This is not a wrap-up. The idea is to create a space where I can record random thoughts at random intervals outwith book reviews.

Photographs played important roles in 3 of the 8 books I read in January. All were key to unlocking past mysteries in the Finnish historical novel, Land of Snow and Ashes, the Japanese crime novel, Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight and the best-selling Basque contemporary novel, Her Mother’s Hands. My review of the latter – my book of the month – will be published in the Spanish Riveter later this year. But don’t wait till then to read it. It’s short, published by Parthian Books, and perfect for February’s Reading Independent Publishers event.

War and Peace Readalong (Book One, Part One)

Over 1000 readers are now participating in Simon Hassell’s one chapter a day readalong. I’ve already realised that that pace isn’t for me. Tolstoy is just too readable to stop after 5 to 6 pages. So Sunday afternoons are now dedicated to reading the week’s allocation (a 50 page chunk is much more satisfying). Parallel reading the thoughts of those who participated in Yiyun Li’s lockdown readalong, now published in Tolstoy Together, is giving fabulous insight. Stand out thoughts so far:

  • For Russia, War and Peace has always been a founding epic. Tolstoy once said, without false modesty, it is like the Iliad. In these early scenes, we see adopted French culture on full display. By the end, Russia will have found itself. John Neeleman
  • Tolstoy masterful exposition: Julia Karagin’s letter saves us from having to read ten more chapters on how Count Bezukhov’s will gets sorted out. A good gossip is a good assistant to a novelist. Yiyun Li
  • On the most touching sentence so far: “From the study, like gunshots, came the oft-repeated angry sounds of the old man blowing his nose”. Hearing rather than seeing the old prince in distress at his son leaving for war. A lovely way to access his sorrow. Laura Spence-Ash

Group discussions are held on a discord server, and I’m already realising that my views on Prince Andrei, Pierre and Natasha are likely to undergo fundamental change for I am not the person I was when I last read W&P (however, long ago that was!)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Part One, Book One in Rosemary Edmond’s 1957 translation. Because of my execrable French, I am very thankful that the English translation of many passages which Tolstoy wrote in French are incorporated into the main body of the text. Other translations, namely the Maudes (1907) as revised by Amy Mandelker (2010) reinstates the French with the English translation presented as footnotes. Which is why when I switch to a more modern translation, I shall use Anthony Briggs’s translation as he is attuned to my way of thinking.

The Major Cull of 2023 (target 450)

The first pass has been completed and 150 cullees (?) have been identified. These are duplicates or those I am no longer interested in (re-)reading or easily accessible online if need be. 114 have moved onto pastures new, and I am in the process of listing some on ebay. Curious? Looking for a bargain? Here you go.

Can’t say much space has appeared in the room that needs redecorating though.

The second pass is going to be much harder. I need a Plan B. Maybe a creative storage solution like this one.

In which a German engineer stores his 70,000 books. (From Twitter)

To do that, I’d have to remove the loft insulation. On a more realistic note, I need to reprogramme my completist self and consider downsizing my personal library to a capsule collection. But defining a capsule collection is proving difficult. Any ideas?