What I’ve Been Reading Lately #6 – My Lockdown Library

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After 13 weeks of holiday, isolation and furlough, I went back to work in the bookshop in the middle of June. It was nice to be back, nice to get out of the house for a bit and to see other people. To have conversations and a small part of normality back. read more

Anniversary Book Haul

 

Even though I work in a bookshop I still love visiting other ones and I especially love going back to the bookshops I discovered when I lived in Bloomsbury.

I know in the good old days Charing Cross Road was the place for bookshops in London but I think Bloomsbury is a better area for bookshops these days because it has a large but cosy Waterstones on Gower Street and another big one on Tottenham Court Road, independent ones like the London Review Bookshop, Persephone Books and Gay’s the Word and second-hand ones like Skoob and Judd books. They are all in walking distance from each other and I love getting a chance to walk around my old neighborhood again.

As well as having celebrated my annual anniversary in September of the day I moved to London, my boyfriend Daniel and I also recently celebrated our 5th anniversary and like last year we chose to spend it browsing around bookshops together on a quiet Sunday in Bloomsbury. This is the books I found that day.

 

Devotion – Patti Smith

I have been eyeing Smith’s writing for a while now and been trying to decide where I should start but after seeing an interesting review of it on Instagram recently, as well as finding a pile laid out on one of the tables in Gower Street, I ended up picking this one. I had a little look at the language inside in the bookshop and it seems like an exquisite, melt-in-the-mouth kind of writing that I’m really looking forward to just let wash over me.

 

The History of Love – Nicole Krauss read more

What I’ve Been Reading Lately #5

 

It’s time for another round of “What has Lea been reading these last few months, which has prevented her from finding time to write something on the blog”. Joke aside, I have been reading some fantastic books this summer and I have liked them more than many other books I have read this year.

So with no further ado, here are the books that have taken up my time and captured my heart lately.

 

The Summer Book – Tove Jansson

Publisher’s description

For some reason I had never come across Tove Janssons fiction writing for adults before I started hearing about it here in England. I think it’s weird that even as a literature student in Denmark I never heard about her work outside The Moomins and after reading The Summer Book I think her writing deserves a much bigger place in our literary history.

The novel has been inspired by Jansson’s family and her memories of the times they spent on their small island in the Gulf of Finland, particularly of her niece Sophie and her mother who died shortly before she wrote it. It’s been written in a deceptively easy and simple language that I really liked, maybe because it feels typical of the kind of Scandinavian writing I’m familiar with but also because there was so much underlying humour in it. I loved the tenderness, the playfulness and the dignity she portrays in the relationship between Sophia and her grandmother, and her descriptions of how they act together in the landscape around them.

I really felt a connection with the book and the way it writes about something remembered, especially because it doesn’t feel like a romanticised kind of nostalgia but a kind that has more to do with appreciating and preserving the memory of people and places that have once been loved. That’s definitely something I can relate to.

 

 

The Woolgrover’s Companion – Joy Rhoades*

Publisher’s description read more

The Books I Want to Read This Summer

 

Whenever I write about books on the blog I tend to write about books I have already read. I thought I would do it a little different this time, as with summer now in full bloom, I have been looking forward to pick up books that I have been saving all year to read or just recently discovered.

I definitely choose what books to read not only on my mood but also on the season, so I thought I’d put a little list together of the books I am planning and looking forward to read this summer.

 

The Peace Machine – Özgür Mumcu*

Publisher’s description

I’m taking a bit of a chance with this one. Described as a historical “Ottoman Steampunk” adventure, it’s not the kind of thing I would normally go for but when I read an interview with the author in The Guardian a few days ago, there was something about the way the book was described that really piqued my interest. It made me think of ‘The Vanished Futurist’ that I read and enjoyed last year but Mumcu’s book also seems to be its own interesting fictional mix of mystery, travel, futuristic technology and politics. So I’m really interested to see how I will find it and whether I should take my chances on something different a bit more often.

 

 

The Woolgrower’s Companion – Joy Rhoades*

Publisher’s description read more

4 New Books to Read this Spring

 

Spring is my absolute favourite time of year. Around the time of my birthday in March I suddenly start to feel I have more energy and that usually also comes with more ideas and more inspiration to work on projects. It also happens to be the time of year, where new and emerging authors are often published, so any reading I do at this time of year always feels fresh compared to Autumn where I tend to reread a lot of my favourite classics.

While I spent most of this winter being creatively inactive, I did spend a majority of my spare time reading and looking through the publishers’ Spring catalogues for books that looked promising and ended up falling in love with the description of these four.

 


Monsieur Ka
– Vesna Goldsworthy*

“The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged ‘Monsieur Ka’ he begins to tell his story…

As she is drawn into Ka’s dramatic past, her own life is shaken to its foundations. For in this family of former princes, there are present temptations which could profoundly affect her future.”

