The Books That Built the Blogger with Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings!

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This week on The Books That Built the Blogger, I’m delighted to welcome Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings! Her blog has long been one of my favourites, with a fantastic mix of classics, poetry and works in translation. I was so intrigued to hear about the books that made her the reader, and blogger, she is today!

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If you’ve been reading books as long as I have, and you think of yourself as a voracious reader (I certainly am!) then it can be hard to pick out favourites. However, when Cathy asked me to contribute to her ‘Books That Built the Blogger’ series, I thought I would have a go at pinpointing some books that are particularly significant.

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As a child I was always reading, more often than not Enid Blytons, or basically anything I could get my hands on. We didn’t have much money for books, so the library was an essential port of call, and in our lovely little local one I came across Dr. Seuss’s I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew. This was completely unlike anything I usually read but I loved its combination of rhyming words and images, and the latter were particularly stunning – colourful and surreal, they took me far away from the dull everyday routine, and when I was grown up and had an income of my own for books, I soon picked up my own copy.

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Another series of books featuring strange characters and landscapes came in the form of the Gormenghast books by Melvyn Peake. I was gifted a set of these for Christmas 1978 and spent the whole of the festive period absorbed in their wonderful narrative. I still believe Peake was a genius, with his many talents from painting, book illustration poetry and novels, but his Gormenghast stories were his crowning achievement. Not only did the books affect me emotionally, but they got me involved with the Mervyn Peake Society, and I ended up helping to run this for some time.

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In my twenties I began to explore more widely 20th century women’s literature. One highly recommended author was Virginia Woolf, and the local book shop had Mrs. Dalloway, which was therefore the first Woolf I read. I loved it then and I love it still – I’d never come across anyone who played with language like she did and took the reader on such a breathtaking journey. I spent some time after discovering this book in reading all of her novels, essays, letters and diaries… 

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Another book that holds great emotional significance for me is one that was gifted by OH around the same time, on the recommendation of a friend of his. That book was Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller and reading it was revelatory. If I thought Woolf played with language, here was someone who turned it on its head! I was hooked from the very start, when Calvino described the words of the page you were reading as being obscured by the smoke of the train in the story. As with Woolf, I went on to read all of his works, developing a huge obsession with his books, and I still return to them with great joy.

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I realise that all of these books are ones I’ve read quite some time ago, so my final pick is a book I came across more recently which had a huge impact and sent me off on one of my regular bookish obsessions – “Life: A User’s Manual” by Georges Perec. I picked this up on a whim in a charity shop, having a vague memory of reading something interesting about it online, and it was one of those serendipitous finds that any bookaholic will recognise. I discovered that Perec was a part of the OuLiPo group, of which Calvino had also been a member, a group who were dedicated to playing with language. “Life” is a brilliant piece of work: long and complex, full of dazzling stories, even if you don’t get the underlying structure and constraints employed to write it, it’s still a masterpiece and utterly compelling. And needless to say I feel the need to read everything by Perec and have amassed quite a collection of his works…

So those are some of the books that made me the reader and blogger I am. Of course, if you asked me next week I might well come up with other titles – that’s the joy of reading and the joy of all the books in the world. You never know what you’ll stumble across next!

Thanks so much to Karen for taking part – what fantastic choices! I adore Mrs Dalloway, which I only read last year. I know if I had read Woolf earlier in life she would have had a profound effect on my reading. The Calvino is in the 746 so I’m looking forward to that one at some point and the George Perec sounds amazing!

Have any of these books had an influence on your reading? Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part, drop me an email to cmac2708@yahoo.co.uk

A 3rd Birthday and a Giveaway!

Today is my Blogversary!

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Yep, it’s been three long years since I counted up all those books, almost had a heart attack and planned to cut down the TBR.

So, it’s another year done and how far on am I? I’m so close to the 500s I can taste it! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have reached that milestone. 146 books in 3 years isn’t great, but it’s better than the pre-blog days and if I keep up the momentum, 746 books will be done and dusted by 2028. Go me!

