Monday, 30 May 2011

My favourite quotes

Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato - one finishes what's on one's plate. That's always been my philosophy.

From “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett

What are your favourite quotes? Send them in and I'll share them with the readers of Book After Book!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... Living on Italian Time

There are many things to adjust to when you move abroad. Most of these things I was prepared for: different food, different clothing styles and of course, a different language.

There was, however, something I wasn't ready for at all in Italy: a different way of being "on time".

I don't mean the way we say the time - although, in some ways, that's different, too - no, I mean the idea of when to show up for something, such as when to arrive for a party, a meeting, a dinner with friends or a walk around town.

I'm an American, of course, and so I'm generally used to being on time for things. I can't stand being late (that's not because I'm American, that's just because I'm, well, me), and I always do my best to be on time or even early when possible.

But in Italy, somehow it never quite works out that way.

Here's an example: You tell a friend "Let's meet at my house at eight and we'll go to dinner," and they say "Okay, that sounds great." All the arrangements are made, and the day finally arrives.

So you make a point of getting ready and then you sit on the sofa to wait for them to ring the doorbell around 7:50, as you'd arranged. Only they don't. No problem, you think. They're a little late. You switch on the television and wait some more. After about fifteen minutes, you start to think Maybe I should give them a call to see if everything's okay? but you don't want to seem pushy, so you don't.

Around 8:30 or so, you realize you keep checking your watch and the minute hand doesn't seem to be moving. Probably because you're checking every other second.

So you call your friend and ask where they are. And they answer with inappropriate cheerfulness "I'm leaving the house now!"

Grrrrr…

The growl comes from the fact that you know they live fifteen minutes away, and you'll have to drive about ten minutes to get to the restaurant, so now an 8:00 dinner has become a 9:00 dinner instead.

When the doorbell rings, they don't apologize for being late. Instead, they start a discussion about anything besides the fact that they're late, and you decide that, rather than make a scene - or even just ask the question at the back of your mind - rather than risk the brutta figura, you'll just roll with it. After all, it's just this once, right?

Nope.

I've seen this scenario play out over and over again, whether the plans are with friends or lessons with adult students or meetings at work, no-one seems able to show up at the scheduled time. They stroll into the room, somewhere between twenty to forty minutes late, without a word of apology or acknowledgement that others have been kept waiting.

I finally asked around, intrigued by this notion of being so impossibly relaxed that merely making a call to tell someone you're running late isn't possible. Another teacher, an Italian who teaches English at my school, explained that everyone runs on "Professor time", a.k.a. "Italian time". It would seem that, traditionally, a professor has twenty minutes to arrive for his lesson before the students are allowed to leave for the day, the lesson cancelled. As a result, the students themselves arrive twenty minutes late, too - if the professor isn't going to be spot on time, why should they? They have other things to do in their busy, busy lives.

So the habit becomes ingrained, and spreads into the "real world" outside the walls of academia, so that every meeting, whether social, professional or otherwise, is put off, delayed, started late. But not really, because no-one's expected to arrive at the time it actually starts.

And I'm the silly American breaking her neck trying to get to her appointments on time for fear of looking rude or inconsiderate. Old habits die hard.

I've really got to work on that.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Help! My wish list #24

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Firmin
By Sam Savage

Amazon's product description: Firmin is the runt of a litter of rats born in the basement of Pembroke Books, a ramshackle old bookstore run by the equally shambolic owner Norman Shine. Forced to compete for food, Firmin ends up chewing on the books that surround him. Thanks to his unusual diet, he acquires the miraculous ability to read. He subsequently develops an insatiable hunger for literature and a very unratlike sense of the world and his place in it. He is a debonair soul trapped in a rat's body. But a literary rat is a lonely rat and, spurned by his own kind, he thinks he recognises a kindred soul in Norman. Firmin seeks solace in the Lovelies of the local burlesque cinema and in his own imagination. But the days of the bookshop and of the close community around it are numbered. The area has been marked out for urban regeneration and soon the faded glory of the bookshop, the low-life bars, loan agencies and pawn shops will face the bulldozers. Brilliantly original and richly allegorical, Firmin is brimming with charm and wistful longing for a world that treasures its seedy theatres, one-of-a-kind characters, and cluttered bookshops.

Why I want to read this book: You can't get anything cuter than a reading rat!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Book review: Nessuno si salva da solo

By Margaret Mazzantini

At present, Margaret Mazzantini’s latest book, Nessuno si salva da solo, is not available in English but I am confident that the translation will follow soon.