Back in March when the Beast from the East swept over the country, I found myself having the first snow day of my life when I woke up to discover my bus wasn’t running. So I trudged back from my stop, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and started reading.

I liked Goldsworthy’s other book Gorsky when I read it a few years ago, so I was excited to read this one, too because it sounded like just my kind of thing. The novel is inspired by Anna Karenina but even though I’ve owned a copy for many years I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with and don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the book at first. I was expecting the book to be very atmospheric and it did have some beautiful descriptions of London and the weather but the characters just felt like felt like actors to me, moving from one scene to the next, only there to push the plot forward. I was disappointed, if I’m being honest but then, about halfway through something happened. I’m still not sure what it was exactly but they suddenly started feeling real, so by the time I reached the end, I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them.

 


The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland
– Nicolai Houm*

“An American woman wakes up in a tent in the Norwegian mountains. Outside a storm rages and the fog is dense. Her phone is dead. She is completely alone. Her name is Jane Ashland, and her life has spiralled out of control.

Moving between Jane’s past and this extraordinary remote landscape, Nicolai Houm weaves a dramatic trail of suspense through one woman’s life – via love, grief, and a devastating accident that changes everything.”

For some unexplainable reason I was eyeing this book on my shelf for weeks without feeling like reading it but the minute I picked it up, I was hooked from the first page. From the very beginning you get such a strong sense of Jane’s voice and what she is like as a person and for me that is what made me like this book so much.

I loved the switches between past and present and there were times when I completely forgot I was reading a story about a fictional person. When I was reading the two chapters that trace the beginning of Jane’s relationship with Greg, I had to look up and remind myself that it was a story and not an account of someone’s actually lived life.

I’m a slow reader but I read it in just a few days because I couldn’t put it down and even though it deals with heavy questions about loss and survival, it still had this lightness about it from Jane’s morbid self-irony and a subtle humour which runs through it.

 


Tomorrow
– Elisabeth Russell Taylor*

“Every year Elisabeth Danziger travels to the Danish island of Møn to spend one week at The Tamarisks, a lavish hotel which was once, fifteen years ago in 1945, her family’s second home. With each annual visit, Elisabeth stays in the same room and walks familiar paths. She visits the local museum to peer at artefacts that once belonged to her family; she unscrews the panel of an old bath tub to retrieve the crumbling piece of paper on which is written her name and that of Daniel Eberhardt – her beloved cousin.

Elisabeth’s annual pilgrimage is part of a long-standing family promise to meet again in Møn after their separation during the War. A promise that only she has fulfilled. And she has no reason to suspect this year will be any different from all the others.”

It’s not often I come across books about Denmark written by English writers and this post includes two!

Taylor’s novel tells the often forgotten story about the Jews living in Denmark at the time of WW2, a part of Danish history I don’t know much about, except for the few stories my dad have told me. It was interesting to see Denmark described from an “outsider’s perspective” and I felt like I could really see the landscape she is describing. Her descriptions made me want to go and see the island, especially as they reminded me that my dad grew up near there and must be familiar with those places.

The novel is heavier than the other three, both in terms of language and subject but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it and it’s beautifully written at the same time as being sad. Such a quietly heartbreaking story about the meaning of returning and what love can endure.

 


Meet Me at the Museum
– Anne Youngson*

“When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing.

Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?”

You know how you sometimes come across a book that feels like it was written just for you? That’s exactly how I felt when I first read about Meet Me at the Museum. I mean, a book about a museum, physical objects and a correspondence between an English woman and a Danish man? It’s like Youngson has gone inside my head, picked out the things I like and decided to write a story about them.

Sometimes it’s dangerous to be so excited about a book because it can easily end up disappointing you but it definitely lived up to my expectations. I have always loved the letter writing format and I liked how the relationship between Tina and Anders slowly developed in them. I’ve been really excited to tell people about the book and sent my mum home with my copy when she was visiting last weekend because I believe it was written for someone like her too.

I still can’t quite believe this is Youngson’s first book because it’s absolutely fantastic. Read it if you have ever had a pen pal, fallen in love from a distance, had a quarter- or midlife crisis, wondered what your place in history is or questioned if you are living the life you were meant to. Like Youngson herself, it’s never too late to get started on living it.

 

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Since I started reading the books and began working on this post, Spring has gone through a snowstorm, freezing rains, a heatwave, more rain and now another heatwave. It’s been an odd one this year and right now at the beginning of the last month of Spring it feels more like summer but after the freezing cold we’ve had for so long, I’ll happily take it.

 

*All four books were kindly sent to me from the publishers at my own request in exchange for an honest review.