Sunday Salon: enchancing the reading experience

TSSbadge3 Clare Dudman, on her blog Keeper of the Snails, writes about the ways in which the internet can enhance the experience of reading a book. In addition to her list, there is an interesting group of suggestions in the comments discussion, as well as a debate about whether the pleasure of reading is best limited to the book itself, rather than including secondary activities such as looking up the location of the setting on Google maps.

For me, the main way in which the internet enhances the reading experienceis to use the plethora of online book reviews. If I am deciding whether or not to read a book, I might search for the title/author and then skim reviews on blogs or other websites (eg newspapers) - but not read them very thoroughly as I don't want to know too many details or opinions at that stage. After I have read the book, however, I very much enjoy reading other people's review of the book to see other perspectives on it  - and, if there are online comments for the review I'm reading, I like reading those and perhaps joining in the discussion.

Our Friend Feed crime and mystery group (which anyone is welcome to join – if you are quick you can be the 100th subscriber as we reached 99 this morning) is an extension of this process. Links to reviews of books are posted, either automatically or manually. The stimulating book-focused discussions that develop, either at Friend Feed or at the linked article, can either persuade me to read the book (or not to read it!), or bring out aspects of it that had not previously occurred to me.

The internet is so good at enabling one to discover books and to read them, either by visiting good book websites (my favourite is Euro Crime as I am becoming increasingly taken with translated fiction) or by general searches. Buying the chosen book online is also a huge advantage on the old days (pre-Internet) of traipsing round bookstores and not finding a desired title in stock (but being tempted into buying other books in the process, of course). Although Amazon does feature "customer reviews" of books, I don't usually find these as useful or engaging as the reviews I read on blogs (particularly the blogs I regularly visit) or via an internet search, which identifies newspaper or magazine reviews as well as reviews on blogs I didn't previously know about. So I tend to use Amazon (or other bookselling site) mainly for the purchasing function and not for the reviewing/recommending option.

Sunday Salon: translated fiction to read this Summer

TSSbadge3 With the holiday season well-advanced in some regions of the world, and about to hit this small island mid-next-week with the end of the school term, I present a few holiday reading recommendations from books reviewed in the past few weeks. The two parameters I've chosen are: (1) translated into English; and (2) not on the shortlist for the CWA 2009 International Dagger award.

First, my review of Island of the Naked Women, by Inger Frimansson and translated by Laura A. Wideburg, is up today at Euro Crime. From my review: "I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is a strong candidate for my "best of" list for this year. As well as the satisfying "on the surface" mystery, there is an allegorical aspect to the story, which gives it a haunting quality. The island of the naked women (Shame Island) is where legend has it that, in the olden days, wives from the village who had been unfaithful to their husbands were sent, naked, to fend for themselves. It is presumed they starved. The wives in the story told in the book live in more enlightened times, but is their fate any better than that of their historical counterparts?" Read my full review at Euro Crime.

Second, up last week at Euro Crime, is my review of The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barsund. "As usual, I am very impressed by Karin Fossum's talent and originality. In THE WATER'S EDGE she has taken an upsetting and controversial topic– the painful death of a child or children – and has made it palatable and interesting even to a sensitive reader who, frankly, cannot usually bear to think about the subject. The author uses the events in the book to look at people, their attitudes and relationships, in both small and large ways." Read the whole review here.

Over at Reactions to Reading, Bernadette reviews Karin Alvtegen's Missing, translated by Anna Paterson (I presume, if it is the same edition as the one I read). Bernadette writes: "I  intended to read a few pages of this before going to sleep last night. I quite literally could not put it down and finished the whole thing in one sitting ….Here is story telling at its absolute finest: I was hooked from page one of this simple and moving tale." The rest of Bernadette's 5/5 review is here.

For those, like me, who enjoyed Johan Theorin's debut Echoes from the Dead, Peter of Nordic Bookblog writes an early review of the second in the series, The Darkest Room Peter says that like Theorin's "first novel, this too is an intelligent book somewhere in between a crime fiction book and a ghost story." I am shocked to note that there is no mention of the translator of this novel either in this review, or at the publishers' website, or Amazon, or on the Guardian review. I guess that it is translated by Marlaine Delargy, who translated the author's first novel, but I hope the name of the translator is provided in at least some of these places by the time the book is on sale.

Finally for this post, a new (to me, and in fact quite new) blog called The View from the Blue House posts a review of The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett (a.k.a. Harry Hole). Rob Kitchin, the reviewer, calls the book "a highly enjoyable read and I zipped through it, picking it up at every opportunity so I could find out what happened next. Nesbø is particularly good at keeping the pace and tension high, running several sub-plots simultaneously and linking them in and out of each other." Read on here. [If you are tempted to read this book, my strong advice is don't do so until you've read first The Redbreast and then Nemesis – the correct reading order is here.]

Shakespeare red in tooth and claw

Link: Susan Hill’s blog :: REMEMBER THE 100 BOOKS YOU REALLY MUST READ ?.

I have sympathy with Susan Hill’s view that Shakespeare (she highlights Macbeth) can be better enjoyed read rather than seen at the theatre. I have read all of Shakespeare’s plays  when a teenager (in one of those "collected works" with tissue-thin paper and microscopic print). I’ve returned to them many times since.

Sometimes a performance of Shakespeare is enthralling. I remember seeing Alan Howard as Henry VI years ago, finally understanding the cliche "you could hear a pin drop" during his speeches. What an exponent of the spoken word. I even saw Olivier on stage, as Shylock, towards the end of his career.

But Shakespeare’s plays are uneven, and so are performances of them. One of the first Shakespeares I saw live was Twelfth Night at Stratford with Judi Dench as Viola (yes, dates me, I know). I remember being disappointed. But last year’s vibrant production of the same play in the very same theatre was a total delight — I was entranced and so were Malcolm, Jenny and Cathy — none of them particular Shakespeare fanatics. Returning a few months later to see As You Like It was not such a joyful experience.

Antony and Cleopatra is one of my very favourite Shakespeare plays — probably the favourite. Yet it is certainly uneven: it contains some of the author’s most beautiful poetry but also some dramatic casualness. I recently saw the Globe’s production of this play, and found it a real let-down. Frances Barber was the only member of the cast who was even half-way convincing, and Enobarbus somehow contrived not to thrill in that most wonderful of all Shakespeare’s speeches: "The barge she sat in…."

As has often been said, maybe the most reliable way to see Shakespeare is on film. But the medium can, er, swamp the message.  As I write, Cathy and Jenny are watching for the second time in as many days a rented DVD called "She’s the Man", allegedly an update of Twelfth Night, concerning a boy’s soccer team….you get the picture. I’ll draw a veil.