Nessuno si salva da solo is the story of a great love that has run its course. Delia and Gaetano have recently separated and they meet for dinner to make arrangements for the summer holidays of their two children, Nico and Cosmo. While facing each other across the table of the restaurant, they can’t help but wonder when their passion has turned into resentment and they reminisce about good times, yes, but mostly disappointments and expectations not met.

The book opens with Delia and Gaetano sitting at the restaurant and closes with them having just parted ways. A few hours in which we get to dig deep inside them and uncover those raw feelings that the end of a relationship never fails to bring to the surface.

Mazzantini’s writing style is as raw as those feelings. Words are sharp, unkind. We glimpse some tenderness every now and then but it is soon replaced by rage. There are no chapters, just line breaks when the narrative jumps from the present scene in the restaurant to the past as recalled by Gaetano or by Delia. There is no chronological order, no straight reasoning… but what break-up is ever tidy and orderly?

Set in Rome, I read this book as part of the “Italy in Books” reading challenge.

Monday, 16 May 2011

My favourite quotes

If we have a dollar to spend on some wild excess, we shall spend it on a book, not on asparagus out of season.
Katharine Fullerton Gerould, US writer

What are your favourite quotes? Send them in and I'll share them with the readers of Book After Book!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Book review: Howard’s End is on the Landing

By Susan Hill
Published by Profile Books

One day, British novelist Susan Hill, went browsing her bookshelves in search of a specific book. She didn’t find it. What she found was a world of books that she had loved and wanted to re-read, books that she had yet to read and books that she had even forgotten she owned.

This discovery led to her decision to not buy or otherwise acquire any new books for a whole year, which she would spend reading or re-reading those that she already possessed. In her words: “A year of reading from home”.

I was first attracted to Howard’s End is on the Landing by the brightly-coloured book spines that grace its cover, designed by Peter Dyer. Having spent years unsuccessfully pledging to stop purchasing new books until I’ve read all the ones that are patiently waiting on my shelves, I was also curious to learn how it is done. That, I didn’t learn! On the contrary, I enjoyed Hill’s opinions and suggestions so much that I ended up adding lots of titles to my wish list.

If you think that reading about reading books is not your cup of tea, think twice. Far from being a mere list of novels and authors, Howard’s End is on the Landing is rich in amusing anecdotes from the novelist’s personal and professional life and thoughts on a number of issues dear to booklovers. For example, what is the best way to organise your bookshelves? What do you think about the habit of writing on the margins?

Depending on your reading background, this “literary memoir” will be dearly familiar or excitingly new. Either way, it is definitely worth a read!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Help! My wish list #23

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **



The Secret History
By Donna Tartt

Amazon's product description: A misfit at an exclusive New England college, Richard finds kindred spirits in the five eccentric students of his ancient Greek class. But his new friends have a horrific secret. When blackmail and violence threaten to blow their privileged lives apart, they drag Richard into the nightmare that engulfs them. And soon they enter a terrifying heart of darkness from which they may never return...

Why I want to read this book: Having appreciated Tartt's The Little Friend, I am interested in reading her other works. I also have a thing about horrific secrets!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tips for aspiring writers – part 4

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Multiple viewpoints and second person narrator.

***
Using multiple viewpoints


Many contemporary novelists use multiple viewpoints to narrate their novels. This gives an opportunity for the reader to understand how more than one character views the world that the author has created. Using more than one viewpoint can be a vehicle for creating great tension. However, unless handled carefully, switching between viewpoints can be frustrating for the reader as they are left hanging while the narrator is switching to another character’s viewpoint. The best way to avoid this is to ensure all of the characters are interesting enough for the reader to get fully involved with them.

Before embarking on using more than one viewpoint, it is necessary to understand what is meant by ‘viewpoint.’ For example, say you wish to write a novel about John, who is a father, and Mary, who is his daughter, and you wish to switch between their viewpoints. First of all you must, as the author, have a full understanding of each character; that is imperative for the viewpoint to work. So if you decide to write Chapter One from John’s point of view, you, the author, must slip into the skin of the narrator, who is able to look down on the events as they unfold, as they occur for John. As the chapter is from John’s point of view, the narrator will have sole access into his thought; the narrator will know what John is seeing, tasting etc. and will know how his mind works and what he thinks of the other characters. As this chapter is written from John’s perspective, the narrator will not have access into any of the other character’s thoughts. The narrator will not know what is going on in Mary’s mind until you, the author, decide it is the right time for the narrator to unfold the story from Mary’s point of view. If you decide to write Chapter Two from Mary’s viewpoint, as with the first chapter written from John’s point of view, the narrator will only have access into the thought processes belonging to Mary. The narrator will only have knowledge about what Mary sees, feels, hears etc. The narrator will not be able to enter into John’s mind during Chapter Two.

