Reading Journal: Tuesday 25th May 2010

While I’m managing perfectly to keep up with my shorter reading assignments, I’m having a real hard time tackling my bigger ones. Again I was determined to dive back into my Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist reading, and to make a start on Hamsun’s Shallow Soil (forethoughts) for my Totally Knut reading project, but again I failed to make much progress on either. What’s happening to me? Am I stretching myself too thinly? Am I losing my motivation for longer works of fiction? Thinking about it I’d say no, but I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of reading I’ve still to do in order to complete my Foreign Fiction Prize project. What I think I might do is sideline that reading for a week or so, and tick off some of lesser (in terms of size), works in translation, just to give my batteries a much needed boost.

If I’m being completely honest though, I could lay much of the blame squarely at the feet of the Giro d’Italia, and the bit of a heatwave we’re experiencing at the moment. Both are distracting me massively. However, with the Giro coming to an end this weekend (sob!) and Scottish weather never staying hot for more than a couple of days, those distractions should dissipate and I’ll be back in full focus.

OK moving swiftly on and Tuesday means Chekhov and I had a couple of wonderful little tales to frolic through. Of course in reality it’s not possible to frolic through many of Chekhov’s tale such is their solemnity, and both the tales I read today were no exception. That said however both Chekhovian offerings were a delight to read, even if they were somewhat grey in colour.

The first tale, A Troublesome Visitor is about a woodsman living the middle of nowhere who is troubled by a never-ending stream of villains. The second tale, The Husband, concerns the visit of a cavalry regiment to a sleepy town, and a jealous husband. I’ve written up my afterthoughts on both stories so if you want to find out a little more about them then visit this page for A Troublesome Visitor, and this one for The Husband.


I knew I wasn’t going to like one of the contributions from Beirut39 (Bloomsbury) at some point was going at some point, and unfortunately with Lebanese writer Hala Kawtharani’s contribution that point has come. It’s not that her contribution Three Stories – a tentatively linked (?) trio of shorts – is particularly dull, or poorly written. Rather that it’s presented at a pitch which I couldn’t seem to tune myself into. I’m disappointed certainly, but I suppose it’s something of a tall order to expect each and every contribution in an anthology to thrill one. Don’t be put off my lack of enthusiasm for this one though, your reading experience with this one will probably be a lot different. Story Rating: ★★½☆☆


You know you’ve read a good story when you immediately punch the air when you finish it and holler YEEESSS!! That’s exactly what happened the moment I finished reading Catch and Release the short story contribution from Lawrence Block, for Gaiman and Sarrantonio’s upcoming Stories anthology (Headline Publishing). The story, presented in third-person perspective tells the tale of an evil sort who trawls the highways and byways in search of female prey. Using the analogy and cover of a fisherman, the man picks up unsuspecting females with a view to causing them considerable personal harm. There’s a difference however, as as he likes to catch fish and release them, so he likes to do the same thing to women. Whether he does any of them any kind of harm in the interim is something you’ll have to discover for yourself. But I wil say this. Catch and Release is gripping! Catch and Release is compellingly! And most of all Catch and Release is unputdownable! Definitely one of the best in the anthology so far. Story Rating: ★★★★½


And so I come to Day #2 of my Flash Clash challenge, and you know, I’m really starting to enjoy this. It’s taking no longer than an hour to read and digest these stories every day and I’m exposing myself to some wonderfully creative and clever writing. So far Nik Perring is surprising me. Sure I’ve only read two of his stories so far but he’s revealing himself to be both astute and impressively reflective. Is it possible to be reflective in something as short as flash fiction? I wouldn’t have thought so but Perring seems to be pulling it off somehow. Story of the day however goes to David Gaffney for his wonderful story, Last to Know. The good news for you guys – you can read the story for free (direct PDF link) along with a few others from the collection, courtesy of the kind folks at Salt Publishing. Anyway on today’s ‘Flash Clash’ rundown in full:

Author Collection Story Title *Comment Rating
Nik Perring Bare and Naked in Siberia Topical Rating: ★★★★☆
Alex Burrett The Stone Fishy Rating: ★★★☆☆
Etgar Keret Goodman Average Rating: ★★★☆☆
**David Gaffney Last to Know
Flying Lessons with Gary Numan
Rating: ★★★★★
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
***Dan Rhodes Beauty
Rating: ★★★½☆
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Rating: ★★★★☆

*Keeping in the spirit of flash I’m limiting myself to only giving single-word comments for each story.
**As they are incredibly short in length, David Gaffney’s stories are being ‘ticked off’ two at a time.
*** Dan Rhode’s stories are even shorter than Gaffney’s and I have to cover three per day in order to finish his collection in time.

::Wednesday’s reading plans::

  • Wednesday’s are now put aside for Edgar Allan Poe reading to help to me progress however slowly, towards finishing my iPoe reading challenge. And this week I’m taking a look at A Tale of the Ragged Mountains, which sounds utterly irresistible. We’ll see :).
  • Moving on through Gaiman and Sarrantonio’s Stories, and it’s the turn of a writer I’ve never read anything from before, Jeffrey Ford, with a wonderfully titled story called Polka Dots and Moonbeams.
  • It’s onwards through Arab anthology Beruit39 of course, and next up is another novel extract (the first in a while), this one from Egyptian Hamdy el Gazzar. The novel in question is called Secret Pleasures, and the translator for this extract is none other than the bastion of Arabic translators (one of my favourites anyway), Humphrey Davies.
  • In the hope of making better progress, my only scheduled ‘long read’ for the day is going to be Knut Hamsun’s Shallow Soil.
‘Reading Journal’ provides an unedited, on-the-fly record of the bookish highlights in Rob’s reading day.
About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. I can sympathise with your Foreign Fiction Prize fatigue. I managed 10 out of the 15 on the longlist – it was The Kindly Ones which slowed me down – at times it felt as long as the war itself. I thought Brodeck’s Report was a worthy winner – I’d read it last year before I went to see Claudel in Edinburgh. I’m enjoying your short story comments, though – I don’t read enough. You make the Stories anthology sound interesting. I also keep glancing at my bookshelves where Hunger, Pan, Victoria and Growth of the Soil lie at eye level – I haven’t read any Hamsun in twenty years, perhaps it’s time I did again…

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Great to hear from you again 1st!
      10 out of 15 is actually super impressive in my book (no pun intended). The shortlist is only six long and I managed to burn myself out after only 3.5. A poor attempt!

      The Kindly Ones is one I really, really want to read myself but I’ve heard it’s a dense one to get through. So you have my utmost respect twice over. Thrice actually, given that you’ve also seen Claudel in the flesh (so to speak)

      Stories is amazing. Contributions from so many genre writers, yet it just seems to work – really well!

      As for Hamsun, I’m not sure if you’ve read the books you’ve listed already. But if you haven’t read Hunger yet then you really must. What a soul toucher that one is!
      Anyway thanks for stopping by and saying Hi!
      Speak soon