Rebeki ROOTs again in 2018
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Last year was my first year in this group and it had a very positive impact on my reading. I read a total of 20 ROOTs in 2017, beating my target of 16. By concentrating on those books that had been sitting on my shelves for a while, getting to some of my new acquisitions before they became ROOTs and culling books I no longer wanted to read, I managed to get my end-of-year TBR total down to 195 from 220 this time last year. This is the first time in my life that the numbers have moved in that direction!
I'm not the quickest of readers (by LT standards) and I struggle to concentrate on a book when life gets busy, so I'm increasing my target by just two this year, to 18. Ideally, I'd like to read some of the longer books on my TBR pile and setting too ambitious a goal will discourage me from doing that.
As well as reading books I already own, I'd really, really like to buy fewer books in 2018, but I say that at the start of every year...
1. Vacant Possession by Hilary Mantel (bought in 2013)
2. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (bought in 2017)
3. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (bought in 2010)
4. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa (birthday present 2017)
5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (bought in 2012)
6. Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant (bought in 2016)
7. Le Fait du prince by Amélie Nothomb (bought in 2015)
8. The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith (bought in 2016)
9. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann (bought in 2008)
10. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (bought in 2008)
11. Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou (bought in 2017)
12. Fair Play by Tove Jansson (bought in 2017)
13. A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym (bought in 2016)
14. All That I Am by Anna Funder (Christmas present 2013)
15. The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher (bought in 2009)
16. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Christmas present 2017)
17. The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (bought in 2017)
Welcome back and have a great reading year! Good idea to account for the longer books when setting your goal.
Good for you for having less TBRs at the end of 2017 than at the beginning. Good luck with your ROOTing in 2018!
Hi Rebecca, I also moved here this year to track my older books. I'll be following your thread. Happy ROOTing!
>1 Rebeki: By concentrating on those books that had been sitting on my shelves for a while, getting to some of my new acquisitions before they became ROOTs and culling books I no longer wanted to read, I managed to get my end-of-year TBR total down to 195 from 220 this time last year.
This is great! Looking forward to following you this year.
>2 FAMeulstee:, >3 floremolla:, >4 tess_schoolmarm:, >5 rabbitprincess:, >6 cyderry:, >7 Familyhistorian:, >8 Deern:, >9 connie53:, >10 detailmuse:, >11 MissWatson: Happy New Year, all, and thank you for stopping by my thread!
Last year it was hard enough keeping my own thread going, but I hope to make more time this year to visit others'.
I'm happy to say I've finished my first ROOT for the year:
1. Vacant Possession by Hilary Mantel
This sequel to Every Day is Mother’s Day is set 10 years later, in the mid-eighties. While Muriel remained a somewhat opaque character in the first book and ultimately under her mother’s control, here we have access to the inner workings of her mind as she takes charge of her life – with horrifying results.
Her sights are set on the Sidney family, older, even more chaotic and occupying Muriel’s old home, and Isabel Field, her brittle former social worker. Old connections are revealed between the characters and new ones emerge, with Muriel poised at every moment to turn the situation to her advantage.
Muriel is simultaneously awful, fascinating and pitiful and it is impossible not to admire her cunning and her ability to slip into different guises. The events of the first novel prepared me for the fact that things would not end prettily, but this is a humorous novel above all, so I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
It goes without saying that Mantel’s writing and observations are razor-sharp, and I enjoyed the shift in decade. Both books featuring Muriel Axon read like period pieces in terms of their cultural references – the DHSS and the three-million unemployment figure crop repeatedly in this novel – but feel as fresh as if completed just last week.
>14 tess_schoolmarm: I had the same feeling, but dodging the BB because they are not translated into Dutch.
I'm not managing to keep up with LT anywhere near as much as I'd like, but I'm squeezing in a couple of reviews before the month end:
2. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
I started this book as something light to read alongside Alone in Berlin and ended up racing through it.
The elderly and recently widowed Mrs Palfrey arrives one gloomy Sunday to take up residence at the Claremont Hotel. She is not at all sure she is going to enjoy this change of lifestyle, but, being a resilient woman, determines to make the best of it. While the majority of guests are tourists or other short-term visitors, Mrs Palfrey soon gets to know a handful of other elderly long-term residents. Their routines and personal quirks and foibles are described to great comic effect but are also very believable. In this isolated existence, a visit from a relative confers great status and, feeling at a disadvantage on this point, Mrs Palfrey is pleased to make the chance acquaintance of a charming (and penniless) young man.
This novel is funny and warm-hearted and easy to read, but is also matter of fact about the loneliness of old age and the unwitting cruelty of younger generations towards their elders. A poignant, bittersweet read.
3. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
I have had this book for almost eight years, but it has taken me this long to summon up the courage to read it. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it concerns an unremarkable middle-aged couple, Otto and Anna Quangel, who decide, in their own small way, to take a stand against the Nazi regime by distributing anti-Hitler postcards. Based on the real-life case of Otto and Elise Hampel, it is clear how things will end, but, for all that, I found it a surprisingly enjoyable read.
With its curious mix of past and present tense narration, which took a little getting used to, the writing feels very immediate, and although at first events seem to unfold slowly, as we are introduced to a cast of secondary characters and the cautious Otto decides on his plan of action, the pace picks up as the first postcards are found, and a cat-and-mouse story ensues.
Most books I’ve read that touch on life under the Nazis have tended to deal with the situation for Jewish people, with people attempting to escape to other, safer countries or with people who are part of an organised resistance, so it was interesting to see what life was like for “ordinary” Germans, decent and otherwise, under this oppressive and poisonous regime. Through the character of Inspector Escherich, the Gestapo officer initially in charge of the investigation into the mysterious postcard distributor, we can see that no one was exempt from the poison and terror.
In spite of the inevitable conclusion and the limited impact of the Quangels’ campaign, there is a feeling of redemption, that the Quangels, and others like them, have won because they have kept their integrity. Through one of the purely fictional plotlines, Fallada also chooses to end the novel on a hopeful note, which, from an author who clearly had plenty of troubles in his own life, I very much appreciated.
I am now interested to read more of Fallada’s work. At times I found the down-to-earth writing and the flawed characters reminiscent of Patrick Hamilton, a favourite author of mine and another troubled soul, and I imagine this similarity may come through even more strongly in some of Fallada’s other novels.
>17 Rebeki: and >18 Rebeki: Great reviews! I loved both these books, of course each in a very different way. In case you haven't read it yet, I thought The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers was very impressive. It's set early in the Nazi area, way pre-war, and tells the story about a fugitive camp prisoner (camps were then for political prisoners), and how immensely difficult it was already in the early years to find or provide help, to do the right thing.
>18 Rebeki: the Quangels, and others like them, have won because they have kept their integrity
So often, a hard-fought battle.
almost eight years
I think it's been on my wishlist that long (as Every Man Dies Alone) and I haven't yet summoned the courage to acquire it. It helps to hear that you enjoyed it.
I, too, liked Mrs. Palfrey... comical and devastating.
>19 Deern: Ha, yes, they are both very different. I needed to read something lighter alongside Alone in Berlin, although, as detailmuse says, Mrs Palfrey is also devastating.
I've come across the name Anna Seghers several times, but never read anything by her. The Seventh Cross sounds interesting. The other book of hers I've heard of is Transit. Have you read that too?
>20 detailmuse: That's true. It seems an important message in these times.
I've been shying away from books dealing with war and totalitarianism, but this wasn't as hard-going as I'd feared, and I now feel ready to tackle some of my other depressing-sounding ROOTs!
>21 floremolla: I really liked Hangover Square, although I'm afraid to say I found it more depressing than Alone in Berlin! Both Hans Fallada and Patrick Hamilton suffered with addictions and died relatively young.
>22 Rebeki: oh dear, it brings an added level of pathos knowing the writer was suffering as he wrote - but perhaps that’s why they were able to convey such emotion in their novels? Maybe I won’t delve after all!
>23 floremolla: As long as I haven't put you off Hangover Square! Actually, I just did some delving myself and Wikipedia says this of Hamilton's The Gorse Trilogy, one of my ROOTs: "the hostility and negativity of the novels is also attributed to Hamilton's disenchantment with the utopianism of Marxism and depression." By contrast, it describes Hangover Square as a black comedy, so that sounds quite a lot sunnier!
>24 Rebeki: I'll move it up the TBR list then, could do with something sunny! :)
>22 Rebeki: Yes, I read both, and they're very different in story and pace. TSC is a feverish story (at least in my memory) I couldn't put down. Transit was a slow book that reflected the atmosphere very well, boredom on the one side with all the waiting for, well, transit, but overshadowed by the constant fear for life.
They were also different in their use of language, TSC using an old-fashioned storyteller German, Transit being more factual and even. But my memories are a bit fuzzy, as always.
Oh dear, poor neglected thread. I have been reading and ROOTing, making sure to update my ticker, but getting round to writing reviews and keeping up with LT has been the problem. So, catching up:
4. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
Noo Saro-Wiwa is a journalist who was born in Nigeria but moved to Britain at a young age. As a child, she was forced to spend her summers in her country of birth, but these visits ceased in her early teens and, following her activist father Ken Saro-Wiwa’s imprisonment and murder in Nigeria, never resumed. This book is the result of Noo Saro-Wiwa’s attempt to face her demons and visit the country with fresh eyes and an open mind, as a tourist might.
