Tag: Bibliophile Biographies

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Posted December 18, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan HillTitle: Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home (Goodreads)
Author: Susan Hill
Published: Profile, 2009
Pages: 244
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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While searching for a specific book from her library, Susan Hill discovered that the book was not where she thought it would be. However she did discover many books that she had not read, or deserved a re-read. This inspired a new reading project, to spend the next year dipping into her own library and read the books she has forsaken. Howards End is on the Landing not necessarily charts her reading but more Susan Hill’s opinions on literature and the bookish world.

First thing you discover is that Susan Hill’s house is full of books, not sorted and no order. She had to search for the book she was looking for, expecting it in the one place but not finding it. I love having my library like this, I recently had to look for my copy of Anna Karenina and I just loved looking at all my books and remembering the stories and memories that go with each one. This is the basic premise of this memoir; Hill goes through her bookshelves and shares memories and thoughts she has about the state of literature.

Susan Hill goes on talking about her thoughts on being an author, the publishing world, self-publishing, libraries, bookshelves, re-reading and even the joys of reading slowly. I have recently discovered the joys of re-reading and reading slowly so on so many thoughts, Hall and I were on the same page. Even though we come from different lives, it was such a joy reading a book devoted to her memories of all the books that sit on her shelves, and scattered across her house.

I have tried to spend a year not buying any new books, in the hopes to read more of the books on my shelves. It did not work. I did however discover how great the library is and started using my local library more. I also discovered how easy it is to get books without having to spend money, especially ARCs. The book buying ban did not work, I still have shelves full of books I still need to read. I know my taste in literature has drastically changed, and I am not sure if I should cull some of these books even if I have never read them.

The end of Howards End is on the Landing talks about if she had to cut down her library to forty books, which ones she will keep. The thought of culling your library so drastically terrifies me but I did enjoy pondering which books I would keep if I did have to cull that much. Or maybe my house burnt down, which books I would rebuy to start my new collection. I know Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, Lolita, and most of the books on my favourite’s shelf would remain. However it is not about picking favourites, more about picking the books you would like to read over and over again. Which makes for an interesting thought process.

I am interested in the topic of memoirs in association with books like what is found in Howards End is on the Landing. My memories with this memoir will be closely associated with sitting in a hospital in Nouméa as my mother-in-law passed away. It gives me mixed feelings to love a book so much in such a sad time for my family. I even read this as an eBook on my phone, an experience I do not enjoy either but it was more convenient than carrying a book around.

I found Howards End is on the Landing to be one of the better books about books out there, I am disappointed that my memories of it will be attached to such a tragic event. I found Susan Hill to be very tender towards her love of books, while remaining unafraid to express why she did not like a book. She is never dismissive of the books she did not enjoy, she just does not have the desire to read them. I think it would be a hard balance to get that balance right without sounding like a cranky reader. Howards End is on the Landing will hold a special place in my heart and I do hope others get a chance to read it.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Posted November 19, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne FadimanTitle: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Fadiman
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998
Pages: 162
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Anne Fadiman has often stated that she learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill (correct title for this book is Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland. Ex Libris (which is Latin for ‘from books’) is a collection of essays that recounts her life and her love affair with books. This collection of personal essays documents her life and those small problems only a fellow book lover would truly understand. Like when Anne and her husband finally decided to merge libraries five years into their marriage in the essay “Marrying Libraries”.

I have to admit, I love Anne Fadiman; she is the embodiment of everything I want to be as a reader. She is smart, witty, a little wry and can talk about books with great passion and intelligence. She does come across as pretentious and throws in some quotes in French just to show off, however her writing is so beautiful and she talks about books, not just as a personal experience but also includes some literary criticism.

This collection recounts a lifelong love affair she had with books; exploring the joys and passion that comes with being a book lover. I love how she talks about books in the form of personal essays; it gives me a whole new concept about writing. I obviously knew about personal essays in the past but something about this book just opened my eyes and made me think “I should be doing this”. The way she talks about her reading journey in a collection of connecting essays is wonderful; it turns the book not into a linear progression but rather focuses each essay on an experience or book.

You might have noticed that when I review books I tend to put a bit of my personal life and journey into the blog post. The style suits me and because I want to think of my book blog as a personal journal into my reading life, I feel it fits that theme. Anne Fadiman has a similar idea but in the form of essays and she puts my writing to shame; I now aspire to write as elegantly as she does with wit and beauty within each essay. I am nowhere near where I want to be but practise makes perfect; right?

This is the kind of collection I plan to read over and over again. I obviously love books and Anne Fadiman has obviously set the bar high for future books. I started reading memoirs from bibliophiles because I wanted to learn different ways to talk about books. Ex Libris has taught me so much more about books and just reminds me how much I love books about books. I have a whole heap of other memoirs to read and to be honest reading about people’s reading life has given me an appreciation for memoirs in general. I want to read more styles; not just readers but writers and then progress to other types of creativity. I remember starting the year struggling through non-fiction but it looks like I am ending this year with a completely new attitude towards them.

