Thursday, August 30, 2012

Communion Town, by Sam Thompson

Fourth Estate, 2012 (UK)
278 pp

"That ancient lonely thing, wandering the city forever in search of someone to whom it could speak its tale. No one ever knew what its story was, or what happened to those who heard it, but everyone knew that if you listened you were lost. You would never be the same again."

The subtitle of Communion Town is "A city in ten chapters," although it's really a collection of ten short stories with different characters in each one.  Common among them all is the city which "doesn't stop, however appalled;"  each "chapter" different because, as the narrator in the first story notes, "each of us conjures up our own city."  Another link between them all: a character eventually known as "The Flâneur", who wanders throughout the city, not always named as such but he's always there.   There's also no let up of atmosphere here -- even in the light of day things are dark and mysterious -- in fact, the book hones in on the mysteries of the city as experienced by different people who populate its streets and districts.  There's also a great deal about the power of the story to change lives.  On the other hand, aside from these  points, there is a lot of play with but  little continuity in terms of writing style -- and I'm taking it on faith that there's some purpose behind this device that is designed to make it a novel rather than just a collection of short stories.  There are some parts of this book where the author  drew me in with prose that triggered some vivid imagery in my head; in other parts, I got frustrated because I shouldn't have to work this hard to try to understand what I'm reading (why do some writers  have to show off so?).  Above all,  I'm wondering which voice is really Sam Thompson's ... why does he have to be so gimmicky here?  

The  first story "Communion Town," which takes place in an interview room, has a great opening that whets the appetite for more and keeps a level of tension going throughout.   An unnamed official of some sort with eyes that go everywhere and see everything -- "I'm good at not being seen and in my job locked doors aren't a problem" --   is talking to a newly-arrived woman, Ulya,  who came to the city with Nicolas. He is locked away after his involvement in a "terrorist" act; the official is talking Ulya "through the way he sees it," about Nicolas. She'll have the opportunity to correct him and give him her side of the story.   The city in this story  is composed of a society where homeless or other people on the margins are known as monsters, "ingrates or the abject," "pharmakoi", or "homines sacri"; Nicolas is in the habit of helping these down-and-outers, which is apparently never done in this city, especially not in public.  From there the book  goes into other mysteries of the city throughout its  various districts, told from several different points of view and related via different styles -- horror, noir, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, sci-fi, etc. Despite the gimmicky-ness of the pastiche styles,  I will say that the  thinly-disguised Sherlock &  Moriarty-type characters of  "The Significant City of Lazarus Glass," helped it to become one of my favorite stories of the group, because of the concept of the memory house extending out to the entire city and its very reasoned conclusion.  It's also one of the most reader-friendly pieces in the book.

Here's the thing, though -- unless the author is aiming his work at  a specific target audience, it seems like he's expecting way too much of his readers.  As an example, I had to go look up the term "flâneur," to discover it's a concept from Beaudelaire.  Well, what do you know -- I haven't read Beaudelaire. Okay, so I get it after looking it up and that's okay. Then I  come to the noir-styled story "Gallathea," and off I go in search of insight on the title. Well, hey, whaddya know, it's an Elizabethan-era drama, currently reproduced on stages but of course, not something I've ever seen or for that matter heard of, but after reading about that, I know a little more about what I've just read. So now I'm thinking that perhaps I should have my iPhone in hand to use as an encyclopedia and look up Moll Cutpurse, a character in  "Gallathea," and another light bulb goes off over my head. I do a little more digging and discover that there are characters in this story whose names come from a work by Ben Jonson called "The Alchemist." Bingo.  The same thing happens again and again in the other stories and then this morning, after I'd written my initial response to this novel yesterday, I start scouring reviews to see what other people had written and I get to one from Strange Horizons  where the author notes about the story "Ways to Leave" that "There's even an image from Tarkovsky's Stalker in there if you look for it!"  Wow. Do I feel stupid or what for not having noticed that? That's sarcasm, by the way.

I'm not saying that this is a bad book, because it's not. I love the atmosphere and there are some really good stories -- "The City Room," for example and I've already mentioned "The Significant City of Lazarus Glass."  In fact, I liked many of the stories in this book. I could deal with the structural concept,   I didn't  mind that many stories were left without a resolution or explanation -- these are, after all, stories based on the mysteries of the city --  nor did I really get too hung up on trying to make connections -- they're there. There are also some really super moments of prose where I could actually see what the author's describing -- take this one from "Gallathea,"  for instance:
 "Behind me was the Part Bridge and ahead lay the wreck of the west pier, its grand pavilion listing down to the mud like a crash-landed flying saucer, with the fishbones of decayed struts bowed underneath."

What a great image! That one just sprung out and I could really see it.  Or here's another from the same story:
"I was moving through a new set of dimensions, subtle dimensions of treachery, marked in increments of outrage. I discovered a whole new city, mapping streets of fury and avenues of humiliation and gridlocked intersections of desire."

