Things have been pretty frantic since I returned from my month in America: I got straight back into my manuscript for the final push before I send it out to readers and then agents. On the blog I’ve posted a travelogue, a fantastic piece by Wendy Wallace, the first guest to ‘reappear’ on the Literary Sofa, and last week perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to a rave review, of Hannah Kent’s debut Burial Rites. I’ve just spent a glorious weekend in France with friends from my book group and on Thursday I’m travelling north a day early before attending the York Festival of Writing, where I have three meetings lined up and tons of friends to catch up with. There’s a lot happening, and it’s all very exciting.
September is a time of new beginnings and next week it’ll be two years since I started the Literary Sofa. In one way, it’s flashed past and in another, it feels like far longer. Recently I joined a conversation on Twitter where writers were expressing ambivalence about both reading and writing blogs. If blogging interferes with your writing of fiction or feels like a drag because you can’t think of anything to say, it’s understandable to feel sceptical about its value. Likewise, if you don’t enjoy reading a particular blog or get anything out of it, why bother?
This made me reflect on why I do it. Over the last two years, producing this blog has been a very positive experience. I’ve just realised that sounds like the build-up to saying I’m not going to do it any more – but it isn’t. I do struggle with the time commitment of posting once a week, but that’s my choice and has now become part of my routine. It gives me some much needed structure and the opportunity to write different kinds of material. It makes me feel plugged into the book world, which I love, and gives me the chance to share my passion for reading and writing with interesting people who enjoy a lively discussion. I’ve been genuinely touched and sustained by your support and cameraderie when I talk about my own journey (I had the decency to cringe saying that) as a writer. I don’t fudge how hard it can be, and it seems you can relate to that.
So this second blog anniversary finds me in optimistic mood. Last September the counter passed the 20,000 mark. Now it’s approaching 50,000, which seems a good enough reason to celebrate by repeating the blog birthday competition.
Many thanks to everybody who supports the Literary Sofa – readers who come back week after week, fellow writers, publicists, editors and my guests. I’ll keep writing if you keep reading!
As I’ve done a lot of book giveaways in recent months, there are just two prizes both of which are on me: the Literary Lunch and a US import copy of David Gilbert’s stunning novel & Sons.
THE LITERARY LUNCH
This was a surprise hit last year with plenty of people keen to join me for a nice lunch in London to chat about books, writing or wherever the conversation leads, whether they already knew me or not. I’d never met the lovely winner, writer Claire Snook from Bristol, but we had a great time swapping stories at Le Deuxième in Covent Garden. This year’s winner will be consulted on where we meet and the prize can be taken on a mutually convenient date up until 31 May 2014.
David Gilbert’s novel & Sons was published this summer to critical acclaim in the States but won’t be out in the UK until May 2014. Set in New York, it’s the story of two families bound by their fathers’ long and complex friendship. One of the men is A N Dyer, an iconic novelist whose own life makes for a cracking story. I read and hugely admired this book when I was in America, particularly for the setting and the writerly observations which kept making me nod (and sigh). Writing this elegant and fluent used to make me feel like giving up – now it makes me want to try harder. I’d recommend it to any writer and anyone who enjoys intelligent and compelling fiction set in the literary world.
COMPETITION NOW CLOSED.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
First out of the honey jar was Colm O’Riain who gets to choose which prize he wants. The other will go to runner-up Rowena Dunn. Many thanks to everyone who entered. Your nominations were great and I wish I could take you all to lunch!
Next week, I’ll write about the York Festival. And next month, I’m delighted that For Books’ Sake have invited me to contribute a How To Run a Successful Book Blog guide for their excellent site.
My stand out book of 2013 so far has to be George Saunders’ short story collection, Tenth of December. It’s an absolute feast. Astonishingly good.
I agree, Claire, it is absolutely stellar. One of the high points of my book year was seeing GS talk about it at Southbank.
My favourite book read of 2013 has been the Banksy Book – Wall and Piece. Given to me as a gift I didn’t know what to make of it because, like many, I had preconceived ideas about the man and his ‘art’ even though I hadn’t really seen any of it and didn’t know anything about him. It taught me, made me think, and inspired me. What’s not to like about that? Obviously we can chat more about this when we meet for lunch (before 31st May 2014) Costers. Happy Blog Birthday by the way.
Not that it affects your chances Ben but I’m impressed by your original nomination. The infamous Banksy of the child labouring in a sweatshop disappeared from a Poundland shop about a mile from where I live. Before I’d got round to seeing it, unfortunately!
You could maybe introduce a special ‘judges choice’ for most original nomination (by somebody called Ben). Just a thought.
Tricky one. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Burial Rites, which you reviewed last week, and thought it was amazing. However, picking that one would make it seem I’m just copying you 🙂 so I’ll go for Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. Funny and poignant at the same time. See you in York!
Ha! It would have been fine to nominate Burial Rites (I’m sure someone will) but I’ve heard that Seating Arrangements is great. Yes, see you at York!
Congratulations on your second blog anniversary Isabel, and good to hear you’ll continue. I didn’t see that twitter exchange but I know we’ve discussed in the past about blogging and writing. The best book I’ve read this year would be The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait, beautifully done. Though I have just started Burial Rites and it is great so far, so…!
Congratulations on the blog birthday, Isabel. The book I’ve enjoyed most this year is Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. It hooked me from right at the beginning and didn’t let go until the end; page turning, but also dark and thoughtful.