I have no particular desire to visit Nigeria, but have a fascination with it all the same, probably as a result of reading and enjoying some contemporary Nigerian fiction. Before I read Half of a Yellow Sun I had no idea that Nigeria as a country was made up of various ethnic groups, with none of them forming an overwhelming majority. After reading Looking for Transwonderland, I realise that the country is far more diverse than I could have imagined. For instance, I’d never heard of the Ogoni people, to which the Saro-Wiwa family belong. While the author feels at home in the south of Nigeria – or as at home as her English accent and habits allow – the Muslim north is a foreign country to her. It is a wonder that these various regions have been put together to form one state, or perhaps not when you learn that it’s the result of a late British colonial takeover.
This book is more travelogue than a history though, and one that would probably not have been half as interesting without Saro-Wiwa’s dual insider/outsider perspective and understandable mixed feelings towards the country of her birth. The main message I took away was that Nigeria is a diverse country of great natural wealth and beauty and with a rich history that, without the government’s focus on oil above all else, and the concomitant corruption, could flourish as a tourist destination and as a desirable place to live. It’s hard not to share Saro-Wiwa’s frustration at the missed opportunities.
5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This was a slow read at first, as I adjusted to Dickens’ style of writing, but soon became a page-turner. I’m slightly ashamed to say that, not having been exposed much to Dickens at school (presumably because his books are far too long to make convenient subjects of study!), this is only the third work of his I’ve read. I enjoyed and admired David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, but this is undoubtedly my favourite Dickens so far.
I think my pleasure was enhanced by the fact that I visited Rochester in January, the unnamed town closest to the blacksmith’s forge where Pip’s early childhood is spent. The weather was pretty good for that time of year, but I could easily picture the eerie marshes where Pip has his rendezvous with the prisoner Magwitch, and we stayed not far from Dickens’ inspiration for Miss Havisham’s house. However, I always enjoy a good coming-of-age story and Pip was a likeable if flawed hero. It was easy to empathise with him, even when his behaviour was unworthy, particularly as he is narrating this story from his older, wiser perspective.
Miss Havisham and Estella are characters so well known that you do not need to have read Great Expectations to have an idea of them, but it was wonderful to meet them properly at last, and to understand the reasons for their cruelty. My heart melted for loyal Joe, and I loved the character of Wemmick and the description of his home life (and its strict separation from his professional existence). The twists and turns of the plot felt a little soap opera-ish at times, but I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t care and, while suspecting that all was not as Pip believed and hoped, I’m not sure I fully anticipated the main plot twist.
I have no idea why I left it six years before trying another Dickens, but I’m determined not to do that again. I suppose thus far I hadn’t been able to shake the view that Dickens was “too difficult” to be enjoyable, but Great Expectations has persuaded me that I should be aiming for at least one of his works a year.
6. Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant
This is the third book I’ve read by Linda Grant. I adored When I Lived in Modern Times and enjoyed but was less bowled over by The Clothes on Their Backs; I would place this book somewhere between the two.
The setting for much of the novel is the campus of a new university – a barely-disguised University of York – in the early 1970s. Adele, a resourceful outsider in the mould of the other Grant heroines I’ve encountered, has wangled her way onto an English undergraduate course and is discovering a world in which every act is political. Her detachment from and scepticism of the doctrines and philosophies of the day make her an easy narrator to identify with for those of us who remember little more general debate during our student days than whether the Spice Girls were a good or bad thing! Adele makes friends from a range of social classes and backgrounds and I really enjoyed those characterisations, particularly Gillian and Bobby.
Among those friends is the ethereal and fragile Evie, with whom she becomes fascinated to the point of obsession. The reader knows from the outset that she is somehow a tragic figure and the first half of the book – the book is split into three parts, but the first part is as long as the other two put together – builds up to the fateful event. The second part concerns life after university, although the friends have mostly drifted apart, and in the third a reunion of sorts takes place and Adele, whose obsession with Evie has never waned, is finally able to clear up the mystery surrounding her friend.
I love Grant’s engaging and apparently effortless style of writing and was engrossed in the story, enjoying how Adele’s perceptions of how things were during her student days are later revealed to be rather wonky. At times, though, the narrative did seem a bit unstructured and I felt frustrated that, much as I found it easy to identify with Adele as a character, I was unable to understand her obsession with Evie. I really did find Gillian a much more interesting character. Overall, a good read and a book I would recommend to others, but probably not one I’ll be reading again.
