Tsundoku, or, So Many Books, So Little Time

The Japanese seem to have a word for all of the abstract, post-modern things. I like that. (And now I have Björk’s The Modern Things playing in my head. I like that, too.) If, like me, you happen to work in Bookselling (and please, do make yourself known. Hopefully we’re not exactly an endangered species, but we are rare, these days), then a state of tsundoku is an occupational hazard.

But what is this tsundoku? I hear you ask. It is, put simply, the buying of books, and not reading them. Letting them accrue, pile up, in heaps, on the floor, on bookcases, on bedside tables. And I am oh so guilty. I seem to have lost the stamina I used to have, for devouring books. The stamina, but not the appetite. It’s just my eyes have become too large for my reading belly. Also, the depression thing is a bitch for making it impossible to focus on reading. Hence I am months* behind. And then there’s the tiredness thing. Last night I decided I’d go to bed early and read. And I fell asleep about a third of a way down a page (just one page!). I woke up with the book on my chest. I’m beginning to think that my chest is better read than I am.

I stopped in the middle of composing this post to go around the house collecting my unread books. And I’m a bit worried now, there are so many of them. So, I refuse to count them.

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But, this is just a small selection of what is waiting to be read. I have recently begun William Gibson’s The Peripherals, and Katherine Heiny’s collection Single, Carefree, Mellow (I tend to read short fiction when it is quiet at work). And each week, when I go to work, I swear that I won’t buy any more books, because God knows I have more than enough. But then, something gets a glowing review, or is released in paperback after I restrained myself from buying the hardback the year before, or someone I know rates a title highly, or my curiosity is piqued… etc. You know how it is. I seem to be an addict. Ah well. It could be worse. All I need is time. Anyone know where I can buy some?

*years, really.

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Kintsukuroi

2014 has not been an easy year, and I am thankful that soon I will be done with it, and can begin again. Time to make something better out of what has been broken.

 

Having said that, a few rather lovely things did happen this year; most notably my youngest brother getting married in Portugal, and having three stories accepted and published. Yay!

Yes, three. The third went up on Boxing Day, at Zouch Magazine. It’s a sort of fairy tale, about what happens after the fairy tale ending fails to live up to expectation. Which, really, is rather apposite. Life imitates Art? Art mirrors Life… Anyway, click on this link, and you can read it, if you want to. I do hope that you enjoy it, and that Christmas has been kind to you.

 

 

 

 

And This Happened

Last Monday my no-stories-published streak of two years was broken – hurrah! Thank you, those of you who read it, and told me that you liked it. (If you’d like to read it, It’s called The Stars Shone Just For Me, and it’s a little bit magical, and a little bit strange.) After so many months of doubt and fear it’s been a huge boost. And do keep going back and looking at ink sweat and tears because they publish seriously lovely poetry and prose every day.

Last Friday, the wonderful, but oh so sadly shortly closing The View From Here published another of my stories – but I was too unwell to publicise it properly. Until now. So, tadah! It’s called Art, and you can read it here. It’s a romantic and surreal little piece about being hopeful, and looking at Art, and how sometimes, Art looks back at you. And it’s set in Tate Modern. I hope you like it.

Changes, and Ideas – and a New Story!

And so, the Summer is almost done, for which I am grateful. Autumn is beginning to pick leaves off the trees, odd ones here and there, to get us used to the idea that soon they will be drifting down with a sound like falling rain. So change must come.

In the meantime, I only went and had two stories accepted (At last! At last! And there has been bouncing and squeaking and even a celebratory glass of prosecco or three), the first of which can be read over here at Ink, Sweat And Tears as of today.

Anyway, thoughts have been thought, and ideas come up with, and sometimes retained, but mostly discarded. And the ones that stick I will discuss another time, because it is getting late and I have to run away for the school run. Literally, in fact.

 

 

 

The staying power of stories

I’ve written before about the impact of good short fiction, the meteorite punch in your heart, or mind – or better yet, both – as you read. But can anyone honestly say that they remember every single short story they’ve ever read? (Unless they’ve only read five, and have a photographic memory.) Some craters are punched deeper than others. Some stories are just a shower of pretty lights in the sky, enjoyed while the sparkle lasts, until eclipsed by other stories.

Bearing in mind that of course my opinion is entirely subjective, here is a selection of some of my favourite short stories, the ones that have stayed.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Superstork: Helen Dunmore Ice Cream (Penguin 2001)

Set in a world where eugenic health means that natural conception is outlawed, and a lawful pregnancy needs a mortgage to fund it, it was perhaps a mistake to read this one when I was pregnant. It’s a powerful story, and a hopeful one, strongly told. I love it.

The Gernsback Continuum: William Gibson Burning Chrome (Grafton 1988)

A photographer is commissioned to document a future that was never realised, the science fiction utopia promised by 1930s American design and pulp fiction covers, the Hollywood gothic of Ming the Merciless. And then the veil between that lost future’s aesthetic, and the modern now begins to tear; Metropolis bleeds through. If you loved Neuromancer, read this collection.

Other Kingdom: E.M.Forster Selected Stories (Penguin 2001)

A girl is given the deed to a woodland by her fiance’s father. Her fiance does not understand her nature, seeking to possess her, fence in her freedom. In love as much with the silvan spirit of classicism as with him, she escapes her jealous lover in a way he will never understand. If you know your myths, think of Apollo and Daphne.