I woke up unnecessarily early this morning and took the cold dark quiet to read the final (and title) story of ‘Once You Break a Knuckle’ by D W Wilson. This book came out of left field for me, and I’ve used each story as a novel in its own right in between other books. 2013 has been a spate of amazing books for me – maybe related to getting much more involved in the literary world social media – and I’m waiting for the first book to ‘disappoint’ me a little. Which will probably be unfair as the bar is set very high. But you’ve added a lot to my To Read list, so I have confidence that the run will continue.
HAving read his short stories, I’m really looking forward to D W Wilson’s novel, ‘Ballistics’.
Hope to (finally) meet you in York.
That is a great story, Jen, and as I’m sure you know, Ballistics is one of my Top Summer Reads. We WILL meet at York, I promise!
Congratulations on your anniversary and huge blog success, Isabel! For my favourite read I want to say Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being but I’m still reading it so not sure if I can! In which case, I’ll plump for MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I feel when reading her dystopian fiction that, just like 1984 and Brave New World, much of it will come to pass. Scarily some of it already has.
Fingers crossed I win lunch with you!
Great suggestions and so glad you entered. Wish I could invite everyone to lunch – that would be fun!
This is the hardest question! I can’t nominate The Night Rainbow by Claire King because I read it last year, but you know it’s brilliant. I’m going to have to go for a predictable one, but wonderful nonetheless: Bring Up The Bodies. Hilary just keeps doing it. See you in York …
Tough question. The Night Rainbow is brilliant, and Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye too, but I think I’ll have to say Unless by Carol Shields. It left me asking myself the most questions, which is always a good sign for me. http://vanisreading.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/van-has-finished-reading-unless-by-carol-shields/ Congratulations on your 2nd anniversary. Here’s to many more.
Happy blog birthday Isobel! After reading your pick of Mary Beth Keane’s ‘Fever’ I was sent a review copy and was lucky enough to then meet Mary Beth in Dublin. Had I not read Rose Tremain’s fabulous Merivel, Fever would have been a top read, but I fell in love with Merivel and Rose Tremain’s fabulous writing, so that comes out on top for me. Enjoy York, my home city (make sure to get a Fat Rascal from Betty’s Tea Rooms)!
The book I most enjoyed was Roddy Doyle’s ‘Two Pints’, being the funniest book I have read in years, Irish humour, social insight with a ‘pint of plain’ (Flann O’Brien ref) as it were! A lovely ‘chaser’ to go with any drink and can be consumed in the time it takes to down a pint or two! Pure Magic!
By a country mile, my favourite book of 2013 was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Normally I’d have to think hard about my favourite book of the year, but since this rocketed straight into my personal top ten ever, in was easy.
This year, I’ve been trying to blance my purchases of new books with quality second hand books. My favourite book this year is one of these second hand books, and is Norman Mailers The Executioners Song.
Really hard choices to be made, but Molly Ringwald’s When it Happens to You has grabbed my attention this year and inspired my work. Congratulations on your blog anniversary, Isabel!
Stand-out new book has been Claire King’s The Night Rainbow. However, finally getting to read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse was a profound joy that I hope to repeat before long.
my favourite-although not the easiest read-was A Death In The Family by the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgard, closely followed by My Struggle by the same author..They’re parts one and two of a series;waiting for the rest to be translated into english.. sometimes hard going but worth the effort,I felt
The Night Rainbow as mentioned by others so for the sake of something new and different, my second favourite is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes.
The book I’ve most enjoyed this year has to be Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, translated from the French by Frank Wynne. It’s a crime novel but succeeds by breaking all the ‘rules’ of that genre.
The Clockwork Princess. Final book in the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. Loved the series, loved he book. Good luck everyone.
Been giving this a great deal of thought since you posed the question, and still not absolutely certain – I must give honourable mentions to The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliott Wright, one of the most polished first novels I’ve read this year (and I seem to have read a lot!), Archipelago by Monique Roffey (a delicious book that got into my dreams), and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which I loved – but the one I’m going to plump for is The Machine by James Smythe.
Someone on Twitter (sorry, can’t remember who but thank you whoever you were) highlighted his generous and encouraging open letter to new and aspiring writers (http://james-smythe.com/) and in that James was so open about the huge amount of heart he’d put into writing this book that I felt it only fair to give it a go. It’s not a book to rave about, necessarily – the way it is written and its subject matter doesn’t quite lend itself to that sort of hype – and it’s not perfect. But in keeping with its eponymous central character it seeps into your mind and stays there long after you’ve finished reading it, creeping fingers of darkness reaching out into your memory ….
It’s Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty for me. Totally gripping.
It has to be The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison. It’s a beautifully written novel about relationships that also happens to be a great thriller. The characters have depth, the plot rings true and has real soul and I’m still thinking about it all months after reading. There are also some great twists. I don’t think I’ve ever read the same thriller twice but I plan to with this. Congrats on the blog, Isabel.
If the competition is for books read in the 365 days since the last competition then I am picking Hawthorn and Child which I read after you reviewed it in October 2012, and Ian Rankin recommended it on Twitter. If the competition is for books read in 2013 then I am picking How to Read a Poem by Terry Eagleton. The back blurb says ‘lucid and entertaining’ and I think that’s a fair description. It also got noticed by the person sitting opposite me on a long train journey, so it picks up points for how to impress strangers on public transport.
I’m embarrassed to confess I’ve only just got around to reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and it is genuine genius.
My best read of the year so far is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Fantastical premise, yes, but the narrative swept me along so assuredly I not only didn’t want to question it, I forgot it. I’ve not read any of her other books so it’s lovely to discover a new author I like and want to read more of.
Probably too late – but here’s my offering. I loved Perfect by Rachel Joyce, totally captivating and very moving. I also loved Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (a Persephone book) which has one of the best endings I’ve ever come across. I read it again straight after finishing, and I will read it again. It’s that kind of book.