I thought I was pretty good with not buying books this month, but hey, who am I trying to kid?

I was lucky enough to get sent the following:

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal – the lovely Meike from Peirene Press sent this for me to try. I’ve never read any Catalan fiction and Stone in Landslide has been in print for 50 years, but this is the first time it’s been translated into English.

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters – the newest addition to Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I fell in love with the series set in the early 20th century that combine mystery, history and Egyptology with some incredibly wonderful and funny characters when I picked up the first volume Crocodile on the Sandbank at Chicago’s famous Seminary Co-op Bookstore (astrophysicist and my hero Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s favourite bookshop) years ago. She’s one of my favourite writers and I always return to her when I’m in need of some bookish comfort. And Amelia’s son Ramses is to die for.

And I picked these up at my local charity shop for a pound each:

Modern Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson – I really enjoyed Notes from a Small Island which was hilarious but have never read anything else by Bryson (except for snippets of A Short History of Nearly Everything which I dip into occasionally.)

Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading by Maureen Corrigan – How could I not pick this up? The title alone hooked me.

Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Dasgupta was present at the GLF 2010 earlier this year, but I hadn’t read any of his books although Tokyo Cancelled has been on my radar. Solo won the Commonwealth Writers Prize this year.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King – I’ve heard so many good things about King’s The Dark Tower sequence of which this is the first book. I found this book just after reading a great review about the series. It’s funny how these things happen.

It’s almost the end of the year and the time for lists, so I thought it would be appropriate to list my most enjoyable reads of the year. There haven’t really been any duff reads and I think I only gave up on two books earlier in the year before I started my blog in July.

1) The most enjoyable thing this year was starting my blog! I was really nervous about this and, having been surreptitiously reading book blogs for about a year beforehand, I felt rather intimidated at the professional manner in which many blogs are maintained. They are all so lovely, funny and well thought out. But I took the plunge and I’m really glad I did, because it’s so much fun and I’ve met some incredibly nice bloggy people.

It’s made me think a lot more about why I read and the books that I choose. I also found it surprisingly hard to write a negative review and made me think about the honesty in my writing.

2) OK books, here we go. In 2009, I really liked reading and writing about:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
The Boat by Nam Le
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

I also liked the following which I didn’t write about, as I read them before I started blogging, but highly recommend:

The Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson
The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith
Alexandria by Lyndsey Davis
All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen
In the Woods by Tana French
Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

I realise that I haven’t written about my favourite book of the year, Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson since I read it way back in January, but as I’ll be reading the second installment in the 10 book sequence next year, I promise to write a big juicy post about the Malazan Book of the Fallen series when the time comes.

3) I found some amazing book challenges this year including RIP IV and the Japanese Literary Challenge 3 which put me in touch with some lovely people, the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge which actually motivated me to read something off my TBR shelf and the Women Unbound Challenge which has made me veer towards some thoughtful reading. I’m also enjoying the Hello Japan! challenge which has made me look at Japan anew.

4) I also reconnected with my love for Japanese drama and film. This year’s favourites were Crows Zero, Sakuran and Gokusen.

♥  Thank you to everyone who has taken their time to read my blog and post comments. I always enjoy hearing from you and I look forward to getting to know you all a lot more next year!

And I’ll leave you with my favourite book and cover art of the year.

Well, last month I managed to debut my first Who’s Reading What post. I like knowing what people are reading and am forever peering into my friends’ bags and checking out their bookshelves whenever I visit.

This month, my sis and two dear friends on the other side of the globe are reading:

Watching the Tree by Adeline Yen Mah
A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Of these I’ve only read Out.

What about you?

I went up to Yorkshire to visit a dear friend and her baby this weekend and seem to have come back with a cold… but that’s not all I came back with!

Said dear friend gave me Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals as a birthday gift and I’m as happy as a dessert fiend let loose in Ladurée. Their orange blossom macarons are scrumptious.

I also won a signed copy of Silver Lies by Ann Parker from the author herself. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book, a historical mystery set in the silver rush of 1880s Leadville, Colorado, and cannot wait to start reading it. I’m not a connoisseur of Westerns (even though my Japanese granddad was an avid John Wayne fan) but anything that’s had such glowing reviews is a must read.

And, I popped into my local library and what did I find?

The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss
Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss
The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett

I’d been meaning to read Mark Gatiss’ sequels after enjoying The Vesuvius Club featuring man about town and detective Lucifer Box which I enjoyed tremendously many years ago. So what luck to find both books at the library.

I have also read so many wonderful fantasy books this year, and The Painted Man has been causing quite a stir in the sff world, so what better way to start the new year with something good. I seem to be spoilt for choice.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to survey what people were reading around me. As I’m lazy, I’ll just question the people who I happen to talk to at the time. So it’ll be random friends and family. As they are all very different from me and have varied reading tastes, it should be an interesting list – and who knows what surprising recommendations we’ll uncover. I won’t name names, just the titles. I was hoping to make this a monthly thing but realised I don’t actually talk books with that many people … but I’m working on it. Enjoy.

