What do you read, my Lord?

They say new year resolutions are supposed to be broken and since 2012 I have managed to break mine: to read one book a week (on average) over the year. Of course, when factoring in other commitments on time, this becomes quite a challenge! Between 2012 and 2014 the most I read (not including those that I proofed) was 36. Whilst not a bad number, it’s nowhere near the 52 I was aiming for… and I probably added more than that to my “to read” pile, which appears to double in size every couple of months!

A few weeks ago someone showed me a reading challenge for 2015. I decided to see how many books I could get through and so far I’ve finished 7 out of 50… not a bad start! After being absorbed in crime novels from Karin Slaughter’s ‘Grant County series’, Kisscut, A Faint Cold Fear and Indelible, I’m now dipping in and out of short stories from Women in the Wild edited by Lucy McCauley, and enjoying learning about my favourite hockey team with 100 Things Rangers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Adam Raider and Russ Cohen.

The challenge has encouraged me to consider books that I wouldn’t normally choose, as well as forced me to pick up some of the novels that have sat in a pile unread for years on end… there are several contenders for the “was supposed to read in school but didn’t” category! The full list of books can be found on my reading challenge page, where I’ll also update the details of those I’ve read.

Why not give the challenge a go?

Happy reading!

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Words, words, mere words

Once in a while I come across a book that I just cannot get on board with – I won’t give up on it (I have a bizarre stubborn streak) but once I don’t like something, it’s very hard to sway me otherwise. Deborah Rodriguez’s The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul was one such book. I would go so far as to say that I loathed it.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. I anticipated a gritty novel about the plight of five women in “one of the most dangerous places on earth” (to quote the blurb). Instead, it was an over-the-top chick-lit/war novel hybrid that appeared not to really know what the point of the story was: was it about American expat Sunny’s struggle to maintain a business (even though, let’s face it, it was her choice to stay in Kabul)? Or, about Yazmina, a Hazara woman scared of what her life will become? Or, Halajan’s wish for the return of a more peaceful and open society? The characters of Candace and Isabel added nothing to the story, except to give the author a chance to mention the suffering of women in prison and schools training children to become terrorists. Both of these issues deserved more than a fleeting comment by an irritating American (Candace) and British stereotype (Isabel). And Halajan’s devout Muslim son, Ahmet, conveniently abandons his beliefs to allow for a neat, tidy end to the story that is far fetched and ridiculous.

Any novel set in Afghanistan will invite comparisons with Khaled Hosseini’s work. I read his bestseller The Kite Runner only a couple of months earlier and thought it was incredible. The fact that I say “it’s a fantastic book – one of my favourites” when the subject matter is so horrifying, just confirms to me how amazing his storytelling is. The narrative is informative, the characters are intriguing and the plot moves at a steady pace. And despite no definitive resolution, the reader doesn’t feel cheated at the end.

Rodriguez’s novel was too ambitious; it tried to cover too many stories about too many characters. Also, it’s slightly misleading to say it’s about women in Kabul – only Halajan and Yazmina have no choice about being in the city. Knowing that Rodriguez lived and worked in Kabul, I was expecting a story with an air of truth to it. Instead it reads like a hotch-potch of stories from her salon customers, all thrown in to one novel.

So is it a story about Afghanistan? Or is it chick-lit? Can it be both? In my opinion, no it cannot. The war backdrop does not mesh well with chick-lit predictability. Rodriguez would have been better off choosing one genre and one main plot. Maybe she fared better with The Kabul Beauty School – but I honestly have no inclination to find out if that is so.

The world is a book…

I have no idea where the last couple of months have gone… but during those months I have been fortunate enough to visit Ukraine and Ireland. I love to travel. If I could be paid to lug around a backpack and meet people from the four “corners” of the globe then I’d be a very happy soul!

So this brings me to my next (this) post: the post-travel photo-sharing… yawn! We’ve all done it – come home with countless “funny” photos that really are more a case of “well, I guess you had to be there” moments, together with 23 different angles of the same rock/cliff/sea/tree/person/pint glass (the latter being rather prominent in my pictures from Ireland). My point here is, who wants to see this? And I guess this links to travel writing – who wants to read it?

The short answer – ME!

I love a good travel tale – quite often I find that reading about another city or country results in it being bumped up a couple of places on my ‘list of places to visit’. After reading Rupert Attlee’s The Trail to Titicaca I almost believed that I could replicate his journey, before remembering that my last escapade on a bicycle (in Canberra, Australia) almost caused me to fall head first in to a lake.

But here’s the thing with travel writing – it all depends on the author-narrator. In much the same way as we only really want to see the photos from our nearest and dearest, we only really want to read about the adventures of somebody that we warm to.

I recently finished Joe Bennett’s A Land of Two Halves – Bennett’s experiences of hitch-hiking around New Zealand (a country at number 2 on my list, just edged to the top spot by Canada). Whilst I enjoyed the tales about the various people he met, I found Bennett’s contempt for anything vaguely “touristy” quite annoying. When I was traveling (admittedly with coaches rather than hitch-hiking) I loved the excuse of “I’m a tourist so therefore I can take a picture of a huge statue of a ram” (again, Canberra, Australia). The problem I had when reading this book was that once I realised I didn’t particularly like the narrator, I lost interest in the content of the book. It was like dozing off during the 3rd photo album of pictures by the hotel pool. I did, eventually, finish the book, but cannot say it inspired me or made the itch to pack my bag and jet off to New Zealand any harder to scratch.

But maybe travel stories aren’t meant to do that? Maybe they do convey the other side – the monotony of having to introduce yourself every other day to newcomers; the days of loneliness when you question why on earth you are on the other side of the world to everyone you care about; the moments when you realise that the £1,000s that you saved just won’t cover the whole trip…

Maybe Bennett’s book isn’t really aimed at the likes of me. But it does make me wonder who his audience is. And afterall, if you are publishing a book of any kind, surely the reader is a key factor?

I will still go to New Zealand one day, but where Attlee left me with a desire to meet families living in Patagonia (and a mental note to never eat mussels in southern Argentina), Bennett merely reminds me to avoid middle-aged men hitch-hiking on the side of the road and ex-pats who think they are above lowly backpackers.

What’s in a name?

After much dillying and even more dallying I have finally set up a page to blog about my love of books and to promote my freelance proofreading business.

I have been a bookworm since I was in primary school, racing through stories just so I could pick up another one. Not a lot has changed – I just try to juggle several books at once these days! I love a good chick lit novel and was tempted to book flights to Costa Rica after reading Belinda Jones’ Cafe Tropicana (sadly finances didn’t allow for it at the time). I also enjoy thrillers (SJ Watson’s debut Before I Go To Sleep is definitely worth putting on a “to read” list) and currently have a strange fascination with political (auto)biographies (namely Thatcher’s The Downing Street Years – but I am only approximately one fifth of the way through that hefty volume). Paulo Coelho has become one of my favourite authors after having a copy of The Alchemist thrust into my hands whilst backpacking around Australia. I’m now trying to read through his entire collection.

I completed a proofreading course with The Publishing Training Centre in 2013 and am now pursuing freelance proofreading work. For further details please see my proofreading page.

In choosing a name for this blog I wanted something that was simple and easy to remember, yet conveyed the essence of what I will use this for. However, I’m not convinced that ‘perlegere’ is either simple, or easy to remember, but by being the latin for “to read over” I thought it was quite apt (and who types in addresses these days right? It’s all about links… I hope!).

I hope you enjoy what I will share with you and look forward to any comments, discussions and of course, recommendations for what to read next!

LJ x