The last book in the 26-books-in-52-weeks challenge has to be a self-published book. I’ve read many first-class self-published books, so as has been common throughout this challenge, I won’t be choosing just one.
First of all in the interests of full disclosure – I myself am a self-published author – or to use more up-to-date terminology I’m an indie-author.
But call them what you like – self-publishers, or author-publishers or indie-publishers – such authors are a growing presence in the world of publishing.
I would also say don’t be put off reading a book that is indie-published. Yes, there are some poor quality ones that have not been professionally produced, but there are also many diamonds.
The best indie-publishers have a completely professional attitude towards their books. It’s a given that they must be good at their craft. But they will also usually hire an editor and a proofreader at the very least, and sometimes both a book and a cover designer as well. Indie authors have to be commercially minded, they are in effect running a small business. So they will also have to spend time marketing, seeking reviews, and generally building up and communicating with their loyal readers.
So, below, in no particular order, I’ve listed some of my favourite indie-published books:
First of all three novels in the romance-plus genre (definitely not chick-lit):
Midnight Sky by Jan Ruth the first in a wonderful series of three. This author’s Wild Water trilogy is also well worth a read.
Who’d Have Thought It?by Christine Webber. This was a most enjoyable story and Christine has a new book out in January.
The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen. This is the latest novel by this prolific Australian author. It’s a truly heart-warming read.
Then in crime fiction:
Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh the first in the marvellous Beatrice Stubbs series of detective novels set all over Europe and so amazingly original and entertaining.
Book 25 has to be a book that has won an award. No stipulation as to year or type of award has been given – so this is another broad category.
For my own sanity – and yours – I decided to set my own somewhat narrower criterion. So I kept the choice to awards won this year.
What surprised me as I began my search and trawled through the many longlists, shortlists and award winners was the fact that I hadn’t read many of them. I don’t know if that says more about me or the lists.
So in the end, although I was able to pick one to be my book number 25, it’s actually one I haven’t read yet. But the only reason I haven’t is that I hadn’t heard of it. I wasn’t aware of its release or its prizewinning status before my research. And, although I didn’t set out to pick a Scottish based award or a Scottish author, it’s a wee bit of a bonus that it worked out that way.
It’s a book by an author whose work I love. I’ve read and reviewed (click on the book titles to read my reviews) both Archie and The North Wind and The Girl on the Ferryboatby Angus Peter Campbell, so I was delighted to discover he has a third novel out. It is called Memory and Straw and it won the 2017 Saltire Society Literary Award for Fiction. It looks every bit as magical and beguiling as Campbell’s previous books and has now been added to my to-be-read pile.
Here’s the back cover description:
A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.
You’ll have to watch this space to see what I think of it after I’ve read it.
And so, readers, over to you now – what award-winning book would you choose – and what criteria would you apply to your choice?
Book number 24 in the challenge has to be ‘a book set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year’.
There’s not a lot of this year left and I don’t plan on going anywhere far away or exotic before 2017 ends. However, I am planning to visit Edinburgh at least once to catch up with family and friends before the end of December.
So, let’s just go with Edinburgh – although strictly speaking it’s only an hour away by train from where I live – and visiting the city itself won’t be the main purpose. I hope that’s acceptable.
And for a book set in Edinburgh I’d have to go with any of Ian Rankin’s crime novels. Narrowing it down to one, I’d go with the one I read most recently – Rather Be the Devil.
This one, like its predecessors features the now retired, former Detective inspector, John Rebus. And although retired Rebus can’t quite give up getting involved in criminal investigations. I love that Rankin’s novels are set in the city where I was born, grew up and raised my own children. Rankin depicts a grittier more realistic version of this sometimes over-glamorised and romanticised city. Like any urban area it has its darker side. But Rankin does it with affection and he does it justice.
If the book 24 challenge had been ‘a book set somewhere you’ll be visiting next year’ then that would have been truly a visit. Next year I’ll be going to Australia. The main purpose will be to visit family, but we also plan lots of sightseeing too.
So I’ll bend the rules here a wee bit and include three of my favourite books set in Australia.
Firstly a book I read and loved when I was at high school – A Town like Alice by Nevil Shute.
Secondly, a book I read a couple of years ago – the fabulous – The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
And thirdly, a book I read very recently and reviewed here – the romantic and heart-warming Champagne for Breakfast by Maggie Christensen.
Can you come up with any books fitting category number 24? And yes, we’ll allow places you’ll be visiting in 2018.
Book number 22 in the 26-books-in-52-weeks challenge has to be a memoir or journal.
I enjoy reading books which come into this category. I like that they tend to follow a particular theme or a specific period of time in the author’s life. This makes them less dry than straight forward biography or autobiography. For me a good memoir or journal will present the reader with thoughts, stories and reflections that they can relate to, be inspired by or take comfort from.
Out of the many memoirs/journals that I’ve read, six spring to mind as worth a mention.