Through the Window by Julian Barnes

Posted March 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Through the Window by Julian BarnesTitle: Through the Window (Goodreads)
Author: Julian Barnes
Published: Vintage, 2012
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Julian Barnes won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for his book The Sense of an Ending which has sparked a huge increase in this man’s popularity. To follow up (cash in) on the buzz the release of Through the Window followed soon after, which holds Seventeen Essays (and a Short Story) on the books and authors that have meant the most to him over his career.

I remember reading Julian Barnes’ essay A Life with Books, which really was just a look at his reading history and I absolutely loved it. So I was eager to read this collection to learn more about this wonderful author. What I found was this collection was very dry and this made it difficult to read. Barnes is a very intelligent man and he flexed his intellectual muscles to the point where it back very difficult to read for a pseudo intellectual like me.

While I found it interesting to read this author’s thoughts on Penelope Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kipling, Madame Bovary, Ford Madox Ford and George Orwell I tend to think Barnes wasn’t connecting to the reader like he did with his novels or the essay A Life with Books. It felt more like reading an academic essay more than just someone’s passion for these authors and books.

This is a difficult collection to get through, but people interested in learning more about Julian Barnes or these topics might find something in this book for them. I read this book as soon as I finished Ramona Koval’s By the Book, A Reader’s Guide to Life so it was difficult to go from a book with so much passion for reading to something so dry.

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Posted February 24, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtryTitle: Books: A Memoir (Goodreads)
Author: Larry McMurtry
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Pages: 259
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Larry McMurtry is known for his novels Terms of Endearment and his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, among many other things. But what people might not know about Larry McMurtry is he is also a rare-book scout.  Owning many second hand bookstores called Booked Up, McMurtry is always on the hunt for good books. Book is a memoir of adventures as a book seller.

Let’s face it, I love a good book memoir so I thought I had to check this one out, but I’m a little disappointed. At times in this book it felt more like bragging than actual book scouting; I don’t really enjoy reading a whole lot of “I found a book that was worth hundreds of dollars and brought it for mere dollars”. There needed to be a bit more about his love for the books and less showing off to really make this book enjoyable.

I think it would be cool to be a book seller or scout and it was interesting to read about his journey as one. I did actually visit all the second hand book stores in search for gems so maybe this book did have an effect on me. The only difference was, gems for me are the books I really want to read and not books that would make me money. I also would have enjoyed some more about Larry McMurtry’s reading life as well amd the books he was passionate about or recommends, but this just wasn’t there.

I think this book just lacked passion overall; I felt like Larry McMurtry saw books as money makers and there was no love for them. It’s an interesting book but now I know what to look for in a book about books, I don’t think I would pick up another book like this; unless recommended to me. Book sellers or book scouts may get more out of this book but I have a feeling that most would probably share my opinion.

One for the Books by Joe Queenan

Posted February 13, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

One for the Books by Joe QueenanTitle: One for the Books (Goodreads)
Author: Joe Queenan
Published: Viking, 2012
Pages: 256
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Joe Queenan is a humourist, critic and author from Philadelphia who become an avid reader as a means of escape from a young age. One for the Books is a memoir where Queenan tries to come to terms with his eccentric reading style.  Joe Queenan is not your typical reader, and One for the Books is not your typical book about books.

 Joe Queenan is a very odd and particular reader, he knows what he likes and this book is not really humorous but more self-deprecating. I thought I was a bitter and jaded person but Queenan puts me to shame, throughout the book it feels like he will never be satisfied and will always be a cranky reader. Even some of his opinions towards books and book collecting seem outlandish and weird for a reader like me but it works for him and you can’t really argue with that.

I was looking forward to reading about someone who is a grump with a passion for book and while this was explored in this book, I think he took it too far sometimes. I know it is his personal opinions but the way he talked about hating people giving him books or even recommending books to him was just a little too far; he is old and set in his ways but I tend to think a little kindness towards others, especially when giving you a gift isn’t too much to ask for.

Joe Queenan is like that weird relative that everyone has; not sure what he is thinking, always set in his ways and you don’t want to get him drunk. This book is really interesting and I enjoyed his approach to this book. While his opinions differ from my own in some aspects, he really does love reading and this doesn’t always come through in the book but you know it is there.

One for the Books is really different to any other book related memoir I’ve read and that is what makes it so interesting. If you don’t want to read about a grumpy old man’s opinions towards reading then you don’t want to read this book. If you want something different then give it ago. I’m happy to have read this book; it makes me feel almost normal when it comes to my opinions on reading and books.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Posted February 10, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar NafisiTitle: Reading Lolita in Tehran (Goodreads)
Author: Azar Nafisi
Published: Hodder, 2003
Pages: 347
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir of books read by Literature professor Azar Nafisi’s literature class during the revolution (1978-1981) up until her departure in 1997. Divided into four sections “Lolita”, “Gatsby”, “James”, and “Austen”, this memoir explores the lives of the students in a private literature class and the books that brought them all together. This is an inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, and a moving look at the power of art and its ability to change and improve people’s lives.

