Weekly Fragments ~ January 3rd

virgilio-dias-universitc3a1ria-2011-o-s-t-60-x-60First and foremost a Happy New Year to all of our friends in the blogging world from both me and The Bears.  I would get The Bears to come and greet you personally but they are still sleeping off their Hogmanay excesses.  Too many marmalade sandwiches are good for no one, especially when said marmalade is laced with whiskey!  We hope the year brings you all that you could wish for and definitely no unpleasant surprises.

If there were going to be any New Year’s Resolutions in this household then cutting back on the marmalade sandwiches should really be at the top of the list.  However, we’ve never been ones for making such resolutions mainly because we know that collectively we are so very bad at keeping them.  In fact, setting something out as a resolution has always appeared to be a certain way of ensuring that it will never actually come to pass. Nevertheless, when I look back over my reading habits as inscribed here, there are certain trends from last year that I want to put a stop to and so while not offering them as anything so concrete as a set of resolutions here are some practices that I would like to see change over the next twelve months.

First and foremost, I want to read a wider range of books in 2014 than has been the case recently.  If I look back over the last year crime fiction has predominated.  More to the point, re-visiting crime fiction has taken up an inordinate amount of my reading time.  I now know that there has been a very good reason for this.  Just before Christmas, following a quite frightening run of health problems, I had to come off the medication I’ve been taking for the past while.  This, of course has had other consequences because I was on said medication for a very good reason but a positive result is that I have quite simply got my brain back.  I hadn’t realised how dulled and lethargic the drug was making me feel because it crept up on me slowly but I now understand why there have been times in 2013 when re-visiting old friends was the only reading I felt capable of doing.  I will still be acquiring new fiction by my favourite crime writers but book for book the sheer volume is going to have to fall.  In its place I want to read more contemporary fiction, especially looking for writers whose works are new to me so that I can then tackle their back catalogues, and to return to reading new children’s and YA fiction, something that I let lapse when I retired, a state of affairs which I now regret.

Linked with this is a desire to read with more attention to and appreciation of the books I pick up.  I only have to look back at some of the blog posts I wrote last year to know that I haven’t been doing that, especially if I compare them with even earlier pieces.  At present I can blame this on the medication as well, but if the situation continues I won’t have that as an excuse and I know from previous experience that reading and writing with attention is a practice you have to make a habit of or it is far too easy to become superficial.  This year that won’t do.

And neither will wasting good reading time with activities that are really nothing other than time fillers.  I’ve never been an avid watcher of television but I do have a nasty habit of picking up either a jigsaw or a killer sudoku simply because neither of them ask very much of me mentally.  Bad Girl!  Equally, I need to think about the reading I do when I’m out and about.  I very often have an hour or so to fill between events at the University and because I don’t carry a physical book around with me (back problems) my practice has been to put a crime novel for re-reading on my mini i-Pad.  Well, that won’t wash any longer.  (See my first resolve above.)  What I thought I would do instead is use the time to catch up on the back catalogues of some of the writers I have recently come to appreciate but whose earlier works I missed.  I have in mind Penelope Lively, Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett as starting points, but there are plenty of others who would easily fill that particular slot.  My only concern is that may well mean that at times I will have four books on the go at once.  I know that a number of you manage that on a regular basis but it will be unusual for me. I shall have to see how it goes and perhaps have a rethink half way through the year.

Finally, I’ve decided to give the blog a simpler look.  But I expect you’d noticed that already.

So, with all those good intentions in mind what do the early days of the New Year hold?  Well, to start with I’m off into hospital next week so there may be a bit of a gap between posts.  I’m not sure how long I’ll be out of commission but I’ll catch up with you all as soon as I can.  By that time I should have finished The Goldfinch and Sara Paretsky’s Critical Mass.  Next on the list are William Brodrick’s The Discourtesy of Death, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase – one each from my modern fiction, new crime and children’s literature resolutions – and downloaded onto my i-Pad is the first Penelope Lively I need to catch up on, Treasures of Time. Come to think of it, given how much time you normally spend waiting around in hospital it might not be a bad idea to make a second novel available.  Definitely better to be safe than sorry.   And of course, by then, there will also be whatever the second parcel from Heywood Hill’s Year of Books turns out to contain.  This time I will try and restrain myself long enough to photograph it for you.

Happy New Year.