Three journals themed around the natural world
The Wilderness Journeys by John Muir: Muir was born in 1838 in Dunbar in Scotland and he is credited as being the father of American conservation. His name has become synonymous with the preservation and protection of wilderness and wild land. At over 600 pages it’s a big book bit it’s an easy and rewarding read. It’s a collection of Muir’s writings gleaned from his journals. And in the words of the back cover – These journals provide a unique marriage of natural history with lyrical prose and often amusing anecdotes, retaining a freshness, intensity and brutal honesty which will amaze the modern reader.
Findings by Kathleen Jamie: Jamie is also a Scot and her writing is exquisite. From the book’s back cover – It’s surprising what you can find by simply stepping out to look. Kathleen Jamie, award winning poet, has an eye and an ease with the nature and landscapes of Scotland as well as an incisive sense of our domestic realities. In Findings she draws together these themes to describe travels like no other contemporary writer. Whether she is following the call of a peregrine in the hills above her home in Fife, sailing into a dark winter solstice on the Orkney islands, or pacing around the carcass of a whale on a rain-swept Hebridean beach, she creates a subtle and modern narrative, peculiarly alive to her connections and surroundings.
The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane: McFarlane, is an English nature writer and in this book he records and reflects on his thoughts whilst out walking in the natural landscape. From the back cover – Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.
Three memorable memoirs
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: Irish-American author, McCourt was born in New York but grew up in Ireland and in this book he writes about growing up in poverty in Limerick. It is honest, funny and poignant writing. From the book’s back cover – Frank McCourt’s sad, funny, bittersweet memoir of growing up in New York in the 30s and in Ireland in the 40s. It is a story of extreme hardship and suffering, in Brooklyn tenements and Limerick slums – too many children, too little money, his mother Angela barely coping as his father Malachy’s drinking bouts constantly brings the family to the brink of disaster. It is a story of courage and survival against apparently overwhelming odds.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson: In complete contrast to the above memoir, travel writer, Bryson’s account of his childhood in the 1950s and 60s in Iowa is laugh-out-loud funny. From the back cover – Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.’ In this deeply funny and personal memoir, he travels back in time to explore the ordinary kid he once was, in the curious world of 1950s Middle America. It was a happy time, when almost everything was good for you, including DDT, cigarettes and nuclear fallout. This is a book about one boy’s growing up. But in Bryson’s hands, it becomes everyone’s story, one that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.
The Learning Game by Jonathan Smith: As a teacher myself, I found lots to relate to in Smith’s account of his teaching career. From the back cover – We are all caught up in our children’s lives. We all remember our own schooldays and, as parents, we watch anxiously as our children go through it. As we look at the world of teaching from the outside we wonder not only what is going on but what we can do to help. Jonathan Smith, a born teacher and writer, takes us on his personal journey from his first days as a pupil through to the challenges of his professional and private life on the other side of the desk. He makes us feels what it is like to be a teacher facing the joys and the battles of a class. How do you influence a child? He describes how you catch and stretch their minds. What difference can a teacher make, or how much damage can he do? Should clever pupils teach themselves? What works in the classroom world and what does not? And while influencing the young, how do you develop yourself, how do you teach yourself to keep another life and find that elusive balance? This is a compelling and combative story, warmly anecdotal in approach, yet as sharp in its views of the current debates as it is sensitive in its psychological understanding. From the first page to the last, and without a hint of jargon, this inspiring book rings true.
So, are memoirs and journals something you enjoy reading? If so which ones stand out for you?
This, for me, has been the trickiest choice so far in the 26 Books Challenge. Reading in general is a life-enhancing, life–improving activity as far as I’m concerned.
Life in general is improved by books
The reading of books has the potential to educate, inform and guide. And besides that, and perhaps even more importantly, books – be they non-fiction, poetry or fiction – have the potential to improve a reader’s emotional and mental health. And all of this applies from infancy to old age.
Throughout my reading life there have been books that have made life better. There have been books that have challenged and inspired me, and books that have reassured and comforted me.
Being more specific
I do realise I haven’t answered challenge number 21’s question yet. Like I said it’s difficult. I’ll start by narrowing it down. Let’s go non-fiction. I have a fairly large collection of guide books and phrase books which are a reflection of all the places I’ve travelled to over the last 40 years. All of them proved useful and contributed to the specific area of ‘getting to know planet Earth’.
I also have how-to and hobby books and these include ones on cookery and gardening. It’s debatable how much the cookery ones have improved the specific area of producing delicious meals. But I like to think that my abilities in the specific area of stopping the garden invading the house have been improved by reading gardening books.
A specific book
Okay, I know, I can’t keep avoiding the challenge. So I’ll stick with non-fiction and narrow the focus right down.
In every garden I’ve had (and there have been a few) one of the main joys has been watching the birds who come to visit. And going beyond the garden, seeing water fowl or sea birds or birds of prey while out walking has been an uplifting privilege. But without my, now (like myself) rather aged, copy of Collins Complete Guide toBritish Birds I wouldn’t know a wren from a sea eagle. It’s been my go-to reference book for many years. And, yes, it has improved the specific area of my life known as passing oneself of as an expert. Though most of the time I wing it. (see what I did there?)
Unlike most of the other books in this challenge, number 20 was an easy choice and came to mind immediately. Originally written in Swedish and subsequently translated into English (the language in which I read them), this dark, psychological, crime thriller trilogy ranks amongst my most favourite ever reads.