If you decide to use multiple viewpoints, unless you have a valid reason for not doing so, it is probably best to switch to different viewpoints in chapters or large chunks of text. Some writers put the name of the viewpoint as the chapter or section heading. This is the choice of the individual author.

Second person narrator

A second person narrator is used when the narrator is writing letters or e-mails and they are addressing another character as ‘you’. The reader gets to know the character writing the correspondence and what their feelings are towards the character they are writing to. But as long as the narrator remains in second person, the reader has no access to the recipient’s point of view.

***
Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And don’t miss the next instalment on June 11th: The first chapter.

Monday, 9 May 2011

LGBT reading challenge - May reviews

Thanks again for joining the LGBT reading challenge 2011! If you haven't joined yet, don't worry: there is still time.

Below is a list of all the book reviews that have been submitted in May (via
this link). Hopefully you will all find new and interesting titles to explore - I, for one, am sure to gather another few books to add to my TBR list!

Whether you already know the books that are being discussed or not, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the other blogs. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not simply a competition, more of an opportunity to share ideas and bond over our common interests!

Let's begin!

01. Natazzz read and reviewed Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter.
02. Lucy read and reviewed The Love of Good Women by Isabel Miller.
03. Juliet read and reviewed To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Herve Guibert.

04. Orange Sorbet read and reviewed Hero by Perry Moore.
05. Irene read and reviewed All-night Party by Andrea Barnet.
06. Dorla read and reviewed Gertrude Stein Remembered by Linda Simon.

Don't forget, one May reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of
Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett, courtesy of Serpent's Tail!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

"Italy in Books" - May reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011! What? You haven't joined yet? No worries, there is time to sign up until the very last day of the year...

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in May (via
this link). I am sure that everyone will find it useful to learn about new and interesting reading ideas - in fact, I suspect that as a result of this challenge my TBR list will expand dangerously!

Whether you know the books that are being discussed or have never heard of them, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the blogs themselves. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not a mere competition, rather an opportunity to share ideas and bond over common interests!

Let's begin!

01. Jose read and reviewed
The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto.
02. Barbara read and reviewed
Juliet by Anne Fortier.
03. Maggie read and reviewed
Summer School by Domenica de Rosa.
04. Juliet read and reviewed
The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss.
05. Scribacchina read and reviewed
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous
06. Gretchen read and reviewed
The Italians by Luigi Barzini.
07. Tina read and reviewed
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
08. Christy read and reviewed
The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace.
09. Patricia read and reviewed
A Child Al Confino by Eric Lamet.
10. Lindy read and reviewed
Poison in the Blood - The Memoirs of Lucrezia Borgia by M.G. Scarsbrook.
11. Pete read and reviewed
Rubicon by Tom Holland.
12. Dorla read and reviewed
How Italian Food Conquered the World by John F. Mariana.
13. Jeane read La vita quotidiana a Bologna ai tempi di Vasco by Enrico Brizzi. Scroll down to read her review.
14. Lara read I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga. Scroll down to read her review.
15. Lynn read and reviewed
Finding Positano by William James.

Reviews by non bloggers

La vita quotidiana a Bologna ai tempi di Vasco by Enrico Brizzi. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
La vita quotidiana ai tempi di Vasco is a little book which my Boyfriend bought me for Christmas when we were in Bologna. As he is from Emilia Romagna (more specific Romagna) and has this special 'relationship' with Bologna, he answered on reading the back cover description: 'E' vero!'. This is what made him buy me the book, which I enjoyed a lot and gave me now and then little smiles when I linked things with my own experiences.
'Quando incontro qualcuno che scuote la testa e dice che Bologna non e piu quella frizzante e anticonformista di una volta, vorrei domandargli piccato: 'Perché, te si? Hai ancora il sorriso e il cuore leggero di quando avevi vent'anni?'
I love the back cover of this book because it is as my boyfriend said, true. But not only about Bologna. This can be said about all our good old times ... . The description is also the best way to tell what this book is, but I will try to explain it without ruining the feeling I have about it.
The book itselves takes you through the eighties in Bologna, the start of Vasco, going to school and having your first girlfriend while growing up during those hard times which later we will think of as the good times. As I think is always the case, it gives a special feeling to read about something which takes place or is about a place, city, which you know. And even more special is that while I was reading this book, now and then my Romagnolo boyfriend was listening in the same room to Vasco .... perfect atmosphere!

