Category Archives: Blog

Moving…

Hello all.

This is just a very quick note to say I am moving over to a different blog. There are many different reasons behind this move. Most are dull. The main one is because I have begun to dislike this blog. The word ‘Discs’ just makes no sense any more and there are far too many jumbled ideas and no cohesive thoughts. For me, this blog doesn’t seem the best place for me to chat about books anymore (also, OMG, so much spam!). Anyway…

I won’t be deleting this blog as there are links around pointing here for interviews with authors, etc. I do hope you swing by and keep reading my thoughts on books and my inane projects. Please do come along to utterbiblio.wordpress.com and see what’s going on.

Thank you for visiting Dog Ear Discs over the last two years (ish), you are all lovely.

Kisses

x

Fresh Start

Below are three questions I have been asking myself over the past couple of weeks…

  • As a sufferer of Depression, Anxiety and an “Obsessive Personality Disorder” (Wheeee, now there’s a diagnosis!) do I feel confident doing what I do here?
  • Am I being the best blogger I can be?
  • Am I the best writer I can be?

Recently, for one reason or another I have taken a hit to my confidence. I have found myself doubting my own opinions and abilities. I have just finished writing a review of Benediction by Kent Haruf, a book I am very passionate about, and yet I felt as if I’d said everything before. The writing was dull, it lacked any character…

Add to this that I have felt a little jaded recently towards blogging and it explains the lack of posts here and, possibly, the drop in confidence. For some time now I’ve had about six reviews that have needed writing and each time I sit to put down my thoughts I freeze. I end up closing the laptop and picking up a book to read instead. It’s not because I don’t like blogging – I love it. It’s not because I’ve read bad books – they’ve mostly been brilliant. I think I pushed myself into a hole and am struggling to climb out.

The three questions above keep cropping up. I am not navel gazing (to quote a friendly blogger) and I’m not looking for sympathetic head tilts, but it is true, I do suffer from those problems. My every day routine is full of nuances from those disorders that I have to battle. Only the slightest slip in confidence is enough to make me want to hide under the duvet and never come out. One day I may write a little more about how these things affect me on a day to day basis, but let’s just say they’ve thrown an emotional spanner in the works.

I don’t feel I’m a very good blogger. I am inconsistent and while I would love my OCD to push me to blog more often, it sadly doesn’t. So, I’m going to impose a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to move on to the next book until I have reviewed the one I’ve just finished and at least scheduled it on here. I also feel as if my writing never truly conveys what I want to say, so I need to work out how to do better. I have started writing for other websites and literary journals, so I am hoping that working under an editor helps to flesh out my writing a little more. I am declaring a fresh start. I will be writing mini reviews of the books that are waiting to appear on the blog (which will appear tomorrow) and from then on I will try to be more consistent.

I don’t tend to delve into my private life here that much, but I just wanted to say thank you to those people who pop by and read my ramblings, to those who comment and my very good Twitter friends. It has helped greatly while I have been going through recent problems in life. I don’t think people truly realise how much of an effect they can have on somebody through something as minuscule as this book blog. A few months ago I went through a very dark time in my life (for the second time) and my family and friends (both IRL and through book blogging) helped me to carry on.

Here’s to a fresh start!

Cuban Dreams

cuban-flag-oldI blame this project idea on Stu. Recently I’ve been reading more and more translated fiction and also chatting to Stu on Twitter. I always enjoy reading fiction from other countries and as Stu dedicates his blog to doing just that, it’s only right that I say I am wonderfully inspired by him. Now, I hope this project works, it will be tough to work it all out, but I will give it a damn good go.

In May 2008 my wife and I flew to Cuba for our honeymoon. While we were there we experienced both the luxuriant beauty, but also the poverty that wracks the country. I fell in love with the people and made some very good friends while we were there. The Cuban people are the most friendly and warm. Despite many of them having nothing, they give, give, give. I remember a tour guide of ours who took us into the town of Morón telling us that he qualified as a high school teacher, but gave up his dream of teaching in order to work in tourism because the money was so much better. While he smiled, you could see a sadness in his eyes and over coffee he explained how much it hurt  to admit such a thing.

