July round-up – books etc

Although it wasn’t that long ago since I posted about my reading, buying and events, this was about May and June, so rather than delaying things, I thought I should get my act together reasonably early this time.

So this covers activities in July.

I completed six books during the period: five fiction and one non-fiction. There were four male authors and two females, and only one Ghanaian author! Plus two were read on Kindle, and the rest in physical form.

Here,  in the order that I finished them, are my July reads:

  1. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, by Robin Sloan [read for Accra Book Club; I preferred the first part of this novel, and didn’t really like the way it ended. Maybe I need to re-read it?]
  2. Late rain, by Lynn Kostoff [I guess you could call this a crime story, maybe Florida noir?]
  3. The kill artist, by Daniel Silva [pure escapism, but a good story nonetheless. I do like Silva’s hero!]
  4. Ghana must go, by Taiye Selasi [family saga or drama; very poignant and moving. I really liked it.  I think this is one of my favourite books of the year.]
  5. Holes, by Louis Sachar [I had seen the movie, and then came across the book. Not sure which one I preferred!]
  6. Taste – the story of Britain through its cooking, by Kate Colquhoun [I do like cookery and food books, and this one was pretty interesting]

The buying front was also pretty busy – and somewhat self-indulgent. I managed to acquire seven titles on my Kindle (or rather, to be read via a Kindle app on my new tablet) – including four freebies (yeah!) plus nine physical books. That definitely means that I will have to try to restrain myself a little in August.

I attended four book related events in July (previously discussed, so I won’t go into much detail) – and they were concentrated in the last couple of weeks. Two involved Taiye Selasi, who read excerpts from her first novel, Ghana must go,  to a packed audience at the Villa Monticello, followed the evening after by a discussion about how she finally made the decision to write her novel. Then Nigerian writer Chibundu Onuzo joined Martin Egblewogbe at an all too brief reading hosted by Nii Ayikwei Parkes at Sytris. And finally there was a reading by chick-lit/romance writer Nana Malone who gave a reading at the Goethe Institut. It was interesting to hear how she got into full-time writing, and that the self-publishing e-book route had served her well.

I am not sure what my plans are for August; I tend to decide on my reading on a rather ad hoc basis.   But I have plenty of works to choose from!

May and June 2013 reading

It is more than slightly belated, for a variety of reasons – including holidays 🙂 – but here are my bookish activities for the months of May and June 2013.

I completed eight books during these two months – with six male authors and two female (that’s a bit unusual for me).  All except one were fiction, two with an African focus, the rest from all over the world.  I did read half of the books on my Kindle – mainly because I was on holiday.

So here is a list of completed works:

  1. Chocolate nations – Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa, by Orla Ryan.  [Fascinating story behind Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire’s main agricultural crop]
  2. A whispered name, by William Brodrick.  [A fictional investigation of a historical incident in World War I]
  3. Broken glass, by Alain Mabanckou. [set in Congo Brazzaville; not the easiest of reads. Lack of full stops/periods meant this reader really had to concentrate!]
  4. Clea’s moon, by Edward Wright.  [Thriller set in post World War II Los Angeles]
  5. The magicians, by Lev Grossman.  [Fantasy, partly set in a magical college!]
  6. Canada, by Richard Ford.  [Story of a family broken up when the parents rob a bank; an Accra Book Club read]
  7. Haiti noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat.  [Crime/thriller short stories set mostly in Haiti; some of them were very spooky]
  8. Osama, by Lavie Tidhar.  [Fantasy/alternative reality which has eerie echoes of the last fifteen years]

I did buy a lot of books during these two months.  May was very busy – with visits to EPP (opposite Legon), Vidya’s, Wild Gecko (I couldn’t resist a Ghanaian cookbook on display in this gift shop), and University of Ghana, Legon, bookshop.  I also bought one book from someone who went to Nigeria, and others at Yari Yari Ntoaso.  June I bought books in several Barnes & Noble bookstores and also from a couple of independent bookstores.  Plus I did buy a couple of novels for Accra Book Club on my Kindle.