I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga. Read and reviewed by Lara:

Once again I chose a novel that takes place in the Italian Region where I live, Sicily.
“I Malavoglia” is considered a classic of Italian literature, written by Giovanni Verga, the greatest representative of the literary movement called “verismo”, developed in the late 19th century, and characterized by the use of rural characters and everyday themes, often treated in a tragic manner.
Indeed, the story of the “Malavoglia” family is tragic. In spite of being great workers, the protagonists have been nicknamed “Malavoglia”, that means reluctant, unwilling. They live at the “house by the medlar tree” in a fishermen village, Aci Trezza, beautiful site that can be visited today (the house by the medlar tree has even been transformed in a museum).
The head of the family is the grandfather Padron ‘Ntoni. He lives with his son’s family: Bastianazzo, Padron ‘Ntoni son, is married with Maruzza, nicknamed “la Longa”. They have five children: ‘Ntoni (as the grandfather), Luca, Filomena (called Mena), Alessio (called Alessi) and Rosalia (called Lia).
The family live with the earnings obtained by fishing. They own a small fishing boat, called “la Provvidenza”. This fishing boat, that should bring them luck, given its name (Provvidenza means, in fact, “good luck”) will represent the origin of all family’s troubles.
Everything starts when Padron Ntoni attempts a business and buys a large amount of “lupins”, requested at that time in Sicilian markets. The load of lupins should be carried by boat by Bastianazzo to another town and then sold to make a profit. Unfortunately, Bastianazzo and the lupins are tragically lost during a storm. The family experiences a triple loss: the debt caused by the lupins which were bought on credit, the Providence to repair and the death of Bastianazzo. Who should be the head of the family now? Bastianazzo is dead and Padron Ntoni is too old. The young ‘Ntoni, who had left for the military service, returns to the village of Aci Trezza, but he does not accept the simple life of Aci Trezza society, having seen the splendor outside of his small village. He will not give any support to the precarious economic situation of his family, will turn to alcoholism and go to the prison after a brawl with a love rival.
Luca, the second Bastianazzo’s son dies while fighting at the battle of Lissa (1866). Maruzza, Bastianazzo’s wife, dies of cholera. The family loses their beloved “Casa del Nespolo”, while their reputation worsens until they reach humiliating levels of poverty. Moreover, it comes out that Lia, the youngest niece, has an illicit relationship with the rich Don Michele: when Padron ‘Ntoni hears this rumor, faints, falling to the ground. He has to be recovered to the hospital, and has no much awareness of what is going on. After that, Lia runs away and becomes a prostitute. Mena, because of the shameful situation of her sister, feels that she cannot marry her fiancée Alfio, and decided to remain at home, taking care of her brother Alessi’s children. Alessi, who is a fisherman like his father and his grandpa, with hard work manages to rebuild the family fortunes till they can repurchase the house by the medlar tree.
Now they are again the owners of their house and can move there again, even Padron ‘Ntoni, who is going to be released from the hospital. However, he will not enjoy this last moment of happiness, because he will die the same day he is supposed to come back home.
Why life has been so unfair with this family? Everyone could spontaneously wonder.
Life is never easy and the protagonists of this novel are a clear example of this. At the end the strength of the family will help them to overcome any misfortune obtaining a surrogate of happiness: anyone, not all of them, will be a part of the final equilibrium: not the young ‘Ntoni, for example, who has excluded himself by the family, but only those ones united by the same culture and values.
Verga adopts, when writing, an impersonal narration technique, reproducing some features of Sicilian dialect and constructing a personal language for each of the characters.
The landscape is so deeply Sicilian: the sea is generous, but terrible at the same time; the weather is unstable, sunny and hot as well as stormy and rainy; the house is familiar and comfortable and represents the place where everyone wants to be, safe and sound.

And remember, one May reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of
Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy, courtesy of Glen Grymes Husak. Buona fortuna!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Book review: The Silent Land

By Graham Joyce
Published by Orion Books

During their holiday in the French Alps, one morning Zoe and Jake are hit by an avalanche while skiing. They are fortunate enough to survive and they slowly make their way back to their hotel, which, with its lit-up windows and promise of warmth, appears like a mirage to the traumatised couple.

