and what our memory tells us happened. Something I think I would like to re-read.

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

I’ll admit I was disappointed with this one – I usually love Auster’s playfulness with words, structure and character but in this novella it just all seemed a bit over-done, like an explorative exercise rather than a story. It intentionally plays with the reader’s perception but I think it was just a bit too post-modern for my tastes. I wasn’t in the mood for it, I think – might take a break from Auster for a while after this!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

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Bravo November – ‘Lines’ video

Looking back over previous posts, I realise that I made reference to the video I recorded with my band, Bravo November. Since it is somewhat bookish, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to post the video on here.

I am the one reading Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love – enjoy!

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On Writing Book Reviews

I have been wondering recently about how other bloggers approach the writing of a book review. My strategy varies – sometimes I take notes while I’m reading (this is usually quite obvious in the style as these reviews feature lots of quotes), other times I just sit down and write the review, without having taken many notes. I have several reviews, half-written, awaiting quotes or references to events in the novel and a pile of books that I haven’t written reviews for yet. I’m not sure how best to approach this problem.

For recent reads, I’m planning to do a quick summing up of my thoughts on the books – I hate having un-reviewed books piling up and the longer they wait, the less likely I am to write them. I think I’m actually worse with novellas, they’re short so I always think ‘I’ll definitely remember where that sentence I really liked was’. This rarely happens. I think I need to be a note-taker, a page-referencer. I don’t generally write in the margins, and prefer to write notes on paper, although of late my 2 and a half hour round trip to work has resulted in many mini book reviews saved in Notes. This has been working well for me recently, as well as spending my lunch hour writing. It’s nice to know that I always have some dedicated time during the day to spend working on this blog. A bit of structure works for me, it seems.

If you are a blogger, how do you approach your reviews? Are there some books which you don’t write about, and just savour the book while you’re reading it? Or do you review everything, keeping meticulous notes, references to passages you like? I am intrigued, and would love to find out a little bit more about others’ approach to book blogging.

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Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Publisher: Myrmidon
Selected Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978 1 78211 017 0
Published: 2012
No. of Pages: 348
Price: £6.99

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng came as a breath of fresh air. I feel like my mind had been clouded, over-populated by reading submissions at work, many of which just could not hold my attention. And then I started to read this, the Man Booker Prize Shortlisted second novel of Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng…

The prose is beautiful from the first page until the last, sweeping the reader up into the Cameron Highlands, an area of Malaysia (known as Malaya in the time the novel is set) filled with tea plantations and forbidding jungle. Teoh Yun Ling, a recently retired judge, returns to Yugiri, the garden owned and crafted by the former gardener to the Emperor of Japan, Nakamura Aritomo. During the Second World War, and the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Yun Ling had been captured by the Japanese and held in a labour camp along with her sister Yun Hong. Yun Hong does not survive, and her memory and the love that she had for Japanese gardens drives Yun Ling to Yugiri, as she wants Aritomo to design a garden in honour of her sister. The book flashes back and forth between the present day and the past, Yun Ling’s return to Yugiri, and the first time she was there and how she became Aritomo’s apprentice.

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Book Review: The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

I read this book in the week before Halloween, and I think it was the perfect time to read it. The onset of longer nights and a good scary book to make you want to stay curled up inside. I work in a building that is supposedly haunted and after reading The Haunted Book I did not relish being the first into work on a dark pre-clock change October morning. But don’t let that put you off…

Jeremy Dyson’s latest, The Haunted Book, is billed as fiction/non-fiction. The book begins as a series of stories about paranormal phenomena, strung together by the recollections and thoughts of Dyson who loved reading haunted and ghoulish tales when he was younger. It becomes a book within a book within a book that eventually shrouds you in blackness as you become part of the story. Intrigued?

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Book Review: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls was originally published in 1966 – the edition I have dates from 1982.

This book was passed on to me by mum, after I read and enjoyed Lace by Shirley Conran. Although I can see the similarities between them, Valley of the Dolls was quite different. I enjoyed the book and the escapism of it, sometimes it feels nice to just allow my brain to relax and get sucked in to a story.

If Lace was over the top in its fashion and sex scenes, then I reckon Valley of the Dolls could match that with its views of Hollywood, alcoholism and drug abuse. That makes it sound quite dark, and it is, I suppose. As in Lace the story follows the lives of a group of women, this time from 1945 to 1965:

Anne comes to New York with dreams of escaping from her small town hometown full of small-minded people. She falls in love with the wrong man and spends the rest of her life picking up the pieces.

Neely is a Vaudeville singer, loveably naive and desperate to become a star, who becomes a Hollywood sensation with a fierce temper and self-destructive tendencies…

Jennifer is a rising star at the beginning of the novel, not a particularly great actress or singer, but famous for her curves, struggling to support her family and overcome the nagging feeling that no one will ever love her for more than her body.

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