Despite having made it through another year without buying myself a book, I have acquired books through other means. My use of Net Galley has risen and I did receive quite a few books from publishers this year. I have tried to stick to my (very loose) rules and only read new books by Irish writers, but this little habit has definitely slowed my progress in my challenge. I may have read 71 books this year, according to Good Reads, but I only reduced the 746 by 47.

Reading aside, I’ve had another great year on the blog. According to my friends at WordPress, I’ve had over 23,000 views and 11,500 visitors. I was also delighted this year to pass my 1,000 follower mark, so thanks to you all for continuing to read.

Highlights this year have been the second annual Reading Ireland Month back in March which generated over 100 posts.

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Plans are already afoot for 2017, which I will again be co-hosting with my pal Niall of Raging Fluff fame, so if you have any books by Irish authors lurking in your TBR why not save them until March and join in the craic. This year I’ll be focusing entirely on Irish women writers, but there will be lots of other fun posts and giveaways.

20 Books of Summer also went down a treat this year, with over 120 fantastic bloggers participating and as a bonus, I actually managed to read all 20 of my books! This feature will certainly be back in 2017 as it gives my reading a real kick up the butt mid-year!

Once again I was delighted to make the finals of the Irish Blog Awards for the best Books and Literature blog – getting that far never ceases to amaze me! Plus I clearly take every opportunity throughout the year to show off about it….

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On a personal level, 2016 has been both a difficult and an amazing year. Since this time last year I had the real pleasure of interviewing Nuala O’Connor and Dame Fiona Kidman for the Belfast Book Festival and of course, I started a new and wonderful job at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. Leaving the job I had done for 17 years was frightening and daunting, but I have to say that I have never been happier. I adore my new job, surrounded by books, poetry and writers all day; it feels like it was made for me!

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The intensity of my new position and some health issues this year meant that I haven’t blogged as much as usual. I am trying to rectify that and make some time for this lovely little corner of the blogosphere I call home and I just hope I can continue with the same enthusiasm next year.

I’ve never really been one for a year round up, but this year I am picking my five best reads of 2016. Of course, these haven’t been published in 2016 but you all know what I mean!

  1. The Republic of Love – Carol Shields

For sheer enjoyment, Carol Shields wonderful, heartwarming, sprawling tale of love in all its forms tops my list of the year. I didn’t read another book that made me as happy as this one.

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t get to join in with Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong as much as I would have liked, but I am so delighted that it nudged me to read this luminous, wonderful book, that was everything I hoped and more

  1. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle makes it into my Books of the Year list for the second time. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was nothing like I imagined. It was simply magnificent.

  1. The Rose Garden – Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan was my author of the year, with both this collection of spiky short stories and her wonderful novella The Visitor. She’s undergoing a bit of resurgence here in Ireland and next year I plan to read her biography by Angela Bourke and her collected works from the New Yorker, which have just been published by Stinging Fly

  1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Can Kate Atkinson do no wrong? Ruby Lennox stayed with me long after I closed this book which is wonderfully plotted and beautifully uplifting.

I’m looking forward to a positive 2017. With Reading Ireland Month and 20 Books of Summer planned, I also hope to start a feature called ‘The Books that Built the Blogger’ where my favourite bloggers chat about the books that made them into the readers and bloggers they are today.

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Each month I plan to chat about a book which has formed and influenced my reading life as well. If you’d be interested in taking part, drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, as it’s a birthday and a birthday needs presents, I’m hosting a little giveaway today. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Mike McCormack’s critically acclaimed one sentence novel ‘Solar Bones’

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Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards this year, Solar Bones has been called ‘an extraordinary hymn to small town Ireland’ by The Guardian. To win a copy, just comment below. I’ll draw a winner on Monday 12 December and will post world-wide.