They soon find out, however, that the hotel is deserted. Food is out on the kitchen counters, the logs in the fireplaces are ablaze but there is no-one around. They also realise that the phones are not working and that both the TV and the radio emit nothing but static. They come to the conclusion that everyone has been evacuated due to the risk of further avalanches and they feel even luckier to have survived. Being cut off from the world doesn’t seem too bad in comparison to what could have happened. In fact, despite still being shocked by their near-death experience and completely exhausted, the new situation is almost romantic.

It is when they recover from their ordeal and are ready to leave their hotel and the equally deserted village that the problems begin. Cars break down, compasses stop working, paths lead them in circles, snow falls heavily. They feel disoriented and disconcerted but it is only as they start observing odd changes to their environment and even in themselves that the panic sets in. Panic and a possible yet surreal explanation to all that they’re experiencing: they have died in the avalanche.

Once this hypothesis - that many readers will no doubt have already considered - is there on the page, black on white, there is no going back. Is it possible that they're dead? A lot of things would make sense if that were true but others would remain inexplicable. Will Zoe and Jake have to spend the rest of their non-life on those skiing slopes? The questions are many and they might never be answered.

Once I picked up The Silent Land and started reading, I wasn’t able to put it down until I had finished it. On the one hand, I was obviously eager to know more about the couple’s fate. On the other hand, I was totally captivated by the story-telling ability of the author and the smart way in which his narration seems to move incredibly slow or incredibly fast according to the characters’ perception of passing time.

Not to mention that, despite the unreality of their situation, Zoe and Jake are extremely easy to empathise with and descriptions of the landscape are so vivid that it doesn’t matter if, like me, you’re reading this novel on a sunny day at the beach and you have never skied in your life. This book has everything it needs to be successful, including an extraordinary ending that won’t fail to amaze.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

LGBT challenge - Link for May reviews and prize draw

It’s May and the LGBT reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of
Serpent's Tail, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett.

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

• Read a book - fiction or non-fiction - whose author is LBGT, whose topic is LGBT and/or whose characters (even minor ones) are LGBT
• Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking
here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it
here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Happy reading!

"Italy in Books" - Link for May reviews and prize draw

It’s May and the “Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of author Glen Grymes Husak, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of
Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy.

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

• Read a book set in Italy or about Italian culture & language
• Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking
here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it
here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Buona lettura!

"Italy in Books" - April winner

16 reviews: a few books that I had heard of but mostly books that I wasn't familiar with. Another good month!

Did you miss the reviews? Fear not, follow
this link and catch up with all the bookish goodness! And if you’ve just come across the Italy in Books reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of
Duckworth Publishers, will receive a copy of Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine by John T Spike is:

Laura, who read and reviewed The Eternal City by Domenica de Rosa.

LGBT challenge - April winner

5 interesting reviews this month!

Did you miss the reviews? Don't worry, follow
this link and catch up with all the bookish goodness!

And if you’ve just come across the LGBT reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking
here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of
Duckworth Publishers, will receive a copy of Wilde's Last Stand by Philip Hoare is:

Lucy, who read and reviewed Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin.

Help! My wish list #22

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

In Search of a Distant Voice
By Taichi Yamada

Amazon's product description: A woman is trying to contact Kasama Tsuneo at a crisis point in his life. But she won't reveal her identity. Kasama is an immigration officer in Tokyo, struggling to live a ‘normal’ life after an event that happened eight years previously, when he lived in the USA. His arranged marriage is looming, and he's seized by a strange emotional fit. And then the disembodied voice begins. All Tsuneo can do is desperately chase this woman, and the mystery behind what happened eight years earlier over the sea.

Why I want to read this book: I enjoy Japanese literature but haven't read anything by this author yet. This sounds like a good place to start!

Monday, 2 May 2011

My favourite quotes

(…) what William James wrote on forgetting a word or name; a tantalizing, empty shape remains, almost but not quite defining the idea it once contained. Even as you struggle against the numbness of poor recall, you know precisely what the forgotten thing is not.

From "Saturday" by Ian McEwan

As I struggle each day to find exactly the right word in the right language, I like this quote because it clearly describes the feeling of knowing what you want to say even when you're not able to retrieve from your mind the combination of letters you're looking for.

What are your favourite quotes? Send them in and I'll share them with the readers of Book After Book!