7. Le Fait du prince by Amélie Nothomb
Nothomb’s short novels never fail to draw me in and I love to escape for a brief time into her slightly absurd world. In this book, an unremarkable Frenchman leading an unremarkable life assumes the identity of a wealthy Swede whose existence differs from his own in every way. The plot doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny and is pretty self-indulgent, but I didn’t care, because I enjoyed it immensely!
8. The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith
In spite of having a new baby, and being “co-director” of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Mma Makutsi has plans to open a restaurant. Meanwhile Mma Ramotswe is investigating the case of a woman who has lost her memory. Since each book in these series follows a certain formula, I find them impossible to review, but I seem to enjoy each of these gentle reads as much as the last – a lot, that is!
9. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
This book has been sitting on my shelf for exactly 10 years, and it is only now, prompted by a Rosamond Lehmann read in the Virago Modern Classics group, that I’ve got round to reading it. I’d spotted The Weather in the Streets in a discount bookshop, but, having bought it, realised that it concerned characters first introduced in Invitation to the Waltz. I promptly ordered a copy of the latter and then... I’m not sure what happened. Anyway, it won’t be long before I pick up the sequel, because this was quite wonderful!
It is early winter 1920 and Olivia Curtis’s 17th birthday. Her life thus far appears to have been a happy but sheltered one, but in a week’s time Olivia will be attending her first ever dance and she senses that things may be about to change. The novel covers a limited time span: Olivia’s birthday takes up part one, while, in part two, we experience with her the highs and lows of the dance. However, we learn much in that time about Olivia’s character – there’s a wonderfully described encounter with a door-to-door lace-seller – and her family’s social standing and position within the village.
It was delicious to share in Olivia and her elder sister Kate’s anticipation of the dance, not least their wavering expectations of the young man their mother has invited to escort them, the depiction of whom, when they finally meet him, had me laughing out loud. I read the second part more or less in one go so that I could breathlessly live the whole dance through Olivia’s, and, to a lesser extent, Kate’s eyes, as Lehmann intends. The characters are wonderfully drawn and, in kind-hearted Olivia’s succession of awful partners, I recognised some “types” I’d come across in my younger days. Towards the end of the book there’s a foreshadowing of what may be to come in The Weather in the Streets. I suspect that will be a different kind of book, but, in this one, I loved the sense of youthful hopefulness and wonder, not to mention Lehmann’s writing that seems to fly off the page, carrying the reader with it.
Excellent reviews - well worth waiting for! I've wishlisted one of Linda Grant's novels - I'm not familiar with her work but it sounds interesting.
I agree with you about Dickens, I wish I'd read his novels sooner - I've read Bleak House, Great Expectations and David Copperfield in the past year or so and enjoyed them immensely. I think you'll like David Copperfield which is loosely based on Dickens own life. I especially liked his childhood years even though there was that soap opera quality you mention.
BTW Hangover Square Reminded me of film noir with its melodrama and people with wretched lives. Glad I read it though as I appreciated the black comedy.
>27 Rebeki: I have Looking for Transwonderland on my wishlist already, someone read it last year in the Category Challenge group and it sounded right up my street. Well done on the others too! I've not read any Dickens for years, and haven't read Great Expectations at all (my absolute favourite is David Copperfield, which would be due for a reread if I hadn't got so many unread books still to go as well!), but I too love the description of them as soap opera-ish (and no worse for that!).
I also like to indulge in a Nothomb book every once in a while, usually once a year to keep up with her publishing speed of once a year. She has such great ideas even if some of her books feel like only the second draft of the idea and I wish she would carry the ideas a little further but I just oh so live her creativity and witty dialogue. But her semi-autobiographical books are certainly my favorites.
>33 floremolla: David Copperfield was the first Dickens I read, but I'm sure it'd benefit from a re-read. I'm trying to figure out which one I should try next, so it's interesting that you mention Bleak House.
Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed Hangover Square. Have you read Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky? I think that may still be my favourite Patrick Hamilton, though it was agonising to read at times: if it'd had been a TV programme, I'd definitely have been shouting, "Don't do that!" at it!
> I think you'd enjoy Looking for Transwonderland. And, on Dickens, it was partly the soap opera-ishness that made Great Expectations such a page-turner, so I'm not complaining either!
>35 lilisin: I try to read one Amélie Nothomb a year too, though I'm quite a way behind, so should probably up it to two or three this year! I agree with you about the semi-autobiographical books: Stupeurs et tremblements blew me away when I first read it. But I find her writing irresistible in all cases.
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