Good luck and thanks, as always, for reading

x

No 630 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

When I finished Mrs Dalloway, I did something I rarely do. I went right back to the beginning and started reading it all over again. I have a feeling that this is a book I will be returning to regularly.

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Virginia Woolf’s classic takes place in London, on a warm day in June 1923. The plot is slight. Clarissa Dalloway is hosting a party that evening and is making the necessary preparations. An old love visits her and comes later to her party, which is a wonderful success and is attended by the Prime Minister. It is a slim premise, but, as with the greatest novels, the simple structure opens out to explore love; death; the nature of time and the heart of humanity.

Mrs Dalloway opens with Clarissa going to buy the flowers for her party. She is the perfect hostess, known for her parties and her impeccable taste, but as her day unfolds, we discover that below the surface, all is not so perfect. Clarissa is being treated for depression and her past is a troubled one, with her lost love Peter Walsh and a previous lesbian relationship playing on her mind.

Equally troubled is Septimus Warren Smyth, who acts as Clarissa’s double in the novel, a Great War veteran who is suffering from shell shock and is being treated by Clarissa’s own doctor. Unable to cope with reality, Septimus commits suicide by jumping from a window and the story of his death affects Clarissa greatly when she hears of it in passing later at her party.

The story is told in a stream of consciousness, with the perspective shifting from character to character throughout the novel. As we glimpse into the minds of Clarissa, Septimus and the characters around them, Woolf creates a real sense of commonality, of people being concerned with the same issues and there is a striking sense that we are all existing in the same moment, past and present forever linked.

As the characters interact, or simply pass on the street, we are given a sense that they are all, to differing degrees, hiding their true selves from the world, unable to truly express what they feel. Their lives are a surface, but there are darker currents underneath. Clarissa is unhappy with life, but hides behind the veneer of a well-respected society lady, throwing parties to bring people to her even when they don’t satisfy her inner needs.

She sliced a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

Her husband Richard is overcome by an urge to bring Clarissa a gift in the middle of the day and tell her he loves her, but when he is face to face with her, the words do not come. Septimus is trying to maintain a façade of sanity, but ultimately, for him, this cannot hold and he eventually chooses death over the danger of living even one more day.

Effort ceases. Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand. Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame

As Big Ben tolls out the hours, both Septimus and Clarissa thinks of a line from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages.” and this line from a funeral song reminds them both that even in the midst of life, death is ever present and that within life, beauty and pain co-exist.

What is this terror? What is this ecstasy?

Clarissa both fears and welcomes death and in Septimus’s suicide, she recognises a legitimate attempt at communication.

A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.

The scene near the end of the novel, when Clarissa retreats to her room to muse on the death of Septimus is very beautifully written and seems to me to be the heart of this novel. In my mind, Septimus is a symbol of what Clarissa could have, or may still become. So too, the old woman living in the house opposite, whom Clarissa watches going about her life, is both an image of independence and privacy as well as symbolising our ultimate isolation from others. While Septimus looks for peace through suicide, Clarissa takes comfort from his act and finds what she needs to go on living. In their depression, Septimus and Clarissa are asking the same question – what is their purpose in life? They both find solace in the beauty of life, but for Septimus this very beauty becomes too much to bear.

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Woolf’s writing about the interior of the mind and of depression is fascinating and complex and her treatment of Septimus, as a character, is sympathetic and probably ahead of its time. He entered the Great War for simple reasons and cannot marry his ideals with what he has experienced.

Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square.

Woolf seems to be asking whether or not the loss of someone like Septimus is a valid price to pay for the living to go on living and explores how the post-war society that Clarissa is in the centre of must recognise his sacrifice in the name of their civilisation.

I had anticipated Mrs Dalloway being a difficult book to read, and while it is necessary to read slowly and with attention, there is a beautiful flow to the prose as the reader passes from one character to another, drifting between thoughts and musings with an ease that highlights human commonality. There is a sense of time passing – not only on this day, as Big Ben strikes each hour from morning to evening, but across lives and across generations. The writing is complex but it is also incredibly beautiful, particularly the descriptions of nature.