On the same trip, the beauty of the people shone in one specific moment. We were drinking in a bar and listening to a Cuban band play when suddenly there was a massive crack of thunder that shook the building. The first rain of the year had arrived and with the grounds so parched, this became a sudden cause for celebration. Within moments we were pulled to our feet to celebrate and dance in the rain with the locals. I’ve never seen such smiles for rainfall and it humbled me, made me thankful for what I had at home. As we left the bar we walked through the rivers running down the road and watched children splash in the gutters, a picture of joy.

large_detailed_road_and_physical_map_of_cuba

I miss being there, I miss the smiles, I miss the sounds. So, in May I am aiming to read Cuban fiction. I want to spend the entire month reading Cuban translated fiction and Cuban authors, but this will depend on just how many books I can gather together. So far, I have a small list of books that I will attempt to obtain. Here’s the list:

  • Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier
  • The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier
  • Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabera Infante
  • Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas
  • Adios, Hemingway by Leonardo Padura
  • Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez

If there are any books you think I’m missing or want to recommend, please let me know. Also, if you have any tips for places to buy them from (that isn’t Amazon) shout. The plan will be to read them in some sort of order so if people want to join in, they can. I will update my progress on Twitter, Goodreads and of course, on here.

Short Thoughts – Bettering Myself by Ottessa Moshfegh

Short Thoughts is a new feature on the blog that will highlight short fiction, essays and creative nonfiction that I have been reading.

Bettering Myself by Ottessa Moshfegh
Featured in Spring 13 issue of The Paris Review.

This story is a heartrending snapshot of an alcoholic depressive who teaches in a Ukrainian school in New York. The story opens with delicate descriptions of the school and as the tale progresses it becomes darker and littered with seedy ideals. It’s a blackly funny story that highlights the mannerisms and behaviour that comes to this woman in her life.

The desperation in her life is hinted at in the second paragraph “I kept a down filled sleeping bag in the back of the class” it is revealed after that this is to sleep off constant hangovers between classes. It goes further and spirals into a trough filled with booze and mistaken sex.

Her interactions with students often brings the comedy as she is truthful with them, blunt in fact. She is open about her occasional forays with sex and often puts her head on her desk and asks her failing students for help. The atmosphere of the story is summed up easily “The floor was black-and-piss-colored checkerboard linoleum. The walls were shiny, cracking, piss-colored walls.”

The writing was tight and witty, the story entertaining, but I wish it lasted slightly longer. The ending was rather abrupt but fitting for the story, I just wanted to see more of the downward slope of the central character. I came away very interested in reading more from Moshfegh and I hope it follows the same vein as this short piece.

How I’m Solving The Kindle Conundrum

Anyone who follows me on Twitter may have noticed I while I go I tweeted the following:

“Been staring at my Kindle TBR for about an hour. Can’t decide what to read. I wonder if it is because it’s just a list of grey writing?!”

This was then picked up by Cat Dean at Canongate and discussed a little in one of their blog posts. It has been bothering me ever since. Once upon a time, I hated eReaders… with a passion. I wrote many blog posts detailing how they were horrible items and I’d never own one. The soon changed once I saw many benefits to owning a device, but recently I have found myself shunning it for various reasons. One of the predominant causes is as listed above. Whenever I come to choose a book to read, my Kindle gets forgotten and even if I pick it up and browse it, nothing jumps out.

To me, this issue arises because my base reasoning for choosing a book is a tactile sensation. I like to stand in front of my TreeBooks and view the spines, read the synopsis on the back or inside the dust jacket. I like to feel the heft of a novel and weigh it against others and the eye is naturally a major part of this selection process. Despite sound advice, I tend to choose books by the cover, but also by how the spines catch my eye or the style of the font that is used.

When clicking through the list of books on my Kindle I lose everything single one of those things. [Now, here is where I say that I own a basic model Kindle, no flashy screens or covers art for me] So, for me, my eyes can’t be attracted by a lovely font, nor can my hands interact with the delicate embossing on a book jacket. I am given a formal, bland and grey list. Gone is the impulse inspiration that a real book gives you. However, my Kindle still means something to me. So how can I solve this issue, without needing to use my tablet or buy a Kindle Fire.

While my solution doesn’t add any of the tactility of a real bookcase, I have decided to be as ruthless with my Kindle as with my book culls. I decided the only way to get around this is to limit what I see on my Kindle. I created a new collection and decided that I will only have ten books within that folder and no more. I trawled through the 81 unread titles on the unit and selected the ten books that appeal to me the most and popped them into the new collection. Then I deleted everything else.

I know, Kindles are great because they can hold so many books, but sometimes that is an issue. We have all been spoiled for choice before and I feel that is one of the issues I have. The beauty of this technology is that I can delete everything and just redownload them in the future. My plan is to work through the ten books in the collection and then choose ten more to replace them, eliminating many from choice and cutting down on the time spent looking. Granted, it is never going to be like standing in front of bulging shelves, but something had to be done other wise I will miss out on the books I genuinely want to read but often forget about.