That comes off very clearly -- who couldn't enjoy such lovely writing?  I think the atmosphere and the ability of the prose to bring out such vivid images is really well executed, but sheesh! It's tough from the casual reader perspective  to wholeheartedly engage with a book when you're concerned about how much you may be missing.  So for me, Communion Town turned out to be a mixed bag, leaning more to the side of frustration.  On the other hand, if Mr. Thompson decides to write a novel in the future, I'd definitely be willing to give it a go.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

free book offer, US: Scandinavian Crime, Jussi-Adler Olson's The Absent One

I accidentally bought this book when I already had it under the UK title of Disgrace so this copy is up for grabs. You can read about it at the crime segments portion of my reading journal. Just be the first to comment (over there NOT here ). 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy

And Other Stories, 2011
157 pp

The summer of 1994 and a rented villa in France  provide  the setting for this short but powerfully unnerving  novel,  which takes place in the span of only one week's time, with events related one day at a time from varying points of view. Swimming Home starts out with a  family and a couple of their friends on what is supposed to be a peaceful vacation together, but the discovery of a naked young woman named Kitty Finch in their swimming pool  changes everything.  Her presence upends any sort of relaxation a vacation is supposed to provide (as well as any other story based on this idea) and becomes the catalyst for things lying long concealed under the surface to materialize.  I've never read anything by this author before, so I can't say how it is similar or different to anything she's written in the past, but I can say that this book is disquieting yet at the same time  captivating.  It's not a light and happy kind of story; in fact, it can become very dark at times and sometimes uncomfortable to read. 

Joe, Isabel and Nina Jacobs are sharing the rented villa on the Riviera with two friends, Mitchell and Laura.  Joe is a poet who came to England at age five, the son of Polish Jews who died in the camps.  His wife Isabel is a war correspondent, nearly 50, and their daughter Nina is a  teenager who is probably older than her years, verging mentally on the edge of young adulthood.   Isabel has spent her daughter's life largely away from home in the world's hotspots, reporting on "countless massacres and conflicts... pressing her up close to  the suffering world,"  leaving Nina in Joe's charge, but  largely neglected and having to fend for herself.  Laura is Isabel's friend, and together with husband Mitchell, she runs a shop in Euston selling "primitive Persian, Turkish and Hindu weapons," as well as African jewelry.  The neighbor in the next villa over, Madeleine Sheridan, is a British expat and retired psychiatrist  who watches the group from a hidden place on her balcony, and refers to Mitchell as the "fat man who liked guns."

Coming stark naked out of the villa's pool is Kitty Finch, the central character of this novel.  She claims that she had made a mistake in booking dates for the villa, and that now as luck would have it, there were no hotels open in the area for several more days. Isabel invites Kitty to stay at the villa until a hotel opens up, an offer  no one can fathom.  In fact, one of the central questions that runs throughout the story is why Isabel would do such a thing.  When Kitty accepts, she asks if it's okay with everyone, telling them to say if they mind.  Laura is especially anxious about Kitty staying:
"She and Mitchell had shut their shop in Euston for the entire summer, knowing the windows that had been smashed by thieves and drug addicts at least three times that year would be smashed again when their holiday was over. They had come to the Alpes-Maritimes to escape from the futility of breaking glass...The young woman was a window waiting to be climbed through. A window that she guessed was a little broken anyway... it seemed to her that Joe Jacobs had already wedged his foot into the crack and his wife had helped him"
but says nothing.   Nina is also troubled, and feels her heart going "hysterical,"  but not one person in the group speaks up and Kitty moves in.  As it turns out, Kitty is a fan of Joe's poetry; she is also a friend of the villa's owner, a woman for whom Kitty's mother used to clean, and who had revealed to Kitty that Joe has taken the place for the summer.  She has come to get Joe to read her poem entitled "Swimming Home," which Kitty says is a conversation with him and no one else.   Joe has an "aha" moment after Kitty confesses during a walk with him, thinking about
 "young women who followed him about and wanted him to read their poetry, and he was now convinced she was one of them, always started by telling him they’d written a poem about something extraordinary. They walked side by side, flattening a path through long grass. He waited for her to speak, to make her request, to say how influenced by his books she was, to explain how she’d managed to track him down, and then she would ask would he mind, did he have time, would he be so kind as to please, please read her small effort inspired by himself."
But their conversation goes well beyond poetry.  In a short span of time Kitty reveals to Joe that after being on it for several years, she's discontinued her depression medication because she feels nothing when she takes it.  Despite the fact that the other characters find her to be "barmy, bonkers, barking, ... loopy, nuts, off with the fairies and ... cuckoo," Joe finds her to be
  "as receptive as it was possible to be, an explorer, an adventurer, a nightmare. Every moment with her was a kind of emergency, her words always too direct, too raw, too truthful."
There's every hint that something is going to happen between Kitty and Joe, not only because the other characters are concerned about it, but also because the author has given us a peek into the near future in a couple of brief episodes entitled "A Mountain Road. Midnight."  It is here that Joe leans his head out of a car window, noting that
"Early humans had once lived in this mountain forest. They knew the past lived in rocks and trees and they knew desire made them awkward, mad, mysterious, messed up."
  In the meantime,  things start to spiral in all of  the vacationers' lives, building to a surprising conclusion as thoughts and feelings go unvoiced, as signs go unheeded or are totally misread, as important information is not acted upon, as motives are questioned, as secrets are quietly revealed and as plots go off off the rails. 