This month my school friends whom I have known for over 20 years have been reading:

A Snowball in Hell by Christopher Brookmyre
The Murder Room by P.D. James
The Last Pope by Luis Miguel Rocha
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Out of these books, I’ve read the 2nd, 4th and 6th books and have the 5th in my TBR pile.

My sister asked if I wanted to go to Portobello Market in Notting Hill on Sunday, and as I hadn’t been there for a while, I thought why not? (Although I will be going to the Electric Cinema there next Sunday to watch New Moon – I cannot wait to see the wolf pack. I can’t help it, I’m Team Jacob.) But it was raining and we found ourselves hiding for cover in the Book and Comic Exchange shop which I had recently read about in Stuck in a Book‘s post. Naturally I thought of his post and made a dash for the basement where there were indeed three rooms full of books for 50p, and I came away with 5 books (two were for a pound each)!

Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn
A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow by George R.R. Martin (Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire)

They had a pretty good science fiction and fantasy section in a little alcove at the top of the stairs and I saw someone with two volumes of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (yes, he was clutching a copy of The Confusion which I was eyeing intently but he breezed away with the book and I had to say goodbye to it).

It was raining so heavily we ended up running into several shops but turned back before we even hit the market, stopping by to grab some gelato as we walked back to the car. They had chocolate wasabi flavour which was rather yummy, but I opted for my favourite coffee gelato.

And … I also got these at my local charity shop last week:

True Blood by Charlaine Harris (I am loving the tv series)
The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (I read this years ago at boarding school and have the DVD)

And … I bought this from Amazon:

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg – this is for creative research purposes so I don’t feel guilty about purchasing it.

chinamieville thecityandthecity

Described as ‘tall, muscular and brooding’ and ‘fiercely intelligent’, China Miéville certainly cuts a striking figure. He doesn’t look like a writer, but then what does a writer look like? He looks like a fighter, an angry revolutionary at a political demo. But when he speaks his voice is soft and cultured and his words betray his educational background. Miéville studied Social Anthropology at Cambridge and holds a PhD in International Relations from the LSE. And he is as passionate and serious about Marxism as he is about sf and weird, fantastic fiction. How cool is that? And did I mention how handsome he is?

Anyhoo, I got myself a signed copy of his new book ‘The City & The City’ and I am looking forward to reading it.

I have never been much of a fan of the spoken word. In fact, I confess I don’t really know much about it. I see plays intermittently, and every time I come away in a daze because of the brilliance and energy. I get swept away by the explosion of emotions coming from the stage and I don’t quite know what to do with it. The same with poetry. Maybe they frighten me a little.

With books, I am in control of how I read, when to stop, when to pick it up again once I have dealt with the emotions. Sometimes I cannot stop until I am at the end.

Yesterday, however, everything I have ever felt about the spoken word changed. I was feeling exhausted and was thinking of skipping the London Literature Festival session at the Southbank and going home to chill out. It was a session where authors read from their work, and not an interview or talk. But Jeannette Winterson was going to be there, and Kamila Shamsie, DBC Pierre and Diran Adebayo standing in for Hanif Kureishi. I had been looking forward to seeing Jeannette Winterson whose novels I have yet to read, but whose articles and short stories in the much missed Saturday Times Books section was a twice monthly highlight for me.

Diran Adebayo began with an excerpt from his forthcoming novel ‘The Ballad of Dizzy and Miss P’, a love story between a young artist and a science student in 1980s/1990s London. Adebayo was smooth, used the language of university students, and I felt myself pulled back in time to when I also frequented the infamous SOAS bar where the two protagonists first meet.

This was followed by Kamila Shamsie’s short story following a Pakistani man transporting a stone reliquary across the desert into India. Her story was weighty, her voice low and and almost breathless. You could feel the grains of sand as the protagonist sank one foot after the other as he crossed the desert, avoiding poisonous snakes, unable to hire help because of the decrease in business and increased debts, just to get paid for delivering a stone relic of another religion.

Jeannette Winterson followed her onstage but chose to stand in the middle of the stage rather than at the podium to her right. Her voice resonated and her story about a dog was not just a story, but a poem, a play, the universe. There was so much force and emotion in her performance which shocked and mesmerised me.

The session ended with DBC Pierre’s short story about a pseudo-colleague in Trinidad. Pierre’s voice was flat and measured, so different from Winterson’s delivery. But slowly, he pulls you into his tale, his voice changing, his accent changing. There is laughter, sadness and then back to the beginning which is also the ending.

Four different tales, four different styles. I had never appreciated an author’s reading of his work. What a difference it makes. They are reading their stories in the way they were meant to be read and heard. It was a revelation. The discussion that followed touched upon this and Adebayo said sometimes his readers do not hear the same thing he does when he writes. Winterson said that everyone should stand in the middle of their room and read out loud. I totally agree.

Ox-Tales is a collection of four lovely books of short stories and poems by 38 of the world’s best writers for Oxfam. You get to read some great writing and ease some of the suffering in this world.