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petermc reconnecting in 2016

Club Read 2016

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1petermc
Edited: Feb 2, 2016, 4:22am Top

After a longish absence from reading, I've decided the only way to stop thinking about work at home is to start reading again. So I've returned to LibraryThing and here is the list from January to date.

As you can see books 1-7 sees me hoping back on board with Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series. I read the first 10 books over the course of the last 5 years, and these actually represent books 11-17 in the series; read in order of course...

1. The Wings of the Sphinx
2. The Track of Sand
3. The Potters Field
4. The Age of Doubt
5. The Dance Of The Seagull
6. The Treasure Hunt
7. Angelica's Smile

I've just gotten my hands on one of the most recent translations, Game of Mirrors, but had already started reading book 8 (below), so will save it up for a rainy day. However, I must try and pace myself, these books are so short and easy to read, it's too easy to get through one in a single sitting.

As I read these, the latest books show a trend I don't particularly like: a) Montalbano hoping into bed with a different female in each book under the guise of a middle-age crises, but more likely because Camelleri is starting to run out of new ideas, and b) a weakening link between books which I felt was a strength in the first half of the series.

Book 8 is the first in the Martin Beck mystery series, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, written in 1965. It took about 3 evenings to read and I finished it tonight.

8. Roseanna

I have all 10 books in this series on my iPad Kindle app, and will be reading them in steady progression. I thoroughly enjoyed the 60's pre-internet feel of Roseanna, and will immediately commence The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966).

After many years of a largely non-fiction diet only, this year will mark a proper return to the fiction shelves. It will center around mystery novels initially, and from there... who knows? Let's see where the mood takes me :)

2dchaikin
Feb 3, 2016, 9:44pm Top

Goodness Peter, what a pleasant surprise. Glad you're posting again. Hope all is well (in Japan? Australia?). Enjoy the mysteries. CR is tempting always tempting me with mysteries, like this Maltabano seris. I haven't given in yet.

3petermc
Edited: Feb 6, 2016, 5:59am Top

Daniel, it's a genuine pleasure to hear from you again. Yes, I'm back in Japan after several years in Australia. And talking of Japan, here's a Japanese expression that I feel is appropriate here: "hisashiburi desu ne", which basically means "it's been a while, hasn't it!", or "long time no see".

I see on your profile page you are currently reading two books I've previously enjoyed: Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, and Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. Swallows and Amazons particularly brings back many, many happy childhood memories. Although I find it interesting that despite my love for this book, I never did pick up any of his others, such as Coot Club and Swallowdale.

I'm now about half way through The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, and am enjoying it immensely. I'm finding the whole 1960s feel of these novels appealing too, as I also grew up just before the age of the Internet, smart phones, and smoking bans! I was completely taken aback for example when Beck lit a cigarette on an international flight, as it's been about 25 years since it was banned (I know there are some third-world exceptions), but then I remembered having travelled internationally myself before the ban. Hisashiburi desu ne!

4dchaikin
Feb 6, 2016, 9:16am Top

I know there was smoking in planes through my childhood but I actually have no recollection of the smoke, for all that I flew. Strange. It seems so odd to me that is was ever permitted. (I do recall never having to sit in the back of the plane. I miss that. )

I'm attempting to read Swallows and Amazons to my son. Not sure yet how it will go. And In a Sunburned Country is my audio book.

5petermc
Edited: Feb 7, 2016, 8:36am Top

9. The Man Who Went Up In Smoke by Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

The second of ten books in the Martin Beck mysteries, written in 1966, when journalists travelled with a typewriter and in-flight smoking was the norm. In this novel, Beck has his summer holiday interrupted when he is called in to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Swedish journalist Alf Matsson in Budapest, Hungary.

With so little to go on, Beck struggles to make much headway and it's not until the end of his stay in Budapest that a life or death struggle provides some new insights into the case. As with the first novel, Roseanna, we need to wait for the second half of the book for the investigation to gather steam and resolve itself, and red herrings abound.

The first half of the book largely focuses on establishing settings and characters; and as with the first novel, albeit less explicitly, Beck's melancholic mood, which permeates the book and dictates his actions, seems deeply rooted in his dissatisfaction with his marriage. You can almost hear the ticking of the time bomb, we just don't know when it will go off.

