When is a TBR Pile not a TBR Pile?

Library Voices LogoAs I wandered around the library recently, browsing the ‘just returned’ and the ‘new titles’ shelves, I spotted a couple if books that had been on my mental ‘to read’ list ever since going to the authors’ readings. One of my favourite cultural activities is attending author readings and discussion sessions, sometimes as part of a literary festival, sometimes as standalone events. My actually having read any work from a particular author before an event is not a pre-requisite. Indeed, going along to hear a reading or an interview is often a fantastic way to get into a new writer. I have often added a new author to my repertoire on the strength of an interesting evening of extracts and bookish discussion. I can highly recommend putting the literary cart before the horse, so to speak. Although, I have to say that I’ve rarely been disappointed when I’ve done it the other way round and gone along to listen to one of my favourite authors.Dublin UNESCO Logo

The regular Dún Laoghaire Rathdown ‘Library Voices’ series of readings and talks has often proved to be a very fruitful source of inspiration in the never ending search for new authors. From these events, I have acquired (so to speak) Peter Carey and Alex Miller, though I have also taken the chance to listen to old favourites such as Joanna Trollope and Audrey Niffenegger. The Peter Carey event featured a reading from his latest book The Chemistry of Tears and when I later went on to read the book I could hear Carey’s voice in my head telling the story. I probably would have enjoyed the book anyway, but I think that having heard Carey discuss his work piqued my interest. As it turned out, I read 30 days in Sydney: A Wildly Distorted Account before coming to The Chemistry of Tears, which convinced me that Carey was a writer to treasure. Before reading 30 Days, I didn’t have the slightest interest in Sydney, but Carey brought its history and culture alive, peopling it with a fascinating cast of characters. All ‘wildly distorted’ no doubt.

Another fruitful series of events has been the Dublin City Council run, European literature event ‘Words on the Street’ that I attended for the second time this year. Mind you, one of the attractions of this event has been listening to Bryan Murray who is such an enthusiastic reader. Last year he read an extract from The Dinner by Herman Koch and this year (in St Anne’s Church, one of my favourite venues), he read from Caesarion by Tommy Wieringa. It did however take me around a year to catch up with The Dinner, so I expect it to take a similar amount of time to read this year’s batch of European literature. I was not greatly enthused by The Dinner when I finally got around to it, although it was well written, but it wasn’t really Bryan Murray’s fault.IMPAC Logo

Similarly, I have not yet caught up with the IMPAC 2014 prize-winning novel, despite attending the announcement of the winner and a reading with the author and translator. I thought Juan Gabriel Vásquez made a brilliant acceptance speak and after hearing him read from and discuss the Sound of Things Falling, I was determined to read it as soon as possible (well as soon as the TBR Pile allowed anyway). I think I need another dose of serendipity; if I see it there in front of me on the shelf; it must be waiting for me. Of course, if I had been quick enough to snaffle a free copy at the Pearse Library IMPAC event, it would be on my actual TBR Pile and not my virtual one. However, such is life. A new entrant to my virtual TBR Pile is Richard Ford who gave a reading at Trinity College Dublin (where he is an adjunct professor) this autumn from his latest novel Let Me Be Frank.

Now, I can see that unless I stop attending literary events my TBR Pile stands even less chance of shrinking than it did before. Alas, it is a cure that I don’t want to contemplate…


Words on the Street: Literary Dublin

It’s been a while since I featured anything of an excursionary (I think I made that word up) nature on The Landing so I’m taking the opportunity offered by last Thursday’s ‘Literature Crawl’ around Dublin for European Literature Night. This was the second time that I’d participated in the Words on the Street event and for me, as it was last year my attendance was in the guise of a book club outing. Last year we managed to tick of three events as we didn’t make it into town very early. This year however, we were planning to go for broke and be ready to start at 6.30pm with the first reading and not give up until the last one at 9pm.

The devil was in the decision-making: about which readings we were to attend, strongly influenced by which buildings we wanted to see inside and which reader we wanted to hear. It was a tricky balancing act indeed, because it is physically impossible to hear all of the readings (eleven) within the evening unless you run very fast and only stay for half a reading anyway which would be pointless. I’d have to admit that I was unfamiliar with any of the authors/works except for Jon McGregor so I was willing to have a go at any of them in the interests of literary discoveries.

For my part also, one given was that I wanted to hear Bryan Murray who was such a good reader last year and secondly, I wanted to see inside Buswells Hotel. One of our party vetoed Joe Duffy, so we agreed to part ways for one event as the building (a usually inaccessible part of the National Gallery) won out over any other considerations for the remainder of us.

Therefore, these were our final tally in route order. Where possible I’ve added in publication details below if anyone wants to follow anything up.

Even the Dogs Jon McGregor (UK, in the National Library, read by Jon McGregor)
Bloomsbury, 20111

I’d meant to read Jon McGregor at some stage but I’ve not yet got around to him. It was nice to have a reading by the author himself and to start off our literary crawl in one of my favourite buildings added to the pleasure of the evening. McGregor planned his reading so that he would read the first chapter at the first session and so on. An intriguing first chapter, sad, spooky, bleak yet not without human warmth.

At Livia’s Bar Pierre J Mejlak (Malta, in Buswells Hotel, read by Aengus MacGrianna)

I loved this short story but I don’t think much of Mejlak’s work has yet been translated into English. I found the short story published online and another piece on the author’s website which is worth a read too.

Nothing Ever Matters José Ovejero (Spain, No 5 South Leinster St, the National Gallery, read by Joe Duffy)

Apparently the author specified which extract was to be read at the event, which was as far as I know the only time this was the case, unless it just wasn’t made obvious by other readers. There seems to be a mistake in the title given in the brochure, as the book I came up with on Google was Nothing Ever Happens (Hispabooks, 2013). This novel seems especially intriguing as the chapter read (Claudio) seems to be part way into the novel, which neatly throws up questions yet gives very little away.

Ceasarion Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands, St Ann’s Church, read by Bryan Murray)

As ever, Bryan Murray brought the novel alive with his enthusiasm and obvious love of literature and reading. This is one I would definitely like to get hold of; it depicts the relationship between a mother and son who have been abandoned by the boy’s father. The tensions between one very absent parent and one very present parent are the focal point of the story.

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord Kim Leine (Denmark, the Mansion House, read by Phelim Drew)
Gyldendal, 2012

This seemed to be a very sombre historical novel, literally dark in the sense of being set in Greenland where the winters are very long, but also one full of dark passions and cultural and religious clashes. Phelim Drew seemed suitably sombre in his presentation of the piece.

Love Virtually Daniel Glattauer (Austria, Hodges Figgis Bookshop, read by Maria Doyle Kennedy)
Quercus Publishing, 2012

This was a great one to finish with as it was amusing and witty, promising a modern style of romance via email rather than letters.

I enjoyed all of the readings as an introduction to new reading avenues and I hope to follow up some of the leads. Last year I slipped up on those good intentions, so this year I’ve made a point of tracking down some publishing information while the event is still fresh in my mind. It looks as if some of the books will be easier to get hold of than others, though I haven’t checked everywhere yet. Hodges Figgis certainly had stock of Love Virtually, but I can’t remember which others were available on the night.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who attended the Dublin readings that we didn’t choose. Ideally I’d have gone to all of them! Drop me a line below if you can recommend any of the others or if you have been to any of the readings in other cities. It would great to hear about them…