I attended only two events during the period – the inaugural  address by the new Ghana Library Association president, and the four day conference on literature by women of African descent, Yari Yari Ntoaso.  The last was especially exciting, even though regrettably I couldn’t attend all the sessions.

July is already looking to be another busy month, which I will report on at another time.

Some comments on holiday reading

Earlier this year I travelled outside Ghana, and considered myself quite careful in my choice of accompanying reading material: two books, plus a Kindle, were what I carried with me. I figured that I wasn’t likely to be doing too much reading, because of what was going to happen to my eyes, but at least there would be something to read on the plane trips and at other times.

So what did I chose? The first was an Accra Book Club choice: Geraldine Brooks, People of the book, which I thought I should read first since I was the one who suggested it in the first place, and I had chosen to “lead” or “facilitate” the discussion on this novel in June. Normally such a book would have taken me a week or less to read, but dealing with adjustments in eyes and reading glasses meant it took longer.

The second book was Farida Bedwei’s semi-autobiographical novel, Definition of a miracle, which I had ordered through Amazon, after hearing it was published but not having seen any copies here in Ghana. Yet another case of jumping the gun, as of course it is now available here in Accra! Oh well, no harm done. The author should benefit – hopefully. An additional reason for reading this book was that Bedwei’s story was on a list for consideration as an Ashesi-wide read. I admit I enjoyed it, and found her portrayal of a girl with a handicap amusing and touching. Her handicaps were accepted as part of her life, yet the main character did lots of reading, and had friends.

I was very glad I took my Kindle. I had bought it in 2010, and had downloaded a few items onto it, but hadn’t really, really used it. I am not sure why, but I suspect partly because I had/have so many physical books to read, that I didn’t really feel the need. But somehow for travelling having the Kindle was very appropriate.

And because my eyes were in transition, I really loved being able to increase the font size to compensate for my uneven eyes! And then to change it to whatever felt comfortable to me! The other great thing was being able to download books directly to the Kindle without the intermediary of my laptop. In Ghana I usually end up downloading books to my pc, and then push them to the Kindle – none of which is particularly arduous, I do admit!

Am I a total convert to e-reading?  No.  Am I a fan?  Definitely.   Will I continue to read electronically and in physical formats?  Oh yes.

My reading for December 2009

Since I’ve been on holiday for almost two weeks, I was able to finish a few more books than I would have done if I had been going to work.   As usual a mixture of the slightly literary with the slightly less serious…, interspersed with dipping in and out of some cookbooks, though not necessarily doing anything practical related to this.

I finally got around to reading Muriel Barbery’s The elegance of the hedgehog – in English though, unlike my ambitious sister who decided to read it in French!   I liked it, though I found the ending rather unexpected!

There are a couple of works with an African flavour:  Chris Cleave’s The other hand [also goes by the title Little Bee in the US?] and Work in progress and other stories.

Interestingly the former was a suggestion for the Accra Book Club, but one of the members had given rather negative feedback, so we didn’t add it.  I still read it though, and I can see why reactions could be ambivalent.  In a way, living in West Africa probably would tend to make me a bit more critical.  I liked the different perspectives, but I wasn’t sure that the plot really held together, though some of the individual sections were quite moving.  I somewhat resented the ending as being somewhat “colonial”.

The second work is a collection of short stories, including the five short-listed entries for the 2009 Caine Prize for African writing.  I had read a few of the stories before, and also personally know some of the authors of those who attended the 2009 workshop which was held outside Accra in April 2009.  So there was definitely an element of curiosity to see what the Ghanaian authors would produce.

With the exception of editor Ivor Agyeman-Duah’s An economic history of Ghana: reflections on a

half century of challenges and progress, and Pierre Bayard’s How to talk about books you haven’t read, both of which were books which I dipped into rather than read at a go, the rest of my reading for December 2009 was what most would call genre reading.