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50 thoughts on “Weekly Fragments ~ January 3rd

  1. I am pleased to hear that your cloud had some sort of silver lining, Alex, and I do hope all goes well with your time in hospital. Your sudoku comment struck a chord – each time I start one I tell myself I’m wasting my life but they seem to exert quite a pull. I’m going to try and follow your example! Penelope Lively, Ann Patchett and Anne Tyler sound like a very sound basis for some good reading to me.

    • A Happy New Year to you and we all hope everything goes well for you. A very sensible set of reading resolutions- however admirable a lot of crime fiction is, it is easy to read a bit too much of it. I am glad you feel that you can tackle a wider range of reading and hope you make some good discoveries in 2014.

      • Thank you Ian, on both counts. There is nothing wrong with a really well written crime novel, but some of the ones I’ve read over the past year wouldn’t come into the really well written category, I’m afraid.

    • I don’t have that many Lively novels to catch up on, Susan, just the early adult ones which she was writing while I still saw her as primarily a children’s author, but there are enough in my unread back catalogues of Tyler and Patchett to keep me going for the next several years.

  2. Happy New Year! These sound like a great set of new reading practices. I also struggle with being distracted from my reading, wasting reading time on the internet or my phone. I managed to read about a book a week last year which I think is just about the right pace for me but perhaps if I stopped being so easily distracted perhaps that number would be a lot higher!

    • And a Happy New Year to you as well, Jennifer. Something else I want to do this year is keep a check of just how many books I do read because I have no idea. I’ve started a completion shelf on BookLikes and I’m going to do my level best to put each book I finish onto it so that at the end of 2014 I will have a better idea of exactly what I have read.

  3. Happy New Year and best wishes for your hospital trip. I hope all goes as can be expected and you’re back in circulation still (for a start we need to get that park meetup sorted out and swap some books). I’ll be interested to see what YA books you read as that’s a genre I love but have missed out on a bit myself last year.

  4. I’m afraid I have to staunchly defend the puzzle activities! Jigsaw puzzles are cheaper than
    therapy, crossword puzzles (even American) are five-star activities, and even the lame sudoku
    has some attraction. Reading, of course, is the loveliest thing, but there is room for puzzles, too,
    to keep our minds neat and tidy. Speedy recovery, Alex, will look forward to the YA fiction
    finds and your new membership books.

    • Oh yes, puzzles certainly have their place and they can be very soothing, it’s just that I’ve been using them to avoid using my brain and I don’t have enough of it to let it slide through lack of exercise.

  5. The new design is very eye-catching! I like the color scheme. A very Happy New Year to you & the Bears – I hope it brings all good things, especially health & happiness. I hope all goes very smoothly with your hospital stay.

    I haven’t read Ann Patchett myself, though I’ve seen her recommended many times. There was a copy of State of Wonder on the library sale shelves the other week, so I thought that was a sign & brought it home.

    • And a Happy New Year to you as well, Lisa. I very much enjoyed State of Wonder. For me the interesting thing about Patchett’s work is that I always start out thinking that this is just another potboiler and then suddenly I find she has drawn me in to a discussion of something really important. She isn’t a writer to whom you can apply the fifty page test, I find,

  6. I really like the new look on the blog! Good job.

    As to the resolutions, yes I too would like to read more deeply, enjoy it more. This past year was very good but as usual reading more books does not necessarily mean an increase in enjoyment. I think really about 80 to 100 pages a day of an average “literary” or classic type novel is about right, somewhat more for crime fiction probably.

    • No, reading is one area where quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality. I have no idea how many books I read last year. My real worry is that I think I re-read more than I read for the first time and while some books not only merit but yield more on re-reading I wouldn’t say that was the case with most of those I re-visited last year. I’m going to try and keep better track in 2014.

  7. Best wishes for the hospital visit, Alex. I too intend to up my fiction reading and reduce crime reading a bit this year. If only fiction writers weren’t in some kind of competition to see who can write the longest book though… ;)

    • My favorite early novels by Anne Tyler are Searching for Caleb and Celestial Navigation. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about the end of Celestial Navigation, which has always struck me as disappointing.

      • Of the three authors I mentioned, Jeanne, Tyler is the one I have read the least. I need a pointer as to where to start so I shall download those two and make then my priority where her works are concerned. Thank you.

    • Oh I do know what you mean. I am about halfway though ‘The Goldfinch’ and while I’m enjoying it had she let me have a copy before it went to the publisher I would have been very busy with the red pencil.

