Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – Mongolia: The End of the Dark Era by Tseveendorjin Oidov

Translated by Simon Wickhamsmith.

The End of the Dark Era is the first book of Mongolian poetry to be published in the United States, and one of the few avant-garde collections to have come from the vast steppes of Mongolia.

One of my favourite things with translated poetry is when on one page is the poem in the original language and on the opposite page is the translation. Even if you can’t read the original language, or make much sense of it at all when it’s in a completely different alphabet like here, it’s cool to see how the poem was originally laid out, how many lines there were and how much space it took up.

The first half of The End of the Dark Era is poems from between 1975-1983 and they’re all about a page long. A lot of them are about nature, or paint vivid scenes of the ocean, rocks or forests through them. There’s a distanced or almost dreamlike quality to a lot of them, and some feel like little mini stories being told to you.

The second half of the collection is called “Advantgardism” and is a collection of short fictions. Each poem or fiction is no more than five lines long and each are accompanied by an illustration by the author on the opposite page. The illustrations are all line drawings of horses in different poses. Personally, I found the illustrations more interesting than the writing, they were just unlike any illustrations I’d really seen before and they manage to make the horse look animated which is impressive. Though I did like how the words and image complemented each other.

I think the poems of Tseveendorjin Oidov are not for me. A few are brief but effective, but most seem to be the kind of poetry that I just don’t understand or would better understand if I had someone to guide me through them. Apparently, Tseveendorjin Oidov is considered to be the first Mongolian modernist and modernism is something I could never really get my head around – even when I studied it a bit at university. Maybe if you’re a modernist fan you should try some translated Mongolian modernist poetry and see how that compares to Western modernism writing.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. I love to look back at previous TBR’s and see what books are still waiting to be read. There were definitely a lot of books for my Read the World Project I didn’t manage to get to and my reading slump at the end of 2020 (which I’m slowly getting out of) didn’t help matters.

The first five on this list are books that featured on various Top Ten Tuesday’s or readathon TBR’s in 2020, and the other five are books I was looking forward to reading but I don’t think I’ve mentioned them here before.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This is my book for Togo in my Read the World Project. I think it’ll be really interesting to see how a Togolese man becomes fascinated by Greenland and his determination to go there.

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
This is the first novel from Madagascar to ever be translated into English and it’s set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić
I actually started to read this before 2020 but I only got a few pages before I realised I wasn’t in the mood for it. I always meant to get back to it soon.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
This will be my Kuwait read for the Read the World Project and is about friendship and protest.

Palestine+100 edited by Basma Ghalayini
This is a short story collection which has a range of genres, science-fiction, dystopia, noir and is about what the future of Palestine might look like.

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá
This is the first novel to be translated into English from Guinea Bissau and is about a girl who leaves her village to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
The Old Kingdom series is one of my favourites and is a formative influence but I haven’t really read any of his recent books and I want to fix that.

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio
The first novel by a female author to be published in Cape Verde, and the first to be translated into English. Serrano is an isolated village where a madwoman roams. But is she really mad or is she marginalised because she is wise and a woman?

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
While I have heard this book isn’t as good as the first, and I’m unsure if this series is a duology or more it has more books to come, I did really like Children of Blood and Bone (except the romance/love interest) so I’m interested in seeing what happens next.

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
It follows two Jewish stepsisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers and their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long.

What books did you mean to get to last year?

READ THE WORLD – Slovakia: The Equestrienne by Uršuľa Kovalyk

Translated by Julia Sherwood and Peter Sherwood.

1984, in a small town in the east of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Karolína is growing up. Her mother has too many boyfriends and her forceful but caring grandmother carries a knife. In an attempt to escape her hard and monotonous life, Karolína joins a riding school at the edge of town. There she befriends Romana, a girl with one leg shorter than the other, and Matilda, a rider and trainer who helps the girls overcome their physical limitations. Together they form a successful trick riding team and soon the small town doesn’t seem so small anymore for Karolína.

The blurb on my copy of The Equestrienne calls it a novel, but at 80 pages I’d say it’s more of a novella. Either way, The Equestrienne is a short, kind of bittersweet coming of age story. I always find it difficult to talk about such short books that are focussed on a short period of time. It spans about sixteen years as that’s roughly the age Karolína is when the story ends, but a lot of her childhood is glossed over and it’s when she’s around twelve and discovers the stables – along with a teenage boy called Arpi – that she starts to come into her own. At the stables Karolína makes a friend for the first time. And with Arpi she discovers cigarettes and music like Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.