6thorold
Feb 8, 2016, 7:26am Top

>5 petermc:
I read all ten of the Martin Becks last year: something that was definitely well worth doing. Are you reading them for the first time? The man who went up in smoke didn't really grab me as much as some of the others, but I enjoyed the "insider view" of the hotel trade that you get.

7petermc
Feb 8, 2016, 8:26am Top

thorold,
Yes, this is the first time to read the series. I was drawn to it after watching season 5 of the excellent TV series, starring Peter Haber as Beck, and Mikael Persbrandt as Larsson. Of course, none of these episodes were based on the original books, which had long been exhausted by that point.

8qebo
Feb 8, 2016, 4:22pm Top

I check Club Read every so often for familiar folks, am pleasantly surprised to see you've returned!

9petermc
Feb 8, 2016, 7:21pm Top

qebo
A genuine pleasure to hear from you again. For many years I was going through a lot of big life changes, such as two international moves, new jobs, promotions, etc..., and I had no time left for reading (and consequently LibraryThing). Now, as head of senior schooling, my workload has doubled yet again, but this has actually forced me to return to reading as a way of reducing stress. So here I am :)

10SassyLassy
Feb 9, 2016, 12:12pm Top

Good to see you back. I'll be following the switch to fiction with interest. The Martin Beck series is definitely a good one.

11petermc
Edited: Feb 13, 2016, 10:01am Top

Thanks SassyLassy. I've been accumulating a lot of fiction over the years; it's about time I started working my way through it. I won't be deserting non-fiction entirely however.

It's a wonderful coincidence that your posted actually, as I recently read your excellent review of The Real Oliver Twist - Robert Blincoe: A Life that Illuminates an Age by John Waller, with great interest. My son is currently rehearsing for a school production of Oliver Twist, and I've been reading excerpts of the book to him, and had been wondering where and how Dickens got his insights.

12petermc
Edited: Feb 13, 2016, 10:02am Top

10. The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

The third in the ten novels that make up the Martin Beck mysteries. A violent mugger is on the prowl in the parks of Stockholm, causing Larsson no end of angst, when stress levels intensify with the discovery of a young girl's sexually abused body in the same park as the last mugging. Now the police are looking for two men - the murderer, and the mugger who Beck believes can help identify him.

I will confess that the ending was something of an anti-climax, and the character development and plotting were not up to the level of the first two novels, but this is a solid police procedural that shows that homicides are not just solved through team work and perseverance, but also pure good luck.

13petermc
Edited: Feb 13, 2016, 10:01am Top

A small break before the fourth Beck book, as I read The shifting of the Fire (1892), the first novel by Ford Madox Hueffer, as he was known before changing his name to Ford Madox Ford in 1919.

I've always meant to read one of Ford's books, not because of the critical acclaim afforded The Good Soldier and the Parade's End Tetralogy, but because he was the grandson of Ford Madox Brown; an artist I've always admired, closely linked to my favourite artistic movement, the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I decided to start with his first novel, which despite Ford's own dim view of it (and all his works preceding The Good Soldier), sounds to have an air of P.G. Wodehouse about it. And I like P.G. Wodehouse!

14RidgewayGirl
Feb 13, 2016, 10:09am Top

I was also enchanted by the 1960s feel of Roseanna. A world where you wait hours for an international call to be patched through and police records are requested by mail is so foreign to life now. I'm eager to read the second book soon.

15petermc
Feb 16, 2016, 9:40am Top

>14 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for dropping by RidgewayGirl, in the third book of the series they talk about how computers will change how police work is done. I think it was Larsson who suggested they use one to break down a door, but don't quote me on that.

16petermc
Feb 16, 2016, 10:08am Top

I must confess, I'm not enjoying The Shifting of the Fire terribly much. It has all the elements there for a true Wodehouse romp, but it's all too earnest and falls rather flat. I don't know if I'll finish it.

By chance, another novel landed in my lap (figuratively speaking) today... The Relic Master: A Novel by Christopher Buckley. I read the first chapter this evening, and am debating whether to bother with chapter two, or just go back to the Martin Beck series and get on with book four.

On a positive note, I've been loving a recent addition to my Jazz collection... Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). I really don't know why it's taken me so long to acquire this gem, as it is frequently listed in the top 10 jazz albums of all time. I'm guessing it's because I've not been a fan of the avant-garde and subsequent free jazz movement in the past, but am finally beginning to appreciate their importance to the development of jazz, and the philosophy behind it. However, at the end of the day, no matter how you try to interlectualise it, the fact is... it's just damn good music!