Okay it’s three books but to me they’re very much a unit. The set consists of:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005)
The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006)
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest (2007)
The translator is Reg Keeland for publisher MacLehose/Quercus
For me these novels were compulsive reading. The main characters in all three books are Lisbeth Salander – a damaged, feisty, feminist, techie fighter for justice, and Mikael Blomkvist – an investigative journalist – and they are a totally beguiling partnership. The stories are intriguing, shocking and completely gripping.
I read them all before seeing either the TV series or the film versions and, yes, the books were better.
So, what about you? Have you read any good, or maybe not so good, translated books?
Book number 19 in the challenge has to be a book with a one-word title.
At first I could only think of a couple that I’d actually read, but with a bit of effort I came up with several more.
My list started with books read in childhood up to the present. Below are some of them –
From my schooldays:
Heidi by Johanna Spyrie
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Greenvoe by Georg Mackay Brown
From my time at university
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Room by Emma Donoghue
My favourite one-word title
But my pick of the list I came up with has got to be Unless by Carol Shields.
Carol Shields is one of my all-time favourite authors. I aspire to write like she did.
In Unless, published in 2002, she tells what appears to be a simple tale of the ordinary, the domestic and the everyday. But it’s so much more than that. This is ‘women’s fiction’ at its most meaningful and best, and indeed it defies and subverts this narrow categorisation.
Unless is a feminist take on twenty-first century, family life and the insight and wisdom of Shields’ writing still applies today, fifteen years after its publication.
Shields was a Canadian writer. Her most famous book The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer prize. Sadly, Carol Shields died in 2003 whilst still only in her forties.
Back Cover Blurb for Unless: Reta Winters has a loving family, good friends, and growing success as a writer of light fiction. Then her eldest daughter suddenly withdraws from the world, abandoning university to sit on a street corner, wearing a sign that reads only ‘Goodness’. As Reta seeks the causes of her daughter’s retreat, her enquiry turns into an unflinching, often very funny meditation on society and where we find meaning and hope. ‘Unless’ is a dazzling and daring novel from the undisputed master of extraordinary fictions about so-called ‘ordinary’ lives.
So over to you – what is your favourite book with a one-word title?
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Prohibition did it no harm
Book number 18 in the challenge has to be a book that was previously banned.
Originally published privately in 1928, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover wasn’t widely available until it was picked up for publication by Penguin at the end of the 1950s. But before it could be released for sale the book was banned. Its contents were described as including unprintable words during the obscenity trial that ensued. However Penguin won the case and the full unexpurgated version of the novel went on sale in 1960. Millions of copies were sold.
The book tells the story of a love affair between an upper-class woman and a working class man and it seems that this cross-class relationship was judged almost as offensive as the sexually explicit language.
It wasn’t the first of Lawrence’s books to be banned. Two of his earlier novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love were also initially blocked from being released.
Of course things have moved on considerably and nowadays Lawrence’s writing would hardly raise an eyebrow. But exploring sexuality as he did in a lot of his writing was considered pornographic at the time he was writing.
However, by the time I was at high school in the 1970s, Lawrence’s work was considered respectable enough to be included in the reading list for the upper school literature syllabus. I read both The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers while I was at school. And, yes, for a teenage school girl they were fairly shocking reads but the message from our teacher was definitely that we were reading first-rate literature.
I went on at university and beyond to read more of Lawrence, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and he’s an author I have huge respect for. He wrote thought-provoking and engaging stories. And he didn’t just write about sexual relationships. He also wrote about emotional and mental health, about living life in a way that’s spontaneous and true to the self, and his female characters were strong and unconventional women.
Yes he was controversial and his writing was ahead of its time, but banning his books only served to raise their profile and the profile of the issues he wrote about. His writing paved the way for novels that were more broad-minded and inclusive than what had gone before. The rights and wrongs of censorship is a whole other post topic, but having his work banned has done nothing to sully Lawrence’s long term reputation as a first-class writer.
Book 17 in the 26-Books-in-52-Weeks Challenge has to be a book that can be read in a day. So a category in complete contrast to book 16 which had to be over 500 pages long.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a whole novel in a 24 hour period. This is probably due to the fact that I mainly read in bed at night, so no matter how gripping the story might be, the need to sleep wins out in the end.
Some children’s books, however, easily fit the category.
For example there are the ones I read to my pupils when I was a primary school teacher as well as the books I read to my young grandchildren. Favourites would include:
The Gruffalo,The Gruffalo’s Child, The Gruffalo’s Wean ( Scots version of The Gruffalo’s Child) The Stick Man, – heck just about anything by Julia Donaldson.
Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Scott Nash
The Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
And I’d also like to include some fabulous and slightly off-the-wall graphic novels for older children. They all provoke great discussion:
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Way Home by Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rogers
Tuesday by David Wiesner
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
There are some books for grown-ups that I have actually read in a day and they’re a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine and these are the LADYBIRD BOOKS FOR GROWN-UPS.
My particular favourite is The Husband. It’s hilarious.
So over to you – what books would you suggest for this category?