Speaking of clouds, Woolf writes;

 Fixed though they seemed at their posts, at rest in perfect unanimity, nothing could be fresher, freer, more sensitive superficially than the snow-white or gold-kindled surface; to change, to go, to dismantle the solemn assemblage was immediately possible; and in spite of the grave fixity, the accumulated robustness and solidity, now they struck light to the earth, now darkness

By suffusing one seemingly ordinary day with such depth, significance and resonance, Woolf has created a novel that transcends its setting and its characters and becomes about what it means to be alive and how we reconcile the beauty and joy of life with the knowledge that death is always close by.

I really wish I had read Virginia Woolf when I was younger and this novel really resonated with me. I feel that this review doesn’t do the book justice at all and I would urge you to read it, particularly if, like me, you have never read Woolf before. It is beautifully written, perfectly formed and lingers in the mind long after the last page has been turned.

I have to thank the wonderful Heaven Ali for her fantastic Woolfalong – without it I may have let this wonderful book languish on the shelves for another few years. I’m looking forward to reading A Room of One’s Own in September and think I will be returning to Mrs Dalloway sooner rather than later.

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Read on: Book

Number Read: 117

Number Remaining: 629

 

The TBR Book Tag!

I was tagged by Naomi at The Writes of Woman to take part in the TBR meme. Given that my whole blog is my TBR it kind of made sense to take part!

 How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I don’t. I was so proud of myself for actually counting them all on that fateful day in December 2013, that I have made no other effort to catalogue or track what I’m reading. I have a vague intention of listing the books on my TBR when I get to around the 400 mark, but we’ll have to see about that.

Is your TBR pile mostly print or e-books?

I would say about 60% print and 40% e-books. I was buying A LOT of e-books in the run up to my book-buying ban as it was just so…easy. But I’ve been buying books pretty seriously now for over 20 years so there are a lot of print books that I have yet to get around to reading.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

I don’t really have a system, I usually go by my mood. Sometimes I turn to you guys for a Reading Roulette pick and other times I like to see if I can join in with a reading challenge that’s going on. I enjoy those because they often nudge me to read books I wouldn’t have thought of picking up. Often I have to look up a book on the internet to remind myself of what it’s about and why I may have bought it, which is a little embarrassing!

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What book has been on your TBR the longest?

I had a discussion on Twitter with Naomi about this and came up with Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, which I bought when I was in second year at University in 1990 (there goes the secret of my age!). However, on reflection, I realised that my Dad bought me a copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens when I was 10 and I haven’t read it yet. Yeah, that one is 34 years unread. That’s scary.

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 A book you have recently added to your TBR?

Anyone following the blog will know that I haven’t bought a new book FOR MYSELF for almost two years, although my husband has been very good in buying a few books for me for birthdays and Christmas. The last few books that officially got added to the 746 were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. That was my last binge before starting the blog and the no-buy challenge.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

I try not to say that I will never read a book, because obviously at the point when I bought every book on my TBR pile I wanted to read it. The one I think might be the last in my challenge is Infinite Jest. I have tried to read it about 10 times. The furthest I’ve ever got is page 100. And if you’ve seen Infinite Jest you’ll know that’s not too far into that big, big book. It would take a lot to make me pick it up and try it again, although if I’m going to finish what I’ve started, then I’ll have to read it at some point!*

*and best not mention Ulysses……

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An unpublished book on your TBR?

Nope. None. Obviously.

A book that is on your TBR because of the cover

Probably more than I would care to admit to. A few include Swell by Corwin Ericson; St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell and the stunning Building Stories by Chris Ware

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends

The Hound of the Baskervilles. It keeps getting recommended to me and I keep threatening to read it. Someday, I promise.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you

I sometimes feel that I am the last person on earth (Ok, the blogosphere) to have read anything by Virginia Woolf. I intend to get around to Mrs Dalloway sometime soon. I also wonder if there is anyone else who has yet to read Stoner?