17petermc
Edited: Mar 17, 2016, 10:49am Top

11. The Fourth Secret by Andrea Camilleri
This 2014 novella was originally published as a short story in La paura di Montalbano (2002), and was translated by Gianluca Rizzo and Dominic Siracusa, rather than Stephen Sartarelli, who has translated all the novels. As a result, if you are used to (and like) the novels, the characters in this translation, while recognisable, come across as actors thrown into roles already made famous by others. They never quite measure up!

If you're a Montalbano junkie, this novella will certainly give you your fix, and I really liked some of the elements within. It felt fresher than the latest novels. Contemplating that I suddenly realised - this is from 2002 - before Camilleri fell into a formulaic rut that has, from my reading of reviews for the latest translation (The Beam Of Light), continues, tiresomely, to extend even into that.

What's the story about? Death of a labourer on a construction site is not what it appears. Need I say more? Yes? Too bad, read it for yourself ;)

18petermc
Edited: Jul 17, 2016, 8:26am Top

Work is all consuming! I honestly don't have the time or energy to read outside of my holidays. So, it's been pretty quiet on this thread. Fortunately, I am on holidays now, and have been catching up on my reading as much as I can before work smacks me down again.

Starting with a breezy read...

12. Sushi and Beyond by Michael Booth
Despite living in Japan, I totally missed the publishing of this book in 2009. However, the recent, and very enjoyable, animation series based on the book did not miss my notice. My wife subsequently found the book in a local secondhand book shop and bought it for me. This is a light and enjoyable read, and is a wonderful introduction to Japanese food and cooking. I love everything about Japanese food and cooking (I have lived here for 16 years!), and while it held no great revelations for me, I felt it well worth the read, if only to reaffirm what I aleady knew or believed.

Then, it was time to finish off the 10 books in the Martin Beck police-procedural series, having last seen Beck back in February in the third book in the series.

13. The Laughing Policeman (1968)
14. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (1969)
15. Murder at the Savoy (1970)
16. The Abominable Man (1971)
17. The Locked Room (1972)
18. Cop Killer (1974)
19. The Terrorists (1975)

I'm quite sad to have left Beck's company. I've read some reviews that mention how he almost becomes a peripheral character at times, which is true, but despite that, it is still Beck that ties all the characters and events together. As the series progressed, the authors' political leanings and beliefs began to be more vigorously asserted. Sometimes, whole chapters became a vent for the authors' frustrations on the state of Sweden as it was in the 60s and 70s, which did become slightly irksome. Later, as I read into the authors' backgrounds, I'm now more amazed that they didn't go further. Never-the-less, great series, great books, wish there were more!

19petermc
Edited: Aug 1, 2016, 11:13am Top

After the Beck series it was quite difficult to find another book I could sink my teeth into, but finally I was excited to discover the recently published English translation (from the German) of Volker Ullrich's 2013 critically acclaimed book, Hitler: A Biography: Ascent 1889-1939 Volume 1.

I have just reached chapter 7, "Landsberg Prison and Mein Kampf", and I can say that, so far, this is a highly readable and insightful work of scholarship. Having read Ian Kershaw's two volume opus, I can say that Ullrich's similarly divided two volume history is by far my preferred biographical treatment of Hitler the man.

The author pays homage to Kershaw's work, but with access to newly unearthed resources and having read and analysed the huge volume of scholarship that has been conducted since Kershaw's book, Ullrich is able to shatter many of the myths that have persisted to this day about Hitler. For more information it is worth googling for reviews online - there are many!

20baswood
Aug 7, 2016, 7:43pm Top

Interesting to read your review of Hitler: A Biography: Ascent 1889-1939 Volume 1

21thorold
Aug 8, 2016, 8:11am Top

>18 petermc: great books, wish there were more Don't we all!

>19 petermc: Ullrich sounds interesting, but after reading both volumes of Kershaw and Er ist wieder da a couple of years ago, I'm not sure if I can face any more Hitler. I liked Kershaw, but I had the feeling that he was a bit too squeamish about engaging with whatever it was about Hitler that allowed him to fight his way to the top of the heap. Most of the book (especially the first half of Vol.1) was devoted to showing us all the qualities Hitler didn't have, to the extent that the rise to power started to feel like a kind of conjuring trick. Does Ullrich do this differently?

Group: Club Read 2016

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