Change is a big element to The Equestrienne and Karolína’s life. Naturally, she’s growing up and maturing, having her first period has a big impact on her, but there’s the political changes happening in the background as the Soviet Union begins to dissolve. There’s a lot of moments of hope because of these changes, but equally there’s disappointment as they go from one dictatorship to another – capitalism.

The women in The Equestrienne are all fleshed out and interesting, which is a feat considering how short it is, and the only named male character is Arpi. All the other men are pushed to the background or become a threat to Karolína’s happiness or safety. The relationships between the different female characters are strong too. Karolína’s grandmother makes a huge impact on her life as she’s a force to be reckoned with and while to begin with Karolína often doesn’t understand or like her mother and her choices, as she matures she see’s the everyday strains she’s under. Then Matilda and Romana each give Karolína confidence and companionship in a time when she felt so alone.

The Equestrienne is a short but effective story that’s sad and sweet. It’s a universal coming of age story, but by having it set in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic means you can learn more about that culture and history and how things like the economy affected its people. 4/5.

My reading in 2020 and my bookish goals for 2021

It’s the start of a new year so it’s time to look back at what I read last year, if I met my goals and what my reading aspirations are for 2021. My reading in 2020 started off well and even though for me personally all the terrible things happened in March (my gran, dad and uncle all died in the space of three weeks – none of them covid-related) I actually kept my reading up and had a steady amount of reviews. I think films and books definitely were a big distraction for me in the Spring. It’s towards the end of the year, November/December, time that I got into a big reading slump and just didn’t really want to read anything and struggled with the books I did pick up.

Still, my aim in 2020 was to read 60 books and I read 59. I’m a bit bummed that I just missed that total, especially as I had just over 100 pages of a book to read. That book is The Good Girls by Sara Shepard which I was enjoying but then a character has decided to hide a body when really they probably should’ve called the police (or even just left it there) and it all just seems like it’s just too unbelievable now. Anyway! 59 books is the least amount of books I’ve read in a year for a while now but it’s not surprising when I didn’t really touch a book over the past few months. I reviewed 42 of them while my aim was 30 so that’s good. I’ve got a full list of what I read in 2020 and I’ve already shared my ten favourite books of the year.

Now onto my reading goals. I didn’t sign up for any challenges and instead kept it simple. I did put £1 in a jar for every book I read, but then the world shutdown so I wasn’t going anywhere or spending cash so that didn’t really happen after March. I continued with my Read the World Project and 36 of the books I read were for that, so over half which is good, but I definitely have some catching up to do if I want to meet my original aim of the challenge. I said I’d try again to get my TBR down to 50 books, but I really didn’t try that hard. I did have a big clear out and donated about 20 unread books from my shelves, but I’d also been acquiring a lot of books (mostly for the Read the World Project) so while I started the year with 85 books on my TBR, I’ve ended 2020 with 88 books on my TBR. I don’t think that’s too terrible!

I always try to keep an equal split of male/female authors – or if I do read more then have it be women and I succeeded in that with over 60% of the books I read being by women, and almost 12% were written by both men and women. I said I wanted to have at least 30% of the books I read to be by people of colour and I smashed that target! Over half of the books I read were people of colour and I think the Read the World Project definitely helped with that as I read more books by African and Caribbean authors in 2020.

Now for my 2021 reading goals.

With everything that happened last year, and still is happening this year, I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I will be continuing with my Read the World Project and making that a priority. The goal of this project was to read a book from every country in the world before I turned 30 – that happens at the end of September this year and I have 70 books/countries to read and only have 16 books/countries on my TBR. If I’m being honest, I think there’s no way I’m going to read 70 books between now and September and there’s the fact I still need to find/acquire books for over 50 countries still. I think my new goal will be to complete the Read the World Project while I’m still 30 so that does give me an extra 12 months and I hope that’s doable. If you have any suggestions for international authors/books please do let me know. I’m keeping track of all the countries I’ve read so far here.

I’m going to set my Goodreads goal at 52 books, and I’ll aim to review at least half of them. I continue to want to read diversely, and it’d be nice to get my TBR down but I think at the moment with my Read the World Project it’s not realistic to set my TBR goal as 50 books, so instead I’ll put it at 75 – we shall see what happens.

Those are my reading goals for 2021. Very nice and simple ones that will hopefully mean I’m not getting stressed by reading and I hope to get out of my reading slump soon. Do you have any reading goals for 2021? I’d love to hear them.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favourite Books of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. It’s that time of year again, 2020 – which often seemed to last forever – is coming to an end. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump over the past month or so but I have read almost 60 books this year and some of them were pretty great.

Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter
This may be my favourite books of the year. It was such a fun trip down memory lane, reliving all the highs of Spain’s Euros and World Cup, there were anecdotes and facts and while some things I knew or remembered from watching the matches, there was a lot I didn’t.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I didn’t write a review for Clap When You Land but I did do an Instagram post on it because it really knocked me for six. This is the first book I’d ever read in verse and it was fantastic.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker
This was a sad and frustrating graphic memoir but one that I think was really interesting and important.

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol. 1: Anchor Points by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
I read all three volumes of Hawkeye: Kate Bishop this year so this really counts as the whole series. It’s fun seeing Kate try and become a private investigator and all her new friends were nice additions.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I’m a wuss so I very rarely read or watch horror stories, but I ended up liking Dread Nation far more than I thought I would. It’s action-packed and how it twists history.

Love in No Man’s Land by Duo Ji Zhuo Ga
This is one of my Read the World Project reads of the year. I thought it was a very descriptive and beautiful story about people who are so different to myself.

The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard
This was a very quick read about a prank got wrong and murder and girls standing up for one another. I’m still reading the sequel, The Good Girls, and I’m looking forward to how it all turns out.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This is a book I had for ages and I’m equal parts pleased I finally got around to reading it and annoyed it took me so long because I really did love it. I listened to the audiobook and it was fantastic, and I plan to read the rest of the series that way.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
I think this was the saddest book I read this year and it really hit me in the emotions like a gut punch.

West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast by Kelly Thompson, Stefano Caselli and Triona Farrell
I read both volumes of this in 2020 and it’s such a fun series with larger-than-life characters and great relationships between them all.

What are some of your favourite books you’ve read this year?

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. As Christmas is just a few days away this week it’s all about what books you’d like to receive from Santa – or just generally what books you’d like to come into your life soon.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Set in 1984, A Spare Life follows twins who are conjoined at the head, their life as they grow up considered freaks by even their family, and how they struggle to decide if they want to be surgically separated from one another.

Running by Natalia Sylvester
I saw Rincey from RinceyReads post about this book on Instagram and that sparked my interest.

Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian
I love a short story collection to help me out with my Read the World Project. This one seems to be stories about women, in love, in confusion, in isolation – seems very fitting for 2020.

The Equestrienne by Uršuľa Kovalyk
A coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who lives in a small town in the east of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and finds friendship and confidence by joining a riding school.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
A video from MyNameIsMarines is what brought this book to my attention. Think it’ll be one of those hard-hitting books but a good one.

In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
This is set in 1950s London and follows a Guyanese woman who, without an extended family support system or an understanding of her new home, finds comfort in her work with troubled children of fellow black settlers

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
This is one that got a lot of hype on Twitter when the character dynamics were likened to Finn and Poe from Star Wars, but the gayness is text rather than subtext. It’s been a long time since I’ve read some proper sci-fi, space adventures.

In the Forests of Freedom: The Fighting Maroons of Dominica by Lennox Honychurch
This is a non-fiction book about who the Maroons, escaped slaves, of the Caribbean island of Dominica challenged the colonial powers in a heroic struggle to create a free and self-sufficient society.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
I’ve heard good things about this book (my pal Ellie from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm even recommended it to me recently), it’s an alternate timeline where women are a lot more involved in the space programme.

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye
The Radiance of the King is among the earliest major works in Francophone African literature and another book for my Read the World Project. It follows Clarence, a white man, who’s been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and demands to see the king.

I hope you all have as good a Christmas/break as you can in these unusual times, and you get some great books.

READ THE WORLD – Zambia: The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

Narrated by Adjoa Andoh, Richard E. Grant and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

I shall preface this review by saying it took me over two months to listen to this audiobook. Audiobooks are something I tend to listen to when I’m out and about and as I’m not going anywhere due to a pandemic it took me lot longer to read this book than normal. I think this probably did affect how much I enjoyed The Old Drift as it’s such a sprawling generational epic that I’d sometimes forget characters names between times I was listening or find it difficult to remember the different familial connections.

The Old Drift is a generational story, and it is interesting how three generations of three families can keep encountering one another in different ways and in different times. There’s romance and conflicts and just passing freak meetings, and often younger generations have no idea that their parents or grandparents may have met in some capacity before. Characters hear stories about things that as the reader you’ve already seen from someone else’s point of view and you realise that while some characters in these families might not meet themselves, they may have mutual friends or even passing strangers who have talked to them both at some point or another.

