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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Books books books

Here’s a sort of review of my year in books, in reverse order.

First, books that are still waiting to be read…

Next, the books that I’m still in the process of reading. It was only once I’d gathered them from around the house for the purpose of this photograph, that they really began to reproach me. Now I’m suffering book-guilt…

And lastly – and quite satisfying it is too – the books I have read, or reread this year. Not included in this picture are Jane Shilling’s The Stranger In The Mirror, because I’ve loaned it to someone, the first four Harry Potter books (I’m working through them with my daughter), or The Hobbit, which I’ve read to my daughter at least twice this year.

I enjoyed ALL of them. I can recommend all of them too. Thoughts have been provoked, wonder evoked, and one of them (Nik Perring‘s Not So Perfect) even staved off the onset of madness while I was stuck at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting to find out if Heathrow would become sufficiently unfogged so I could return home. (It didn’t, but we eventually flew anyway.)

What have you been reading this year?

Don’t really know what to call this one. Perhaps Fred?

So things have mostly been in a holding pattern since last I blogged. Adjustments have begun to be made in the head-space area, and a new character has introduced herself to me and has begun to intimate her story. So there has been note-making galore. This has made me quietly happy. Really, you have no idea HOW happy this has made me! <does chair-dance of glee>

I’ve spent the last few days running through and rewriting endless lists, and the last couple of hours packing. Later this morning I will be on a plane. And away from my Mac. Even if I had a laptop, I fear the part of Eastern Europe for which I am bound, is sadly lacking in the provision of wifi – at least in the countryside. Mercifully, Moleskines require no batteries or other issues of connectivity (ghastly word). And the red wine there is delicious.

I finally got around to watching the decent fist that whichever production company it was made of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal. Very enjoyable, even if the budget clearly didn’t allow for properly populating Ank Morpork. Golems, a vampire and a werewolf, lovely; but where were the trolls and dwarves? And it was too clean, somehow. But still, as adaptations go, it worked. But it did remind me of a not so successful adaptation I saw several years ago. You may or may not be aware that Stephen Briggs adapted several of the earlier Discworld novels into plays, most notably Wyrd Sisters. A local theatre company put on a production, and I and some friends went to see it. We were dreadfully disappointed. The (desperately) amateur thesps had decided that a passing knowledge of Macbeth would be suffice for their effort. And a knowledge of Macbeth does help – it informs the narrative in a wonderful and witty way. BUT it is not what makes Wyrd Sisters – either play or novel – intrinsically funny. It was quite clear that neither the director nor the performers were in any way familiar with Discworld, because they did not know where the laughs were, or why the jokes were funny. It was, quite frankly, toe-curling to watch.  The audience, were for the most part, fans of Sir Terry’s particular brand of humour and insight. We knew where the jokes were, and why they should be funny. We expected them. And we did not get them.  A week later I had the dubious pleasure of overhearing one of the actors complaining to a friend that audiences were not appreciative (I think there were three performances in all), and that the whole cast were deeply pissed off. The reason they had put the play on in the first place, was because of the Macbeth connection. Clearly the audiences didn’t have a clue. The friend had heard of Discworld – she dared to ask if anyone in the <geometric shape> Theatre Company (I don’t wish to fully name it) had read the original novel.  No, they didn’t see the point, because Discworld novels are only fantasy and therefore not worth bothering with. If I hadn’t been working I rather think I would have had something to say about that. As it was I had to bite my lip and tongue quite hard. That theatre company were rude, and ignorant. They insulted their audience, they insulted the author, and they insulted the glorious plurality of literary genres. Twelve years later and it still makes me angry.

<Deep Breath>The next question is, what to take for holiday reading? A little Murakami (or rather, a fat one), the newest Atwood paperback, The Iliad (although sadly not the Fagles translation) – I can’t remember what else I’ve packed; I’m pack-lagged. So that will have to do for now.

An evening just after Midsummer

Lose some, lose some. After rewriting the thing I was rewriting, it has been rejected by a different editor from the same zine. This editor didn’t get the beginning, although she says my writing is ‘ambitious in a good way, but…’ <head desk>… Ah well. I’ve already sent it on elsewhere, more for the sake of something to do, than in any real hope. Moving on.

It occurred to me recently that my writing seems to involve shoes a great deal. Not a conscious decision, they just seem somehow to become important to the narrative they find themselves in. I even wrote a poem about shoes, way back in 2006 – a golden year when I discovered that I could write, although I’m certainly no poet. Am I a shoe fetishist? I’d certainly like to be! I have been known to while away the time gently browsing Manolos on the Neiman Marcus website, especially these… One day I will own a pair, preferably while I’m still able to walk in them – it’s important to have dreams, yes?

After some umming and ahhhing over whether to have a bash or not, I have decided to at least attempt something for the Terry Pratchett Prize. I have a little something emerging from the echoing caverns at the back of my head. Even if I decide not to submit it, it will at least be another iron in the fire, and will have got something out of my head and onto screen/paper that has been niggling me for nearly a year. So, another week or so to percolate, and then writing in earnest will begin in July. In which case I may as well do this. In for a penny, etc.

The weather has been rather lovely here this month. Last night I had the pleasure of listening to the blackbird’s evensong; he was perched on the top most branch of the ash tree behind our garden, and above him rose the golden moon, three-quarters full. The scent of philadelphus wafts from other gardens, and mingles with the honeysuckle and roses in ours. Midsummer is one of my favourite parts of the year. It was in Midsummer, back in 1979, that I first read The Wind in the Willows. And it is at this time of year that my favourite romantic novelist, Katie Fforde, annually brings out a new book. I am lucky enough to know her, to count her as a friend – she is truly lovely – and, in my bookselling capacity, I get to run the Stroud Bookshop stall at the Farmers’ Market, where Katie signs her latest hardback. We had a particularly good event this year; the advance publicity was excellent; the weather was good, so plenty of shoppers and fans were out and about, and this year Katie’s husband Desmond was also signing the book he’s edited. (And my small daughter helped me to set up the stall, then quietly drew some lovely pictures until it was time to pack up the stall again, in between hugging me whilst no-one was looking. We had a lovely lovely time.)

And finally, to bring this rather long post to an end, this week I finished reading Alison Weir’s excellent biography of Katherine Swynford, and Katie’s latest, A Perfect Proposal. The former is a fascinating account of 14th Century romance, politics and intrigue; the latter a delightful romp set in the West Country, New York and Connecticut (with shoes), that exactly hits the right spot for an enjoyable light read with some laugh-out-loud lines. And now I must fetch in the laundry.