The Books that Built the Blogger with John from The Modern Novel


This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I’m delighted to welcome John from The Modern Novel. John’s website celebrates the world-wide literary novel since  the beginning of the twentieth century, arranged by nationality and is a fascinating acrchive of his  personal but extensive survey of literary fiction since around 1900, which will continue to grow. A translator by background, John’s posts features well over 1000 authors writing in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and are a fantastic resource.

My name is John and I have a website – The Modern Novel– and an associated blog – – on the worldwide literary novel since the beginning (more or less) of the twentieth century.


A couple of weeks ago, I saw a revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.  The play is set mainly in Zurich in 1917 and revolves around Henry Carr, a minor British consular official (who really existed) and his relationship (real or imagined) with three residents of Zurich at the time: Tristan Tzara, Lenin and James Joyce.  The play is a very funny post-modern romp but also has something of a message. Carr, Tzara, Lenin and Joyce all express their view on the role of art. For Lenin, art must serve the people.  Tzara has a nihilist point of view. Art can be what you want but it is also intended to subvert the bourgeoisie.  Joyce (and, to a certain extent, Carr) state that art is meant to beautify and enhance our lives, though there are many different views of how this could be best done.

As a child, I read voraciously and, naturally, I read for the stories that books could tell. In my teens, eager to discover my Irish heritage, I started exploring Irish literature, with many of the obvious choices such as Yeats, Synge, O’Casey, Lady Gregory and, of course, the Irish myths and legends, with the Cúchulainn legends being a favourite.  It is through this Irish exploration that I came to Joyce, rather than by the more conventional route.

I naturally started with Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist and Stephen Hero but when I received a book token as a birthday present, I bought Ulysses at the (to me) expensive price of 10s 6d (for the younger generation, that is around 53p).  I knew nothing then of the controversy about the text and bought the only available hardback, the Bodley Head 1964 edition, based on the Bodley Head 1960 edition.  (See for the various editions of Ulysses).


It took me some time to work my way through but I read Stuart Gilbert’s study (very helpful) and Ellmann’s biography did aid me. You have either read the book or consciously rejected it. Obviously, if you are reading this blog, you are well aware of it, whatever your views, so I do not need to tell you what it is about.

For me, as a teenager and, indeed, in later life, what Ulysses showed me that there is a lot more to a novel than just telling a story.  I still very much enjoy novels that tell a good story and have read and reviewed a lot on my website but, post-Joyce, readers and reviewers of literary novels know that the novel can do so much more.

In Travesties, Tzara stated that Ulysses, which he clearly did not particularly like, though admired, was a mixture of Homer’s Odyssey and the Dublin Street Directory for 1904.  This was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek remark by Stoppard.  Joyce (in the play) says But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships – and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes – husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer … It is a theme so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to treat it. And yet I with my Dublin Odyssey will double that immortality.  And, indeed, he has done so.  For what Joyce achieved was the ability not only to tell a tale, which of course, he did, but to give to his city of Dublin and to his main characters, in particular, Leopold Bloom, his Ulysses, an immortality that increase Homer’s contribution and goes well beyond, for example, that of Joyce’s forebears, such as Cúchulainn.

I enjoy reading books from elsewhere at least partially because they show me lives lived in a way very different from my own. I have, of course, been to Dublin but not to the Dublin of 1904 and it is Joyce’s skill to show not just the street directory of Dublin in 1904, as Stoppard’s Tzara states, but a unique, Joycean Dublin of 1904, just as Stoppard showed me an imagined Zurich of 1917 and an imagined Tzara, Joyce, Lenin and Carr, in a way that  a more conventional work would not.  Joyce, Stoppard and the many other writers I read have enriched my life, while I sit in sofa in England’s gloomy winter.

Many thanks to John for that fascinating post about how literature can transport us to a very specific time and place. Do you have a favourite book that transports in this way? Remember, if you would like to take part in The Books that Built the Blogger, just drop me an email at!

Reading Ireland Month – Sin uile folks!*

*That’s all Folks!

So there we have it. Another Reading Ireland Month/ Begorrathon is over and what a great month it was!


With over 130 blog posts, an array of writers, poets, musicians and movies were explored. I read and reviewed 20 books by Irish authors, reduced the 746 by 10 and discovered many, many more writers I would love to read!

You can still check out, or add to, the link up here which has gathered together all your fantastic posts.

As usual, I ran out of time and didn’t get to read everything I had planned. I also ran out of time to post about Lisa McInerney’s fabulous The Glorious Heresies and the wonderful Irish documentary The Queen of Ireland.


But you know, my kids had to eat and I had to sleep so I squeezed in what I could! Next year could someone make March just a few days longer?!