There were three crime/thriller novels, one science fiction/fantasy blockbuster and one slim volume which I had been unable to resist buying because it brought back memories of childhood.

David Baldacci’s The whole truth:  enjoyable and shall I sadly admit forgettable?

Stieg Larsson’s The girl who played with fire:  the second volume of the Swedish Millennium series.  Actually the Accra Book Club is reading the first volume as our January selection, which should be fun.  Some reviews were not so positive but I enjoyed this second volume, and the especially the focus on Lisbeth Salander.

Last of the crime/thriller trio is Colin Cotterill’s Disco for the departed:  Not heavy reading, with some comic elements.  Admittedly there was one strand in this book that didn’t relate too much to the main story, but even that was fun, in a slightly macabre sort of way.

I did finish Neal Stephenson’s tome, Anathem, which a colleague lent to me – with a warning that it really was a doorstopper!  Definitely not something one could read in bed!  It wasn’t easy; I realised rather too late that there was actually a glossary, which would have been a bit more useful had I noticed it earlier.  Although I enjoyed it, I wondered if it was too complex and too long…

And finally there was a return to childhood, with a paperback edition of Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The little prince, though regrettably I didn’t buy the colour edition.  😦  I wonder how much I got out of this book as a child, which I am sure I first read in French.

Holiday reading

I’ve been on holiday/vacation since Mother’s Day (10 May), so haven’t been reading as much as I would normally.  But by some standards, I wouldn’t be called totally idle.

I had heard of all the controversy about Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series, and I just couldn’t resist buying and reading a copy of Twilight, the first book.  It was OK, though I am not sure that I would go overboard in enthusiasm.  But it was certainly a good story.  Would I watch the movie?  Not sure.

Then a slight change of pace with an Icelandic mystery/crime story by Arnaldur Indridason, Silence of the grave.  It took me a while to get into the different time frames, and I am ashamed to admit that I found the names and geography just a little bit confusing, so was constantly referring to the map in the front.  The resolution isn’t too simplistic, and there are definitely some loose ends – mainly for the main characters who presumably carry on?

Another change of location with the book originally published as Q & A, and now titled Slumdog millionaire (by Vikas Swarup), obviously to cash in on the popularity of the award winning movie.   I am somewhat ashamed to say that I haven’t watched the movie – yet, but I did enjoy the book.  It was pretty gritty, which is something that didn’t really come through to me in reviews and discussions of the movie.  Or maybe I just didn’t absorb that aspect?

Most recent completed read was Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i, which my sister had recommended a long time ago.  Upon reflection, it is almost non-fictional but was still a good story about the impact of leprosy on one individual in the Hawaii of the late 19th century up to not so long ago.  It really gave me an insight into the impact of leprosy on individuals and their families in what one imagined to be a tropical paradise.  It did make me wonder what happened in Ghana before the advent of the present treatment for Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

What to read on a long trip?

I have already started thinking about what I should read on my forthcoming holiday.  It is a while since I’ve been on one, but suffice it to say that I don’t go on any trip without a supply of reading material – usually in excess, unless I am sure I will be somewhere where I can borrow or buy.    

Fiction or non-fiction?  Literary or light reading?  Thriller or crime? Science fiction?  Some decisions need to be thought about – though it is still rather early to put choices into a carry-on bag!  

The problem is that I don’t want to finish whatever I chose before the end of the journey.  Otherwise I will really be going crazy.  Of course, there would be some magazines to read – or rather skim through.  But that can be done in half an hour or so, maybe slightly more.  A movie or two to watch?  Sure, but then what else?  A snooze or a doze – sure – though I can’t really sleep when I travel, unlike some lucky people.

So at the moment it looks like fiction, probably on the lightish side, and a thriller…  But then it depends on what is on my “to read” shelves.