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A book on your TBR that you are dying to read

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt but I keep putting it off because I think it’s not going to live up to my expectations.

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How many books are on your TBR?

Officially it stands at 654 at the moment, however I’ve read two more books that I haven’t reviewed yet.

So 652.

I’m managing to read about 50 a year, so I guess I’ll be here until about 2028…..

 Tagging:

Niall at The Fluff is Raging

Naomi at Consumed by Ink

Barbara at Book Club Mom

Melanie at Grab the Lapels

Top Ten Tuesday – Classics I Haven’t Read

 

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As someone who has a Degree in English Literature and has been reading for well, the best part of 40 years, this weeks Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and The Bookish is an embarrassing post. There are so many holes in my classics reading that I really should get working on it. I only just discovered Edith Wharton for goodness sake!

So here is a list the classics I’ve never read but would like to. Or need to. Or feel I should.
Do bear in mind that this list could very easily have been a Top Twenty. Or a Top Fifty. You get where I’m going with this!

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I’ve long been aware that I should read Moby Dick, that iconic tale of a whale. It is about a whale, isn’t it? When I read (and loved) The Art of Fielding last year, I realised I was missing so much of the book, given the number of Melville and Moby Dick references.

2. Ulysses by James Joyce
I’ll be honest here. Ulysses scares me. I think it will bore me, or worse, I won’t understand it. I mean, I’ve read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I’ve read The Dead and all Joyce’s short stories. But Ulysses? I’m not sure I’ll ever read it. Although, it’s in the 746 so I’m going to have to at some point. Maybe it will be my final read of the project!

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace shouldn’t scare me that much as I’ve read Anna Karenina. I even quite enjoyed it. However, I took Anna Karenina on holiday with me in the days long ago before Kindle and only read it because it was the last book I had left. Maybe that’s my answer. I go to an island somewhere; take only these classics and no iPad and I’ll have no choice! A bit drastic maybe…..

4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Bleak House was required reading for a course in my first year at University, but I never got round to reading it. To my total shame, the night before my tutorial, I watched the TV adaptation instead and blagged my way through the class. I feel like I need to make amends.

5. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Actually, this could be any novel by Virginia Woolf as I have never read one of her books. I have Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse in the 746 but am always amazed that I have got this far in life without reading anything by her.

 

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6. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
I’m too late for this one, right? It’s not going to happen. I’m too old and I was bored by the movie and my husband won’t stop nagging me to read it. Maybe I could read it to the kids when they are older? Or am I visiting the sins of a very long movie on a really rather good book?

7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Again, another book that I would like to read and am not sure why I never did. I’ve read Plath’s poetry and an autobiography, but never The Bell Jar. I often think it’s a book that needs to be read at a certain time in ones ‘ life and that time is passed for me. Am I wrong about this, would I still enjoy it?

8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I feel like I know so much about this Spanish epic, which is regularly counted among the greatest novels of all time, yet I haven’t read it. And it’s so big. So very big….

9. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Another real gap in my knowledge of English classics is Middlemarch, it can join Bleak House and be filed under ‘should have read at Uni but was too hung over/ tired/ lazy to bother with’. I don’t know a thing about it; I just know it’s often called the greatest English novel of all time, so I really should have put the effort in.

10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I’ve slipped this one in at the end because I don’t think I’ve read it. It’s one of those stories that has seeped into not only mine, but the public consciousness that actually reading it seems like an afterthought. I bought a copy a few years back so I will read it, but I may just wait until the twins can read it with me.

So there you have it, the Top Ten Classics I Haven’t Read. Are any of your favourites in this list? What omissions would you recommend I rectify as soon as possible? Is anyone out there as ill-read in the classics as me?!