27 July 2007

DailyLit: Reading in instalments

I recently discovered that it is possible to subscribe to literature on the Web. It is by no means a new thing – after all, some of the most popular classic novelists, such as Dumas and Dickens, wrote some their books in instalments that were eagerly awaited by readers. I decided to try it, and have subscribed to a book I started reading a couple of months ago but have kept pushing aside for other books. Now I can simply read it during my coffee breaks and lunch break at work, instead of at home where I am surrounded by scores of other books that keep diverting my attention from it. The book is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. For the next 286 weekdays I will receive it in instalments in my inbox, from DailyLit.

It will be interesting to see if I manage to stick with it, or whether at some point I will go back to the book.

I think this is an excellent way for people who think they are to busy to read books to relax for a few minutes every day over a good book. DailyLit mostly offers older books with expired copyright, among them many classics, but they have now started offering newer books that are published under a creative commons licence. They have something for most tastes, so check them out.

14 July 2007

Mystery author # 31: Andrea Camilleri

Translator: Stephen Sartarelli
Series detective: Inspector Salvo Montalbano
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Vigàta, Sicily (and neighbourhood), Italy; late 20th century

This time, I read two books by the author. Note that the given year of publication is for the original Italian publication.

Title: The Shape of Water
Original Italian title: La forma dell'acqua
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1994
Type of mystery: Death under mysterious circumstances (possibly murder), police procedural

Story: A famous and respected Sicilian political leader is found dead from a heart attack. There is no doubt of the cause of death, but as the circumstances of the finding of the body and the place where it was found are rather suspicious, Inspector Montalbano decides to get to the bottom of it, despite pressure from the authorities to close the case. Was it an accidental death during a sexual encounter with a prostitute, or was the heart attack manufactured, making it a murder?

Rating: A fresh, sneaky and entertaining police procedural. 4 stars.

Title: The Voice of the Violin
Original Italian title: La voce del violino
No. in series: 4
Year of publication: 1997
Type of mystery: Murder; police procedural

Story: Inspector Montalbano's curiosity leads him to the body of a young woman who has been murdered during or after sex. Her purse, full of expensive jewellery, is missing, so robbery appears to have been the motive, but the clues show that in all likelihood she knew her murderer. When the case is taken from the local police and handed over to the carabineri who proceed to make things more complicated, Montalbano seizes the opportunity to put one over an obnoxious police commissioner, but he also has to deal with some serious regrets caused by his own mistakes.

Rating: A fine and entertaining murder mystery. 4+ stars.

Author review: I have found a new "must read more" author in Andrea Camilleri. The narrative technique in both books combines humour, skilful writing and great plotting, and Stephen Sartarelli's translations are very good. Montalbano is an instantly likeable character, and the plots are a heady mixture of passion and cold calculation, interspersed with glimpses of Sicilian life and the ways of the Sicilian people. I can't wait to read more. 4 stars.

P.S. For those who are unfamiliar with Italian/Sicilian society, there are explanations of some of the things a reader may stumble over, in the last pages of the book.

13 July 2007

Arrrgh! Mouldy book

Went to the library yesterday and wandered over to the corner where they sell books they have no more use for and found two cookbooks I had long wanted, plus a volume with both of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. A quick check showed there were no pages missing, so I went to the desk and bought them. Last night I sat down after dinner to leaf through the cookbooks and discovered mould in one of them. Little spots of bluish-black mould the size of fingerprints were growing outwards from some of the seams in the book. Mould in regular books is a nasty, ugly thing, but mould in a cookbook could be dangerous if it got into the food being prepared. Ouch! And arrrrgh!

I really, really want to keep that book, but I don’t want to have it near my other books, knowing that if I ever have a dampness problem or a water or steam accident in my house, it could contaminate them. I don’t suppose applying a fungicide will do the paper any good, but at least I can minimise the risk of contaminating any food I may make following the recipes, by taking the book out on a windy day and brushing away the spores. I think I will then store it in a plastic bag with a sachet of silica for company. It won’t look pretty, but at least it will not be a threat to the rest of my cookbook collection.

08 July 2007

Reading repors for May and June 2007

Just poking my head in to report on my reading :-)

In May I finished a book on average every 2,4 days: 13 books that total 3562 pages. I started reading some of these books months ago and had been reading them on and off since. I have always liked having a wide variety of books to read and I mix together books that can be read over a long time with books that are best read, if not quickly, than at least over a period of just a few days.

I started reading The Literary Gourmet three years ago and would pick it up every now and then and read a chapter and then put it on the shelf again. I thought it had great promise when I first got it, but I was disappointed with it. The book is a collection of food and eating passages from famous literary works, with recipes researched by the author/editor and adapted and tested by chefs. I think a book like this is probably most interesting when you have read the majority of the books mentioned in it, and I have not, which is probably why I found it disappointing.

I finally did read The Wasp Factory, prompted by someone mooching it from me, so I read it in an afternoon and was not disappointed. The humour is as dark as it gets and it's an imaginatively gruesome account of what can happen when children are allowed to run wild.

Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory
Beryl Bainbridge: Harriet said...
Susan Donovan: Knock me off my feet
Mark Gatiss: The Vesuvius Club
Robert A. Heinlein: The Star Beast
Holly Hughes ed.: Best Food Writing 2001
Linda Wolfe: The Literary Gourmet
Margery Allingham: Death of a Ghost
Peter Tremayne: Hemlock at Vespers
Mary Saul: Shells
Thomas Stevens: Around the World on a Penny-farthing

G.K. Chesterton: The Innocence of Father Brown
Terry Pratchett: Moving Pictures


It has been a long time since I finished so few books in one month – only six – and all of them before June 10th. I finished the last one at the airport on my way to the USA, during a three hour delay. The next three weeks were so full of sights and adventure that I was generally too tired after dinner each night to do more than write in my journal and fall asleep. I did buy several books that I am looking forward to reading.

One of the books I did finish before setting off on holiday was Titus Groan, the first part of Mervyn Peake's famous Titus trilogy. It is like a huge meal put together from many small dishes that need to be eaten slowly with frequent breaks so as not to cause indigestion. I started reading it in April and finished it at the beginning of June and now I'm looking forward to starting the second book, Gormenghast.

I am working on some reviews, but I'm not making any promises as to when I will publish them.

Meyer Berger: The Eight Million
Andrea Camilleri: The Shape of Water and The Voice of the Violin
Giles Milton: Nathaniel's Nutmeg
Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan
Rex Stout: Too Many Cooks