Pen In Hand- Tim Parks (Alma Books 2019) – A Books About Books Review

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Tim Parks’ latest non-fiction work is very much a companion piece to “Where I’m Reading From” which I read and reviewed last year. Subtitled “Reading, re-reading and other mysteries” it is a collection of articles written either for the New York Review Of Books or the New York Times between 2014 and 2017.

 These articles are linked by a Foreword in which Parks encourages us, in a bid to make us more active readers to always have a pen in hand whilst reading and not to be afraid to annotate and highlight the book and note down our thoughts on what we are reading whilst things are still fresh.  Needless to say, my overwhelming desire to finish a book with it looking as pristine as when I started it means that I could not do this with Parks’ work but I certainly can see where he is coming from.  I don’t think I would ever be able to borrow a book from him as he says; “These days, going back to reading the novels and poetry that have been on my shelves since university days, I see three or four layers of comments, perhaps in different coloured pens.”

What he is getting here is a rich resource on his observations upon the work and how  they might have changed over time.  For those of you like me who would find writing on a book difficult,  the E-Book, where markings can be erased and altered so easily may be the answer.  I do often highlight when reading on my Kindle but do not always go back to those highlights and never provide the running commentary on the text which Parks deems so beneficial.

 Elsewhere he covers a lot of fascinating ground on how to read and what it is to be a reader.  He admits that the same sources do tend to come up as examples and that is probably only to be expected – Primo Levi, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Elena Ferrante are amongst those who come under scrutiny and an author I found my interest piqued by – Karl Ove Knausgaard, who has to date passed me by and who in the articles evolves from someone who Parks feels everybody seems to be reading to one who is assumed to be a best-seller by those in the business but whose sales outside his Norwegian homeland do not reflect this.  I found myself considering taking out his “Death In The Family” from the library as a result of Parks’ focus, but then decided to leave it until another time. 

Parks does have a very Euro-centric view having lived much of his adult life in Italy and working as a translator and as in “Where I’m Coming From” I found his views on translated fiction the most fascinating.  In fact, the section on translations which comprises of articles on retranslations of existing translated work, comparing the work of translators on the same text and whether translators should be paid royalties made me wish I had kept up with languages and had been a translator of the written word myself.  A French A-level 30+ years ago would probably not cut it these days- so I think I’ve missed my chance!

 Despite this work being formed from articles I found that it did read well as a whole more cohesively than his 2014 collection.  I found many of Tim Parks’ ideas stimulating and some challenging (but still withheld and temptation to scrawl my objections in the margin as he would have wanted me to do).  What I haven’t done yet, and this is with a shimmer of guilt as I mentioned this last time round is to read any of his novels to see how this feelings about the world of fiction and the needs of the reader has been incorporated into his own work. But I will.

fourstars

 

Pen In Hand was published in hardback by Alma Books in May 2019.  I would very much like to thank the publishers for doing their homework and finding out that I had read and enjoyed Tim Parks in the past and sending me a copy of this to review.

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National Libraries Week – Isle Of Wight Libraries

Like most areas, the Isle Of Wight had a planned week of activities to celebrate National Libraries Week.  We wanted to use the occasion to highlight the good work that is going on in the libraries.  On the island we have a mixture of council-run and community libraries and both, despite what the powers that be might want us to think, continue to thrive.

One of the libraries I work at wanted to offer something completely new for the week and we got to racking our brains.  I had mentioned a bookshop I had been into in Bath where a customer was sat with a member of staff who was talking to them about their reading interests and acting as a personal shopper for them.  I mentioned how this would be a perfect job and an idea was formed.

We decided to hold a Reader’s Advisory Day.  A quick visit to the internet suggested that this is something which happens in libraries in less cash-strapped areas than ourselves and that some people in certain areas (although we didn’t find any evidence of this in the UK) have this as their job title.  There were some basic resources on the internet to ensure that you got the best out of making recommendations, but these largely involved listening to what the person you were advising was telling you!  And who was deemed the most appropriate person to be the said Reading Advisor.  How about someone who spends their time reviewing and blogging and writing about books?  So that’s how I  became the Sandown Library Reading Advisor for a day (or the Book Doctor as colleagues have termed me, or the Book Guru, which is probably worse!).

Here’s how we advertised it.

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To be honest, people didn’t flock to make appointments as they were unsure what it was all about.  Nevertheless, we made cakes and in a fit of getting carried away by the idea decided to pitch a mini-marquee in the middle of the library for me to work from.

On the day you couldn’t help but notice something was going on in the library and I had people in my tent with me talking about books for the whole of the time the thing was running.  Basically, we chatted about what it was they liked about their favourites and saw if that rang any bells in my head (sometimes it didn’t sometimes it did).  When it didn’t there are loads of online resources out there (including Amazon and I’m pleased to say New Books magazine and the Nudge website where many of my reviews and interviews can be found).  We ate cake and had a very nice day.  The whole thing was deemed a success- although it took us a while to remember how to take the marquee down!

 

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It was great fun but all that concentration did leave me a little tired by the end of the afternoon.  We are certainly going to do it again in the future and my line manager wants me to work the idea for other libraries on the island.

Some of the authors I recommended during the day:   Chris Cleave, Ann Patchett, Frederick Backman, Robert Harris (more than once actually), Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, C J Sansom, Frances Hardinge, Ann Tyler, Rachel Joyce, Nina George, Stephen King, Joe Hill, David Gemell, Rory Clemens.