It isn’t a foolproof idea. I may still forget to check it and may forget to replenish the selection, but we’ll wait and see. I’ll report back to see if my Kindle reading increases with this new plan, or not. For those interested, the ten books I chose for the collection were (in no particular order):

  1. Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
  2. Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes
  3. The Best of all Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
  4. The 10pm Question by Kate Di Goldi
  5. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  7. The Rest is Silence by Carla Guelfenbein
  8. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
  9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  10. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
* and yes, I purposely left out any images on this post for wry and witty reasons. Ithankyou!

Gender Bias

Recently there was a great discussion on the best platform for discussions – Twitter – about why men don’t seem to read more women authors. It is something that genuinely puzzles me. Please don’t expect to find any answers here, these are mere ponderings that ought to probe for reasons rather than reveal them. During my small trip to London last week I had the same conversation with everyone, the question being “Why don’t more men read books by female authors?”

I’m a man, [I double checked this morning] and I have my own views on this topic. I have frantically searched for possible reasons and have come up with the following to start us off.

  • Upbringing and childhood environments
  • Pure sexism (As also suggested by the wonderful Jane Harris)
  • Naivety

Now, before I start to explore these ideas let me lay out some things. When I choose a book I don’t look for the gender of the author. It bothers me none. To be honest it matters not whether a book is written by someone whose sexual organs dangle or not. If anything I lean towards reading more fiction that spills from the pens of women. As stated, I am a man, if I want to escape [which is why I read] I want to escape into the different. I want to read the inner workings of someone who may, quite likely, think differently to me.

This could be linked to my upbringing. I was raised by a single mother – my father having abandoned me before I was even forced through the birth canal. Does this leave me more open and susceptible to women and their opinions and/or feelings? Of course, I am connected quite strongly to my mum, nobody’s thoughts or feelings matter more to me. Does this sway my habits? I am also a married man and father to three girls [It would be hard to pump more oestrogen into my daily life]. I feel a duty (and a pride), in a way, to be more open to women and their creative output.  I want to set an example for my daughters to help them to grow into strong women [Maybe I’m also more open to exploring my emotions after the death of my eldest daughter?!], and as I said, I enjoy reading different approaches to certain topics. Would I think and act differently had I been raised with a male presence in my home or if I had a raft of sons rather than daughters?

I am not in any way attempting to justify those who don’t read fiction written by a woman. We all after all come from women; they raise us at the most tender points of our lives. So, maybe it is just sexism?

Of course this opens a whole new can of worms. I would let you make up your own mind about this. Let’s be honest, sexism is still rampant in our world in the same way that racism and homophobia lingers where it should not. If we open this can of worms, we should be opening the cans that are labelled “novels by people of colour” and “LGBT fiction”, also. I can’t delve into this world as I have no direct experience with it. So, let me just leave these quotes here that come from female authors on Twitter:

From D.E. Meredith (author of crime fiction featuring male protagonists) – “I had a man who said “I don’t read women’s fiction” about my books having no idea what or how I wrote.”

And from Jane Harris (author of literary/contemporary fiction) – “Men often tell me how much their wife/mother/aunt enjoyed my books with no sense of how insulting it is.”

Also, here is one from a female book blogger, Kate, who hits the following topic dead on – “Some men clearly have no concept that there’s a difference between books by women and books for women.”

Here is where naivety comes in [though some may have a stronger word for it]. Do men generally put off female writers because they believe they will always be reading the next Sophie Kinsella? Do they fear opening the novel and having to read “chick-lit” just because a woman’s name graces the cover? Should the publishing industry be doing more to push fiction by women into male hands? Do the covers of certain books put off a male reader who would actually be quite open to the story being told? Are men scared by what they might read? Guys, if you open The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, you won’t find a copy of The Female Eunuch inside!

The thing is some men are missing out on some wonderful fiction. The likes of Rebecca Hunt, Barbara Kingsolver, Maria Semple, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Maggie O’Farrell, Daphne Du Maurier and Hilary “best current writer on the planet” Mantel – are slipping under their radars.

It all comes down to equality. Women can be terrific writers, as can men. Women can also write badly, as can men. Women think with their brains and feel with their hearts, as do men. [You can’t see, but I’m doing the “I don’t get it” shrug of the shoulders].

So, what do you think? Let us have a reasonable conversation in the comment section below. Why do you believe this divide exists? What can we do to change perceptions?

