Clearing The Decks: The Final Introductions

Let’s recap!

I have too many books and after many years hoarding I have realised that I don’t need to keep everything. There are so many wonderful books in the world, so many wonderful books still to come that I want to only hold on to the very best. The books that I want to pick up again and again, the books inspire an emotional reaction whenever I see or think about them.

So I’ve selected a hundred books from the ridiculous number that I have unread. Books I want to read but probably don’t need to keep. Those books are now my home library, to be chosen from when I need a book but don’t have one in hand. And, like library books, passed along once I’ve finished with them.

I’ve been introducing the books ten at a time and at the end of each quarter I’ll report on my progress. My first quarter is up, but I’m going to introduce this final batch of books first, and an update should arrive by the weekend.

Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

(There’s a bonus eleventh book this time because I miscounted and couldn’t decide which book to take out!)

Spider by Patrick McGrath

“Set in 1957, this book tells the story of Spider, a lonely figure who returns to the East End of London after 20 years in an asylum. Spider moves into a boarding house and begins to write an account of his childhood, providing a disturbing vision of psychotic illness from inside.”

I wouldn’t often pick up a book with this kind of subject matter, but it’s the sort of thing that Patrick McGrath can handle very, very well.

Far North by Marcel Theroux

“Out on the far northern border of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the ruins of a dying city and tries to keep its unruly inhabitants in check. Into this cold, isolated world comes evidence that life is flourishing elsewhere — a refugee from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to take to the road to reconnect with human society. What Makepeace finds is a world unravelling, stockaded villages enforcing a rough and uncertain justice, mysterious slave camps labouring to harness the little understood technologies of a vanished civilization. But Makepeace’s journey also leads to unexpected human contact, tenderness, and the dark secrets behind this frozen world.”

This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book. I started it and I liked it, but for some reason I put it to one side and forgot to pick it up again.

The Girls of Riyadah by Rajaa Alsanea

“This book provides an inside peek into a hidden world: four young women navigate the narrow straits between love, desire and Islamic tradition. Every week after Friday prayers, an email circulates among a group of subscribers to a vast online network. Over the course of a year, the realities of four university students from Riyadh’s elite classes, Gamrah, Michelle, Sadeem and Lamees, are revealed. Living in a society with strict cultural traditions while Sex and the City, dating and sneaking around behind their parents backs consume their lives, these four young girls face numerous social, romantic, professional and sexual tribulations. Never-ending cultural conflicts underscore the difficulties of being an educated modern female growing up in the 21st century in a culture firmly rooted to an ancient way of life.”Girls of Riyadh” presents a rare and unforgettable insight into the complicated lives of these young Saudi women, whose amazing stories are unfolding in a culture so very different from our own.”

I read a magazine article about this book and I was intrigued. A few days later a lovely copy appeared in a charity shop, and home it came.

The Haunt by A L Barker

“A bewitching tale of the loves that comfort and the longings that haunt us. With sly humor, exquisite dialogue, smooth narrative, and a cast of wholly original characters, this new book by the widely acclaimed novelist and Booker-Prize nominee A. L. Barker explores the legendary Cornish forest and examines the human heart. At the Belle Chasse, a dilapidated seaside hotel on the tip of magical Cornwall, chaos slinks behind the limited amenities, as its weekend guests soon discover – among them, a second-rate artist who’s driven a malfunctioning car across England to present his ex-wife with a nude he painted of her years before; a lonely child in need of a friend; and a couple in their sixties, Elissa and Owen Grierson, long-married and now plagued by the painful longings of a no longer magical relationship. If these travelers have come to a world haunted by ancient myths of heroic quests and holy grails, they themselves pursue more ordinary dreams as they stumble over their own enigmas and eccentricities.”

A book by a Virago author set in Cornwall, so it had to come home. But mow I look at it I’m not sure its going to be my kind of book, so I think that, once I’ve read it, it can go.

Living With Saints by Mary O’Connell

“Mary O’Connell’s literary territory owes as much to the pop icon Madonna as it does to the Virgin Mary. Adventurous in subject and spirit, and alternately playful and intense, each story in Living with Saints features a female saint whose life story is thematically woven into deeply resonant contemporary settings. O’Connell’s tone is sassy and often profane, and in exploring the elements and effects of Catholicism in women’s lives, she demonstrates an insider’s nuanced understanding of its rich traditions even as she questions their limitations.”

This one has been hanging around for ages. I remember it being on the floor by my bed when I was packing to move from London back to Cornwall, and I remember reading and being impressed by the first story. It got put away when I moved though, and it only caught my eye again quite recently.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

“Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books are all great fun, full of wonderful food and the arcane details of hobbies as diverse as orchid growing and Balkan history. But in this outing, things suddenly become much more serious when Wolfe and his sidekick Archie Goodwin face the malevolent forces of J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI minions. Luckily, Stout’s heart and his writing style are more than equal to the challenge.”

I read a lot of praise for Rex Stout on LibraryThing, but when I looked for his books I found that the library had nothing and that they weren’t in print in the UK. Then a very elderly hardback turned up in a 50p box, and so it seemed like a good idea to bring it home to try.

