Reading Journal: Friday 10th September 2010

You know, even though I’ve dived back into full-time lit blogging (and I’ve never been happier having done so) I thought about leaving out this online reading journal feature until I could come up with the ultimate format for it; a format which would be introduced in RobAroundBooks v2.0. Fact is I’ve been trying to come up with a plan for my ultimate online reading journal formula for well over a year now, and I’ve still not come up with anything that I’m 100% happy with. Now don’t get wrong, there’s nothing I like more than to share my reading notes with you guys. I’ve mentioned loads of times how valuable and insightful it is for me to record and share the important ‘journey’ in between the two points of starting a book and finishing it, but I’ve always wanted to do so in a unique and innovative way – in a way that closely mirrors the random and casual way in which I maintain my offline reading journals. However, I’ve always found the results in the translation from offline to online to have always been less than satisfactory.

Marginal scribbles
“In less time than it took for his entire body to vault upward with incredible force and fall back down, it disintegrated into big and small chunks of flesh and his severed head hit the ceiling like a ball squirting jets of blood everywhere before dropping onto the iron floor where it bounced once, rolled over to the frame of a seat, bumped into its leg, shook slightly, and settled.”

From the short story, Fable of A Severed Head by Sajid Rashid (available to read for free on the Words Without Borders website)

I’ve come to the obvious conclusion however, that if I am ever going to come up with a perfect formula for this online reading journal, then I won’t get anywhere by just sitting around thinking about it. Take the skillful potter for instance, he doesn’t go from lump of clay to perfect bowl just by thinking about it does he? No! He throws his clay on the wheel and then he remoulds and reshapes that clay until he creates the perfect product of his mind. So, for the time being, I need to treat this reading journal as my lump of clay, and I need to physically work at remodeling and reshaping it until I can finally come with something that’s 100% in my mind.

So with that goal in mind my reading journal returns, in much the same way that I left it. But this time it’s going to be more of an ongoing work-in-progress. Ignore the fact that you may have found this feature to be a bit boring and humdrum in the past (although I do know that some of you really like it as it is), and don’t be put off if you see no difference. Just take comfort in the knowledge that this reading journal feature will eventually evolve into something else; something which I hope will become unique, useful and insightful, to everyone who reads it.


So after a few ‘self belief’ wobbles last week I return to the task of ‘full time’ lit-blogging wtih renewed focus and vigour. And so far it’s been an absolute blast. You’ve no doubt noticed a proliferation in the amount of short story reading I’m doing right now, and I apologise to people who aren’t such big of the short story form (Jackie from Farmlane Books are you reading this right now? :)), but I am trying to maintain some kind of balance in my reading of all forms. Because I like to post reviews on individual short stories as I read them, you may be thinking that all I’m reading right now is short stories, but that’s not the case. I’m going to skip over talking about any of my short story reading today, to tell you a little something of the other titles which are taking up my reading time.

Take Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne (Duckworth Publishing) for instance. I may have only have just posted my forethoughts for it yesterday, but already I’m up to Page 171. How am I getting on with it? Well, so far so good. I said in my forethoughts that I hoped that it would be something more than a simple Wall Street ‘yawner’ and so far it is. I was hoping that the story would be more about an outcast trying to fit in, and it very much is, much to my delight. Teddy Wayne has created a great character in his main character, Karim Issar and if the novel keeps going the way it is then Karim will end up being one of these characters that one always seem to be endeared to; you know someone like Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, or for me, more recently, Torsten Krol’s Odell Deefus. Karim comes with a rather unique vocabulary, one that’s based around computer jargon and formal business talk. He also a rather analytical and logical way of working things out – everyday things – and if this all sounds a little dry and boring, here’s an example to show that it’s not:

We do not converse much in the elevator or as we walk to the Starbucks or on line for the coffee vendor, even though we have to brainstorm frequently about programming roadblocks when we labor. I am a strong communicator in team situation for problem solving, but I am not as expert in conversing about nonproblems, and I think Rebecca is also deficient in this area. Jefferson has mastery over it and modifies his conversation when he networks in the office. I can converse merely in one mode, which is a skill set I must enhance to grow as a business leader.