The Piper At The Gates of Dawn: Kenneth Grahame The Wind In The Willows (Egmont 1971)

Strictly speaking this isn’t a short story per se, but I read it originally in a long disintegrated animal stories anthology, before I was given my own copy of The Wind In The Willows in 1979. And it is beautiful, and mystical, and the poetic magic in it never fails to move me. Also, today is Midsummer, so it is only fitting that I should mention it now.

The Woman on the Dunes: Anais Nin A Model And Other Stories (Penguin 1995)

This was the first erotica I ever read, at the tender age of 23. My god but I was innocent then! But this is beautiful, tender, and poetic. And, obviously, erotic.

Kew Gardens: Virginia Woolf A Haunted House: The Complete Shorter Fiction (Vintage 2003)

An afternoon in Kew Gardens: impressionistic, Modern, beautiful, strange. It has haunted me, I think.

Pipes: Etgar Keret The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories (Toby Press 2004)

I read this on the train from Paddington. I cried. The girl next to me tried to pretend that I wasn’t there, despite the fact that I cried oh so discreetly. It’s about disappearing, and finding a way into happiness. It is hopeful, and wistful and, wonderful. And it breaks my heart.

The Cat Lover: Kate Atkinson Not The End Of The World (Black Swan 2003)

I love this whole collection, where the stories are set in the here and now, while figures from Greek myth wander about and interfere. In this one, a stray cat takes over a woman’s life, in so many mythological ways… Just fabulous.

Fifty Percent One/Fifty Percent Two: Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes Freaks (The Friday project 2012)

Two heartbreaks, a misunderstanding, a not-good-enough chance. In a collection about small  – and not so small –  strangenesses, this one, for me stood out. Tender and hopeless and hurting, yet I don’t think it does encapsulate the superpower it says on the tin, the power to amplify memories. It doesn’t need to. That kind of pain never goes away. But, read it, read all of it, and judge for yourselves. You won’t regret it.

The Tiger’s Bride: Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber (Vintage 2006)

A variant on the story of Beauty And The Beast, told in language so rich it’s almost distracting. Lusciously, seductively finessed.

Snow, Glass, Apples: Neil Gaiman Smoke And Mirrors (Headline 1999)

A retelling of Snow White, turned inside out and upside down, as only Neil Gaiman can, with a debt to Angela Carter. Beautiful and disturbing, by possibly my favourite living author.

So. I’ve shown you mine. It’s your turn to show me yours. What are some of your favourite short stories?
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Briefly random post, with added Meteorites (they’re sparkly)

So, yes, it’s been a little while since the last post. This last month has been particularly mishmashy for all sorts of reasons. And I’ve been ill, which was rather trying. Then there was a brief jolly to London, and just now the school holidays for Easter. So the whole what-passes-for-normal routine has been well and truly skewed. Things don’t feel connected to other things. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. But certain things – very small things really – happened, or were thought, and seem to have some significance in my head.

For example, the purchase of a rather lovely sparkly face powder, Guerlain’s Meteorites (teinte rose, if you’re curious) led to the analogy that good short fiction should be like a meteorite. It’s not about the twist in the tale, although a twist can add to it: the best short stories  – and especially flash fiction – should, like a meteorite, have an impact disproportionate to its size. It should pack a punch like a ten mile wide crater. That’s what I think. Find some excellent flash fiction and tell me I’m wrong. The face powder too has an impact disproportionate etc… rendering even my tired visage fresh-faced and springlike. (Two people said this. It happened. Ergo, Meteorites = miracle workers.)

The second thing I was going to mention has now slipped my mind – the perils of blogging with a glass of something convivial for company. It may or may not return. I suspect it doesn’t matter.

The third thing was going to be the crux of this post when I started thinking about it. About art, and people watching, and how people behave whilst looking at art, and does the art look back? But the more I thought about it, the better it seemed to fit into a sort of story. So I’m doing that with it instead.

And I think I’ll stop here.

Thursday March 7th, 2013

So yesterday was World Book Day (in the UK – think about it), a day for celebrating all things Book. It was Thursday. It was also a cold, dreary damp sort of day. The sort of day that makes people want to avoid going outside as much as possible. The sort of day that keeps even the weekday shoppers off the High Street. The sort of day when independent bookshops are quiet, unless the browsers are particularly hardy souls. (You can tell I was at work yesterday.)

But thinking about books, in both the professional and the hobbyist sense, set me wondering about my reading habits. At the end of 2011 I posted this. I was going to write a similar post at the end of last year, but when I gathered together the books I had finished, the books I am (still) reading, and the books waiting to be read, the only pile that had shrunk was the pile of books I’d finished. Which was depressing. But also, in a way, a significant achievement nevertheless, having spent so much of last year struggling to concentrate on anything. It still is a struggle. But in the spirit of celebrating reading, and because I enjoyed reading them so much, and because I think you all should too (that good, yes, although I had some reservations about the ending of Sweet Tooth), I herewith present the books I finished last year, and the ones finished this year so far.

Tadah!IMG_2537Not visible is Dan Purdue’s short fiction collection, Somewhere To Start From. That lives in my iPad. Do read it. In your own e-reader variant, of course. Also missing is Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, which is on loan to a friend.