Only Say The Word by Niall Williams

“Jim Foley loves his parents, his brother, his sister, Dickens and God, although not necessarily in that order. Later, he loves Kate, enough to make her his wife; later still, he loves his children, Jack and Hannah. This is Jim’s story, from early days spent in County Clare to early adulthood in America, and back to Clare again. Tracing his journey from child, to husband to father, from happy-ever-after to death-do-us-part, from beginnings to endings – and from there to starting afresh once more – it tells of the people and places in Jim’s life, his hopes, fears and fantasies, his ever-evolving relationships and the books that remain always constant. Deeply-felt, beautifully-told, and written in Niall William’s lyrical, lilting prose, Only Say the Word offers both acceptance of the past and hope for the future. “

I love Niall Williams’ writing, and all his books before this one I borrowed from the library. This one though turned up first in a charity shop, and I couldn’t resist.

The Used Women’s Book Club by Paul Byers

“On the night a book group meets to swap novels, the husband of one of its members borrows a flat in which to have an illicit affair. It isn’t the first time Larry has made himself scarce for one of Rob’s adulterous flings, but tonight Rob is viciously beaten to death with a fisherman’s hook. Is a modern-day Jack the Ripper on the loose? Can Larry work out who will be attacked next? And what is the link to the “Used Women’s Book Club?” The suspicion and fear growing between this group of friends is making them all sick to their stomachs as the killer tears along, leaving blood and lives strewn through the streets of East London. “

The combination of mystery, books and London was irresistable when I spotted this one in a charity shop.

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

“A charismatic doctor and a rigorous scientist are co-directors of a cancer research lab. They demand nothing less than complete dedication and obedience from their young proteges. In this high-pressure setting, one young man’s experiments begin to show exciting results. At first the entire lab is giddy with expectation. But his colleagues become suspicious, and soon an all-too-public controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it…”

I wanted to read this when it was longlisted for the Orange Prize a few years ago, but the library didn’t have it and I decided to wait rather than splash out when the book was only available in hardback. More than a year later, when I’d pretty much forgotten about it, a hardback copy in mint condition turned up on a charity shop sale table.

Plea of Insanity by Jiliane Hoffman

“The prosecutor – Julia Vacanti. Young, ambitious, and facing a case that could launch her career. The defendant – David Marquette. A successful Miami surgeon and devoted family man. The victims – Marquette’s own wife and three small children. The plea – Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The perfect father and model husband, David Marquette seemingly just snapped one night. Or did he? His experienced defense team claims paranoid delusions caused by schizophrenia drove him to slaughter his entire family.” But the state suspects Marquette’s insanity defense is being fabricated to disguise murders that were cold-blooded and calculated. If convicted, Marquette faces the death penalty. If found insane, he could walk free. To bring a killer to justice, Julia will have to journey into the mind of madness herself, embarking on a terrifying personal journey back into her own past – something she has struggled to forget for fifteen years. “

This was another case of me reading a good review and a charity shop copy appearing soon after. But when I looked at it more closely it wasn’t sure it was my sort of book and so it has sat around, at the bottom of a pile, ever since. Now it’s decision time.

The Secrets of the Chess Machine by Robert Lohr

“Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils a strange and amazing invention, the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what the Habsburg court hails as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion. The chess machine is secretly operated from inside by the Italian dwarf Tibor, a God-fearing social outcast whose chess-playing abilities and diminutive size make him the perfect accomplice in this grand hoax…”

I spotted this in a bookshop on holiday and I was intrigued, so onto the wishlist it went. A few month later it turned up, heavily discounted, in The Works, and I couldn’t resist.


And that’s the end of the introductions. Any thoughts?

9 responses

  1. Hmm – The haunt! I have this on my TBR because it is Virago AND Cornwall, but I’m not sure whether or not I will enjoy it. Would love to know what you think.

    • I started The Haunt, but it was more complex than I thought so I put it to one side. I suspect that it’s one of those books that need just the right moment.

  2. I’ve never read (or even heard of) any of them – but the last two sound fabulous – I’m particularly intrigued by the Secrets of the Chess Machine.

    • The books I own but don’t plan to keep do tend to be either the big ones that I won’t read in a loan period or the less mainstream books that the library doesn’t have. The Secrets of the Chess Machine looks to be an extraordinary story, more so because it’s based on fact.

  3. I love Rex Stout. His characters of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are classics, and they have a flavor of New York City in the 30s-60s. I like the earlier and later books better, and this sounds like one of the later ones. Hope you enjoy it!

    • I have heard much praise for Rex Stout for people who have similar tastes to mine, but it is disappointing that he hasn’t been in print in the UK for some time. Hopefully one of the publishing houses will pick him up again one day.

  4. I’ll put in a plea for ‘Intuition’. I found the basic premise fascinating and although I don’t think she got the ending right, she’s definitely a writer to watch out for.

  5. The only one of these I’ve read is Only Say the Word. It was a few years ago and the only comment I made about it at the time was ‘Melancholy – depressing’, which for me meant I didn’t like it very much – but I did finish it. Don’t know if that helps.

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