Congratulations to the winners of my giveaways:

Annabel at Annabel’s House of Books won the signed copy of Gull by Glenn Patterson

Fiction Fan won a copy of The Long Gaze Back and The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

Madame Bibilophile won a copy of Fallen by Lia Mills

There will be one final giveaway of a subscription to Irish literary journal The Stinging Fly which will be open to everyone who contributed a Reading Ireland Month post and I will make the draw next week once all posts have been added.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Highlights of the month for me were the response to my post about the criminally under read Maeve Brennan, seeing your choices for the month and getting into a Twitter chat with Lia Mills about my slowly decreasing TBR!

The main highlight though was all the fantastic enthusiasm and support I received from the blogosphere. Thanks to everyone who took part, from the blog posts to the retweets, you have all been supportive and joined in the fun.

Thanks to Niall at The Fluff is Raging for co-hosting this year’s celebration with me. Remember The Begorrathon Facebook page celebrates Irish literature and culture all year round, so do give us a follow.

For now though, it’s back to normality here at 746books. I’ll keep working away at that TBR and I am looking forward to planning my books for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

As usual in the week after Reading Ireland Month, I question whether or not I will do it again, but I’m sure Reading Ireland Month will return in some shape or form. I’ve even been debating whether or not there would be any interest out there for a Ulysses Readalong?


Look at that monster!


Am I mad? Most likely….

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!


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.


 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……


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?


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.


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…..


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




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.


PicMonkey Collage

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?!


Announcing Reading Ireland Month!

PicMonkey Collage 2

The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination. George Bernard Shaw

March is coming, and that means St. Patrick’s Day, but there’s much, much more to Irish culture than shamrocks (which, by the by, are NOT four-leaf clovers) and driving snakes out of the country (this never actually happened either). St Patrick wasn’t even Irish! He was born in Wales. Or Somerset. Or Scotland. But not in Ireland!

Ireland has a surface area of 32,000 square miles and a population of 6.4million meaning it is the same size as South Carolina and has the same number of inhabitants as Indiana. That’s right, it’s not big, but for such a small island it packs a hefty cultural punch:

Some of the world’s greatest plays, novels and poems.

Four Nobel Prize winners (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney) … will their names be joined by John Banville, Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann or Anne Enright?

Five Booker Prize winners.

A fairly well-known rock band that you might have heard of, as well as the likes of Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, I Draw Slow, Snow Patrol and Damien Rice. We sincerely hope this  makes up for inflicting Boyzone and Westlife on the world.


Ireland more last

A host of Oscar winners.

The best pint in the world.

My Left Foot. Calvary. In Bruges. What Richard Did. The Stag. Once. It’s fair to say Irish film has moved well beyond The Quiet Man.

A Ballymena man is currently Hollywood’s leading action hero! (And if you don’t believe that, he will look for you, he will find you, and he will kill you)

From Dorian Grey to Game of Thrones, Ulysses to Father Ted, the reach of Ireland’s culture spreads far beyond its beautiful coastline.

When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious. Edna O’Brien

To celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life, 746 Books and The Fluff is Raging are co-hosting a month-long cultural celebration of all things Irish. Ireland Month (Or The Begorrathon as we are affectionately calling it!) will feature book and film reviews, poems, songs, giveaways and much, much more. We’d love for you to join us!


The rules for the challenge are quite simple. Grab our badge and put it in your sidebar and get planning your Ireland themed reading or viewing. Like our Facebook page here Between  March 1st and March 31st, you can post as much as you like about Irish culture. The theme is Ireland and Irish culture, so feel free to write about whatever you like.

Read a book by Anne Enright, the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate. Post your favourite soda bread recipe.   Maybe you want to make a list of your Top Ten Irish people. Read some poems by WB Yeats and celebrate 150 years since his birth (#Yeats150).  Dress up as Mrs Doyle from Fr Ted and take a selfie, we don’t really mind! Here’s all we ask:

  • put a link to your post on the Facebook page, and we’ll be sure to share it.
  • Or link here on either of our blogs: FOR POSTS ABOUT POETS, PLAYWRIGHTS and NOVELISTS, link back to Cathy at 746 Books
  • FOR POSTS ABOUT FILMS, TV, MUSIC, or ANYTHING ELSE, link back to Niall at The Fluff is Raging
  • Watch our Begorrathon trailer to give you some ideas for what to read/ watch/ drink! If you need some more ideas, there is a list of 50 of the best Irish novels at 746 Books, one of which is bound to tickle your fancy.
  • You can also tweet your post using the hashtags #irelandmonth2015 AND/OR #begorrathon2015

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Many people die of thirst but the Irish are born with one. Spike Milligan