I am relieved when it is our turn with the female vendor with pink hair. Rebecca orders a complex coffee, and I order a regular coffee with milk. The vendor informs us of the cost, which makes me question if it I worth buying premium coffee over receiving subpar coffee for free. Rebecca opens her purse.

So that’s just a little taste of the kind of vocabulary that Karim uses, and it’s kind of charming isn’t it? And the charm factor just seems to climb ever higher when you add in Karim’s naivety of Western ways and the fact that the entire novel is presented as if it were Karim’s daily journal. Of course it’s a little early to say if Kapitoil is an absolute winner, but all the signs so far are certainly pointing in the right direction.


Now, if you were on and around Twitter a few weeks ago then you would have seen me wagging my tail quite vigourously about buying a certain biography, featuring a certain personal hero of mine. That biography was the Faber-published Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, written by Constance’s grandson Richard Garnett. If you read RobAroundBooks then you’ll know that Constance Garnett is a huge hero of mine. I adore her Russian translations – particularly her translations of Chekhov’s short stories – and although some find Garnett’s translations to faulty and outdated, I adore them because they are ‘of the age’.

And so my admiration of Constance Garnett obviously extends to a curiosity of Constance Garnett herself. I’m intrigued by her life. I want to know a little more about her. And what better way to do that than to read the biography written by her very own grandson, the biography I’ve been raving about buying.

So over the past couple of weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of Richard Garnett’s biography on his grandmother and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. I’m only a couple of chapters in mind you so I’ve only just scratched the surface, but so far I’m loving Richard Garnett’s writing style, his attention to detail, and the kind of homely intimate feel of the biography; a benefit which no doubt comes from the biography being written by close family member.

I’ve learned about Constance’s grandparents – her grandfather an intrepid steamship captain who navigated the inhospitable Baltic sea – and about Constance’s parents themselves. Constance calls her father ‘devoted’, a man of ‘absolute integrity and great humanity’. Yet she also notes that he nervous and easily irritated. She recalls that even at the age of thirty she had to frame her sentences in her mind before she would talk to him. Quite remarkable, and as I said, wholly intimate. I look forward to continuing my journey through this one.

‘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. Rob
    How’s the quality of the Faber Finds book? I’ve got my eye of a Tolstoy diary volume but can’t bring myself to order it because I’m worried about POD quality.

    Also, when you say “full-time blogging”, how many hours a day are you talking?

    Yours curiously

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Hi Marcia,
      On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give a quality rating of about a 7. It’s certainly not shabby in its production but neither is it of the most superior quality I’ve ever seen. Is it worth £20 (that’s what the Garnett one cost me)? Yes, but more for the content rather than the ‘carrier’

      How many hours a day do I ‘blog’? As many as I can spare. But on average, including all of the background stuff and the reading: 9 to 10 hours. I must be mad (as we all are) 🙂
      Warmest regards

  2. Mad? Dedicated? Choose your adjective. 😉

  3. Stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)

    wow rob put my hour or two a day in to shade good sir ,all the best stu

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      So now do you see why I get mad when people don’t take me seriously Stu? 🙂

      Only joking. Impressive that you only spend an hour or two per day on your blog Stu. That’s good going considering the amount you post.

      • Stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)

        would be more but with shifts and dog and family time with Amanda ,that is most can do ,but always think about my posts ,so try and post best I can with time ,now sometimes a bit ropey I m not daft but also I m happy with what I put out and it shows my raw uncontroled and untrained passion for books ,all the best stu

  4. Melissa (Twitter: bettyandboo)

    We are all works in progress, aren’t we? 🙂 Looking forward to seeing how the Reading Journal evolves. Oh, and a belated welcome back. Glad your thoughts of leaving turned out to be only that, as I would have certainly missed your reviews (especially of all the short stories, of which you can read as many as you’d like and I will be thrilled.)

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Great to hear form you and many thanks for the kind words of support (as always).

      I’m looking forward to seeing how my Reading Journal evolves too. An exciting time

  5. Rob tour dedication and time spent really shows. great post and great to see you back at it.