      • I found ‘The Goldfinch’ a real drag in the end, I’m afraid, and am now reading just under 600 pages of Amy Tan’s ‘The Valley of Amazement’ and wondering whether it wouldn’t have been better as a 300-page novel. Still trying to pluck up the courage to acquire ‘The Luminaries’…

        • Curate’s Egg is the term I wold use about ‘The Goldfinch’, Karen. Some passages I love and others I find myself skimming through. I was going to go straight on to “The Luminaries’ but I think I’ll put something shorter in between. Either that or buy another red pencil.

  8. A happy new year to you and the bears, and I wish you well for your visit to hospital. I have similar resolutions about using time more efficiently, but I will be mainly reading from the early 20th and late 19th century. Someone who is reading more recent books and can help me work put reading priorities there would be much appreciated.

    • Anything that I really like will find its way onto the blog, Jane. One of the other things I want to do this year is write more actual reviews because the process of getting my thoughts down here makes me engage more thoroughly with the book.

  9. Happy New Year to you and the Bears! I know all too well the distractions of puzzles – mine are codewords and crosswords. I often do a jigsaw at this time of year too, but so far have resisted – a cold actually put paid to that. And I agree it’s all too easy to pick up crime fiction and I think I’ll be cutting back on that too this year. The Goldfinch is one of the books on my list to read soon – looking forward to your views.

    My best wishes for a successful hospital visit!

    • So far I’m enjoying The Goldfinch I’m about halfway through), but I would most definitely have taken a red pencil to it had I been her editor. I hope the cold is better soon. there is never a good time of year to have runny nose!

  10. Happy New Year! I hope you have a great 2014. I like the sound of your ideas for reading in the new year. It’s great that the familiar crime fiction novels are there when you need them, but it’s exciting that you feel ready to move on and read more widely. I look forward to your reviews in the new year!

    • And a great big Happy New Year to you and the family from me and The Bears, Rebecca. You must be looking forward to Cormac’s first birthday. Be assured The Bears will definitely make it an excuse to have a party on this side of the Atlantic.

  11. Happy New Year! Glad to hear you are feeling better. I know how hard it can be to balance the benefit of certain medication and their annoying side effects.

    Love the new look of the blog!

  12. Happy New Year, Alex. I like the new blog design. Good luck with your reading plans for the year ahead. I often find myself with three or four books on the go at once too and it’s not ideal, but I can usually manage as long as they’re significantly different from each other.

    • Yes, I think that’s got to be the key, Helen; that and keeping good notes of the ones you’re going to need to discuss or want to blog about.

  13. Happy, happy new year to you and the Bears, dear Alex! Here’s hoping first and foremost that 2014 will be a better year health-wise – I am so with you on having struggled through large swathes of 2013 with comfort books for company. I’ll be looking forward greatly to your review of the new Paretsky, and as a huge fan of Patchett, Tyler and Lively, I know you’ll be cushioned in wonderful words there. If you haven’t tried Barbara Trapido, she’s good and in the same sort of category, and Richard Russo is currently managing to entertain me in a delightfully literary way. But I’m sure you’ll find lots of fantastic reads, and it will be fascinating to see what Heywood Hill sends you next!

    • Well, you and me both where the health issues are concerned, Litove. Let’s hope we both do better. I love Trapido and if I wasn’t trying to avoid re-reads I would have all her books beside me all the time but thanks for reminding me about Russo. I discovered him when ‘Empire Falls’ won the Pulitzer and have read everything since, but I know there’s a back catalogue to explore and if there’s available as ebooks then I shall add him to the list.

  14. Hope all goes well with the hospital stay Alex and that you’re back here on top form soon. There must be some telepathy going on today because just before the feed came through with your comments on resolutions, I was having an inner tussle about this very subject. Haven’t resolved it yet though!
    BTW I took up one of your recommendations re Louise Penny and started with book one. Loving it so far so thank you!
    Happy New Year to you and the bears.

    • I’m in the middle of a long post about her most recent, How the Light Gets In, which is a brilliant book if you have read the others and in the right order, but which would completely flummox a new reader. I’m really glad you’re enjoying that first one because I think she gets better with each book, but if you decide to read the rest of the series do stick to the order in which they were published. By the way, as well as the main novels there is also a kindle short, The Hangman, which is worth looking out for.

    • Happy New year to you Alex as well. I do think that one of the nicest feelings in the world is discovering a new author you love and then finding that they have a massive back catalogue just waiting to be mined.

  15. Happy new year! Nice new look. So great that you are off the medication that made your brain fuzzy! I hope your stay in hospital goes well. I look forward to hearing about all your marvelous reading through the year. And as for the Bears and the marmalade, you only live once ;)

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