*U.S. podcast Books on the Nightstand also covered these ideas recently on episode #221 ‘The VIDA Count’

Discombobulated

Last week I visited London to meet many of the lovely people in publishing and blogging who I have dealt with over the two year lifespan of this blog [It’s almost two years, but let’s just round it up, hey?!]. I was invited to a tea party at Bloomsbury and utterly enjoyed my two days surrounded by books and wonderful people. However, upon my return I felt as if a switch had been thrown in my brain and suddenly I’m debating what kind of reader I am and why this blog is here. So, the easiest way to figure things out is to stumble blindly onto aforementioned blog and ramble.

goat-faceI suppose the switch was flicked when I sat down in the Bloomsbury offices and had to “introduce” myself to the group. Honestly, it was like an Alcoholics Anonymous for the Broke and the Bookish. I said my name, where I blogged and because I wasn’t reading anything on that particular day I was asked what genres I generally read. I actually don’t know. I mean, you only have to skim this blog to see that I read a bit of everything – from YA to “literary fiction”. But I’m missing out on so much. I also have people saying [with tongues firmly in cheeks] that I only read new releases and that’s true.

I suppose this revolves back around to the blog and my intentions when I read. So, let’s ask, why did I start my blog? Well, I’ll tell you the same story I told everybody last week. None of my friends read, none of my family read [well, occasionally] so I had nobody to talk to about the best fucking books that I have read. I started this blog so I could hold a massive neon arrow and point it at the best pieces of fiction and tell you that if you didn’t read it I would kick a bag of kittens into a river. That’s why you rarely see negative reviews on here; life is too short to read something that doesn’t entertain at its base value. If I don’t like it, it won’t get covered.

However, at times I have lost sight of that. I started to only read the books I truly wanted to experience and I discovered greats such as Gatsby, Bell Jar and Catcher. But, recently, I’ve wandered into a dead end in this maze of mediocrity. I’m too busy scanning the review pile or keeping an eye on Twitter because I feel I have to keep up with everyone else. I’ve forgotten why I read and that is to experience the written word and what comes with it.

At my last count I totalled up my TBR pile and was shocked to see the number hit 353 titles. [There are people out there who climb into the thousand’s and they are both terrific and terrifying]. I’m so busy keeping up with the Joneses that I’m blinded by the shiny and lose track of the dusty greats in said TBR. Book blogging has turned me into a Magpie and while I do enjoy reading on the cusp of publishing I want to explore more. So, why don’t I? Well, I don’t want to fall behind others. I feel pretty fucking ashamed of that but we live in a society where we have to keep up and run with the others. I have even reached a point where my “blogging voice” has deteriorated. THIS is how I talk and how I write in an informal position and this is how it will stay. [It’s hard to know whether the curse words will stay, I’m pretty raged up, right now]

But now the switch has flicked, I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to explore more short goat1fiction. I want to explore more nonfiction. I want to explore people writing in essay form. I want to submerge myself in words until I’m dizzy. But, I still want to read new novels by debut authors. Or by established authors who knock out successive hits. I want to discover what I love and what I hate. I want to learn to establish the confidence to say what kind of reader I am.

I’ve decided that my blog will revert back to its true form. It will be a place for me to tell you about great books. So, I’ve made a list of rules, commandments, if you will. I will attempt to stick to these with a rigidity only found in the legs of fainting goats.

  1. I will not covet my neighbours books. As of now, I will try not to be led astray by the shiny covers of new books [as much].
  2.  I shalt read what I want to read, when I want to read it. Reading is about spare of the moment choice. I’m sick of lining up books in the order they need to be read. As of now I will pick up and put down books as I want and will not bend to pressure.
  3. I will review thy review copies in a sensible fashion. I’m pretty lucky to be sent lovely books by publishers. I know they want coverage of a book out there so that other people may discover it, but I cannot write to deadlines within my hobby. I will always aim to review a book within four weeks of its release… if I miss that I’ll get up out for the Paperback. And in the words of certain publishers, I will learn to relax.
  4. I shall not race myself to finish books in record times. I’m a slow reader and I need to accept that it’s fine.
  5. I will not be ashamed if I read a “literary” book and don’t understand it on many different levels. There is too much pressure to “get” these kinds of books and I’m done with that. If all I get out of it is enjoyment then that is fine. I’m sick of searching for hidden meanings in order to fit in. JOG. ON.
  6. I will lose myself within literary magazines and explore new avenues of the written word. And not worry that I’m not actually reading a book, instead.
  7. I will discover more obscure books and older novels that have slipped past me.
  8. I will always bring you, the reader, and me, my true blogging voice.
  9. I will no longer use star ratings as books cannot be summed up in small JPEGs, but in words from the heart.
  10. I will blog because I enjoy blogging [and reading], even if I forget to do it occasionally or have little time because my children are driving me crazy and/or there is something awesome on TV.

For serials, these things have been bothering me and I feel like these goats… [Yes, more goats!]