Books and publishing

My To-Read Pile, September 2016

In the last few months I’ve read more books, with more consistent effort, than I have for a long time. They’ve been manuscripts of upcoming work publications: I sent a publication schedule to my manager and she ticked the books I ought to read. I do whine about how long it’s taking me, but the truth is that I’m ridiculously lucky to be paid to read and work on books that I’d buy anyway. So many of them have been such a delight to read. Here are some examples.

But I’ve decided that my non-work to-read pile has grown so high that when I go to Indonesia in two weeks (in two weeks!), I’ll only read books from the pile — no work books. Here are the books I’ve accumulated in the last four months or so, all of which I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. (Not literally. That’d be a bit weird on the bus).


Fen – Daisy Johnson

I went into Foyles Charing Cross Road and in the lift area there was a slideshow of upcoming books, including this one; they also had a Foyles exclusive edition.

This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well, what?

Magical realism; a strong sense of place; surreal and discomfiting happenings — it reminded me of The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, a book that had such an effect on me that I had to pick this one up. (I really wanted to enjoy The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro for the same reasons, but I could not stand Ishiguro’s writing style).

The Trees – Ali Shaw

The cover is really something — I don’t see how you couldn’t pick this up.


Again, it’s a book about surreal, quasi-magical happenings, this time full of horror (I love a good horror book). It was was highly recommended by a friend of mine, who read it in about a day and kept sharing photos of well-written paragraphs.

I read this review:

The Trees does for trees what Hitchcock did for birds. You have been warned’ –  Irish Times

And I thought ‘Yep.’

Shylock is my Name – Howard Jacobson

I saw adverts for this on The Guardian website, and I loved the strength and unusual colours of the cover. I studied The Merchant of Venice at school but have never seen it performed; the idea of reading a book ‘by’ one of Shakespeare’s most interesting characters is irresistible, and once I saw it was coming out in paperback, I nabbed it.

The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard

I saw Aliette briefly at the Gollancz Festival 2015 (which I write about a bit here). Science fiction and fantasy are great loves of mine, but since genre fiction is so rarely in the public eye, I don’t read it as much as I want to. A few months ago I saw that this book had won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, and thought I’d dip my toe in.

Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes – Daniel Everett

The Piraha tribe in the Brazilian Amazon live without time or numbers. They do not have words for numbers (beyond ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘many’), no words for family members beyond ‘parent’ or ‘sibling’, and no tenses.

This is a book published by my work. I was asked to do some work on it a few weeks ago, and when I had looked it up on our database, I knew that I had to read it.

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

This is the book I was sent by TUBLAS: The Under the Bed Literary Advice Service, run by a friend of mine (which you should definitely use). I know for a fact that it is going to be excellent — I’m just lazy.

The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa

My friend Jess — the Jess with whom I went to India and Bolivia last year — has become a complete bibliophile in recent months, and told me that this book was absolutely astounding; looking it up, it seems like a key piece of existentialist literature from the last fifty years. I thought ‘Okay, that seems cool’ at the time, but then realised that my work publish an edition of it, although by a different translator than the one Jess had read. I’ve borrowed an old edition of the book from the shelves at work and I’ll replace it when I’m done. I’m braced for something quite difficult and academic — and I hope I ‘get’ it; it’s so frustrating when you read something called a classic and it doesn’t register with you at all.

Slade House – David Mitchell

I wrote about it here, for my work’s blog.


Finally something a bit more recent is Slade House by David Mitchell, lent to me by a fellow bibliophile friend. I love a bit of magical realism, and who can say no to classic horror. I’ve not read any of Mitchell’s other work, so this will be a good opportunity to dip my toe into the oeuvre of one of the big literary hitters.

Damned – Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club and Survivor by Palahniuk remain two of the most powerful and affecting books I’ve read in my life, but Palahniuk has completely gone off the boil in the last five to ten years: Snuff and Beautiful You are two of his more recent books that I’ve read and not only struggled to reach the end of, but delivered to a charity shop within hours of finally finishing. I could write plenty about how important his early work was, and how his work has recently turned into what seems to be self-parody, but it’s been done extensively by those who have a clearer understanding of his work than me.

This book was lent to me by my friend Beth, and I will let you know whether it’s part of the former or the latter group of Palahniuk’s work.

Bandit – Molly Brodak

A few months ago, a few of my colleagues and I had an informal meet-up with some of the other marketing departments of the Independent Alliance, and everyone brought a book to swap. I picked up this one, because its blurb opens with:

Aged thirteen, Molly Brodak arrived home to discover that her father had been arrested for pulling over a dozen bank robberies in the Detroit area.

The Bricks that Built the Houses – Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest is my queen. This is a proof (advance) copy of her novel. I’ve been put off from starting it because of its mixed reviews (calling it pretentious and overwritten); as I say in the above post about her, I can see how her work wouldn’t translate well to the page. She’s so talented, and I’m nervous about reading something by her and not enjoying it. We’ll see. I’ll definitely let you know.

Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words – Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite writers: Dance Dance Dance; 1Q84; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; South of the Border, West of the Sun — they’re all absolutely masterful, and he’s an absolute genius. This is Murakami’s translator (he writes in Japanese) writing about Murakami’s work, how it links to his love of jazz, and what’s it’s like to translate him. It’s the purchase of a fangirl — but it will also be interesting, I’m sure, to learn more about the art of translation.

All is Not Forgotten – Wendy Walker

A book from my old work — Harlequin UK — and one of the biggest titles of their year, sent to me by my ex-manager. It’s about a rich teenage girl in the USA who is violently raped, but given a drug shortly afterwards that erases her memory of the assault. It’s already been optioned for film, and I think it’s going to be big.

If you want to borrow any of these books, do let me know! And I’ll update this blog post with links to any reviews I write.