People in all three families go through love and loss, have children, and jobs and while there are universal struggles or life events The Old Drift does a good job at showing how their different backgrounds can have an effect on things. One family is descended from Italian immigrants/colonisers and one of their children then marries an Indian hairdresser. Another family is descended from a Black Zambian and a white English blind woman who ran away with her husband back to his home country. And the third family is Black, born and raised in Zambia. Due to their differences in wealth and education these families have very different lives and attitudes. One odd thing does connect them all and that’s hairdressers. A lot of the major life events for these characters happen in a hair salon or because of a hairdresser.

There’s a sci-fi element to The Old Drift I wasn’t expecting. As the story gets to the twenty-first century, there’s the technology we know, iPhones and drones for example, but then there’s advanced tech imbedded in people’s hands so they can use their had like a phone. It has a torch in a fingertip and their palm is a holographic touchscreen connected to the internet. It’s a bit jarring having these futuristic elements after previously appearing to be very true to the various periods of history these generations of characters have been living through – the AIDS epidemic plays a big role in many characters lives when the story gets to the 1980s.

There’s so much going on in The Old Drift that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who and how they’re connect, nevermind finding meaning and some sort of thread to follow through this story. Seeing events from different characters points of view, some more in depth than others, lets you see how different people react to events, how it can be a big deal for some and barely a memory for others, but this can get a little repetitive.

I’m really not sure what else to say about The Old Drift. It is an impressive debut novel and one a may have found easier to follow if I didn’t have such huge gaps between picking it up. There’s a lot of tragedy in these characters lives and maybe it’s because you only see snapshots of their lives at different times but there certainly seems to be more sad moments than happy ones. This, along with how long the book is and the often lyrical narrative, does make The Old Drift a bit dense and hard to get through.

READ THE WORLD – Federated States of Micronesia: My Urohs by Emelihter Kihleng

A short poetry collection from Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng.

I think this was a very interesting collection. A lot of the poems were almost short stories or small snapshots at life, and I feel I learnt things about the Federated States of Micronesia from these poems, which is an achievement considering how short they are. For instance, I never knew about the connection between the Federated States of Micronesia and America, that many people live or work or have connections to Hawaii especially. In the poem “Destiny Fulfilled?” it covers how people from the various islands joined the US Armed Forces and its “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also liked how it gets its title from a Destiny’s Child album and uses lyrics from the song “Soldier” to show the differences between pop culture and actual war.

I liked how the poet had footnotes in the poems, explaining a word or phrase that was in a different language, or adding context when a poem is inspired by real events. I believe Pohpeian is the language used throughout the collection, with many of the poems being in a combination of English and Pohpeian. Some are like a dialogue between two characters and there’s the English translation after each phrase, while in others it’s just the odd word or line that’s not in English.

The poems in My Urohs are about the people, the culture, the food, and the connections and differences between people who live on different islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and their different languages, stories and culture. It’s an interesting little collection and a great insight into a place I’d only ever heard of and knew nothing about.

My TBR: 2020 Edition

It has been a long time since I’ve done this, almost five years in fact. I last shared all the physical books on my TBR in January 2016, the time before that was April 2014 – so really this is long overdue. Please don’t go and compare my TBR now to my TBR in 2016 or 2014 as I’m sure there’s going to be books here that were on my previous TBR’s and that’s just embarrassing.

This time I’m going to share the physical and digital books, whether that’s on audio or my kindle, I have in my possession. I have to say earlier this year I did go through my bookshelves and unhauled over twenty books so this TBR could’ve been worse! Though I’ve also had my birthday since then and was gifted more books, so it probably evens out.

Before I start I just wanted to flag I’ve currently got a giveaway of boxes of bookish stuff happening on my Twitter, it closes on 22 November so check it out if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

This list is split into four sections; audiobooks, books I have with me in my flat, kindle books, and books that are at my mum’s place. I do not have room for all my books, so my mum is kind enough for me to keep the majority with her. Every now and then I take the books I’ve read but want to keep to hers and then pick up more books I’ve yet to read to bring back with me.

Any books with an asterisk * symbol are books for my Read the World Project.

Audio:
I do get audiobooks from my library, either via RBdigital or BorrowBox, but these three are via Audible as I do sometimes get a subscription/extra tokens if there’s a good deal on and then stock up there.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell* – I’m currently reading this
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (more…)

Friday 56: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

Julie just nodded, but Parker glared at the woman, puffing up her chest. “Actually, I was planning on setting fire to the house, thanks. And maybe doing heroin in your bathroom. That cool?”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Good Girls by Sara Shepard which I am currently reading.