I really enjoyed this book; the blend of literary criticism and memoir was really what hooked me. I especially loved the first part that focused on Lolita and the themes of oppression, authority figures trying to assert their dominance through events and a runaway convict. It was just an interesting insight from these Iranian students. It really made me want to read Lolita again and try to see what more I can get out of the book; luckily for me I might get that chance soon with the Literary Exploration book club.

I didn’t feel as strong of a connection with the other parts of this book, but I think I was just blown away by the insights into Lolita that the others didn’t have the same impact. The Great Gatsby looked at dreams and adultery all from the Iranian prospective. While Gatsby is about the American dream it was interesting to see it from a totalitarian mindset. James looks at some works of Henry James during the time of the Iran-Iraq war and the government who wants to control the liberal-minded. Lastly Austin looks at Jane Austin novels as well as the idea of abusive husbands, blindness and empathy.

This book comes together really well; you get to know these Iranian students and as well as explore some interesting ideas about the books from a perspective completely different to your own. While I would have preferred more literary criticism, I really got a lot of joy from reading this. There is a strong feminist theme throughout this book (since most of the students were women) that I suspect was the main draw card for many of the female readers of this book, and rightly so, this was an interesting look at these women. But for me, it was all about the books

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Posted February 8, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Joseph Anton by Salman RushdieTitle: Joseph Anton (Goodreads)
Author: Salman Rushdie
Published: Jonathan Cape, 2012
Pages: 633
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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On February 14 1989, Salman Rushdie got a call asking how he felt about being sentenced to death. The call was from a journalist who told him that the Ayatollah Khomeini has put a fatwa on him. His novel The Satanic Verses was accused of being “against Islam, the Prophet, and the Quran.” This is a memoir of the 10 years he went into hiding and was under police protection because of this fatwa.

When they asked Rushdie to pick an alias the first thing he did was think of the writers he respected, in this case Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. This is a memoir of complete honesty about the effect his novel The Satanic Verses had on his life. I found Rushdie to be very honest about the whole situation, from the bonds formed, the struggles, the fears and the idea of freedom of speech.

One thing that really stood out to me was the use of a third person narrator; a rarity in a memoir but it seemed to really work. It was like Salman Rushdie was telling a story of someone else. I’m not sure if Rushdie was trying to look at the situation from another perspective or if he felt like the situation changed who he was, but it really worked.

I remember The Satanic Verses and I know I had to research Islam to understand the book, but I never thought of it as a religious insult; I always viewed the book as one man’s struggle to make sense of his religion in a culture completely different. The importance of this book and its literary achievements really was out shadowed by the controversy. In Joseph Anton, Rushdie really does try to look at the entire situation in a unique way.

Salman Rushdie’s healing process is displayed on the page for everyone to see, but you can still see the bitterness and animosity in his narrative. This is what I found made this book so great; the author never held back and never tried to hide his emotions. It would have been a scary time of his life and I’m glad to understand what he went through a lot more than I expected.

By the Book by Ramona Koval

Posted January 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

By the Book by Ramona KovalTitle: By the Book (Goodreads)
Author: Ramona Koval
Published: Text, 2012
Pages: 239
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Ramona Koval’s By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life is a memoir of the author’s reading journal. From her mother’s influences to her first library card all the way though to her career as a literary journalist. Ramona Koval writes this as a love story to the books that have influenced her life and career.

Not only is this book very easy to read, it might even offer some interesting titles for you to read. I know my ‘to read’ list suffered especially with the introduction to Richard Holmes; I’ve now added a heap of his books to my wish list. I almost read this in a sitting and I would’ve if I didn’t have to go to bed. I was drawn to Kaval’s literary journey and the reasoning behind reading some of the books.

It might be just me but I find people’s reading histories really interesting and give me a little confidence in my own journey. Personally I think I have an interesting journey and this book as inspired me to document it in better detail. I’ve started to build a slight obsession with memoirs about people’s reading history’s having recently read Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry and moving onto Through the Window by Julian Barnes after finishing this one. I have asked my readers for recommendations similar to these books in a recent blog post so I hope to read many more memoirs of bibliophiles.

By the Book is an entertaining read with some real gems; like borrowing Kafka from a library at a very young age and asking her mother to buy her a copy of the Kama Sutra. By the Book is not only an entertaining reading journey but hopefully it will inspire reader to share their own history with the world; I know I would like to read about them. It might be just my love of books and books about books but I really enjoyed this biography and recommend it to all serious readers.