The continuing  switch of points of view keeps things edgy and sharp, making for a particularly jarring reading experience and  turning on its head any expectation the reader may have.   As the novel twists and turns toward a surprising conclusion, as the reader is thinking that all is eventually going to be revealed, we find out that like the Jacobs and their friends, we may have possibly misread things all along, depending more on our own presumptions rather than what the signs have been pointing toward throughout the entire story. 

While definitely chilling and unnerving, the novel is also a far cry from ordinary and is well worth reading.  If you are looking for a light, feel good kind of thing, this isn't it.  The first few pages in I knew this was something pleasingly different and I didn't once change my mind.   I do have to be really honest here and say that my lack of literary background is probably a detriment. For example, while I get some of the symbolism and metaphors  involved here, many of the professional or more literary  reviews I read after I finished this book point to the fact that the author based her title on John Cheever's story called "The Swimmer."  I haven't read this work, and so as usual, I probably missed out on a lot of what the author was trying to convey.   This is really frustrating, and it a) makes me feel sort of unqualified to comment in some kind of knowledgeable fashion and b) prompted me to buy a copy of Cheever's short stories for later reading.  On the other hand, I genuinely connected with this  novel as far as I understood it, and for me, that's what it's really all about.  

a rethink, a rant revisit and a really cool publisher

Here it is August 20th and the end of the month is eleven days away.  It's also, following this post, the day I'm going to make the first post about reading the novels on the Booker longlist. Now, I do this every year, but this year I'm downright sluggish in getting started  for a couple of reasons, but one in particular worth noting. 

I've been having a bit of a rethink lately on writing about books I've been reading. It all started when I finished Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, did my writeup and then started perusing other reviews -- the normal sequence of events since I don't want anything to intrude on the way I think about a particular novel.  When I came to one literary review that talked about the novel's title being based on John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer," I just about panicked. I'd never read that story before so how in the hell is it even  remotely possible I would get what the author of Swimming Home is trying to say in her book?  I gave this a huge amount of thought and came to the realization that well, I can't. It's really no fault of mine if I haven't read Cheever's story; I mean, sheesh -- I can't have possibly read everything, but still, it made me feel really kind of stupid thinking that I can read Swimming Home, get every nuance, every subtext every yada yada yada and then actually write about it in some kind of meaningful way.  I actually finished this book last week but have just kind of sat here in a great deal of distress wondering why I even bother to do this at all.  The same goes for other novels.  I'll find a book I like or even dislike, write something about it and then go read what other people with a more literary bent say and feel like a dumbass for what I've missed or didn't pick up on.  So after a lot of inner turmoil, I've decided that what I'm doing  here in this online reading journal  shouldn't really be called  writing "reviews,"  but rather I'm  keeping a record for myself of what books I've  read and why, what I think the novel was about, and how I engaged or didn't with a particular story, and offer my humble opinion as to why.  And to settle my inner angst and feelings that I'm stupid, that's the direction I want to go with any future books I read and write about. The other thing I like to think I'm doing is calling attention to books that are not on any bestseller list or which have not been nominated for any spectacular literary prize, but that's another whole story I won't get into right now.   The long and short of it is this: I can't pretend to be someone I'm not or to write in a way that is "sophisticated," and if I don't get something that seems obvious to everyone else, well, there's not a whole lot I can do about it.   Enough. On to the next paragraph and a change of topic.

Another thing that's really been bothering me lately is this whole thing with pb shop and my purchase of Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. I realize that very few people aside from myself really give a rat's ass about the whole thing, but if you live in the US and want brand new books from the UK, you don't have a whole lot of choice about who you deal with from over there, so this may be worth the two minutes you might have to spend reading this paragraph.   Publishing rights make these books unavailable in the US, sometimes for months.  You're not going to get them from Book Depository directly like you used to be able to; Book Depository was my go-to place until the whole Amazon/Book Depository thing made that impossible. Now you have to sidestep and look at Amazon's marketplace sellers which doesn't leave a whole lot of options if you use Amazon like I do. Generally I've had great  luck with the sellers, it's easy and it's efficient and frankly, they're one of the very few resources I can turn to that is affordable. Anyway, when I made my last post about this craziness with one of Amazon's sellers, pb shop,  I had just returned the incorrect book Madame Bovary to PB shop's Illinois venue on Friday the 10th; delivery confirmation gave me the entire history of where that book went between the 10th and the 13th, the day it was received.  I waited to hear something from these guys and nothing.  So I politely inquired about the status of the book I'd actually ordered, and I was, correctly, asked for the tracking number which I provided. I also copied and pasted the book's travel history, and asked when I might have an ETA for the replacement.  So this morning, I got an email from one person saying that they hadn't received my book, and asked for tracking information and dates; there was also an email from an entirely different person saying thank you, we received the book and here's your money back. It's seriously like these people have no idea what is happening in their own company.  On top of that mess, over the weekend I got a "request for feedback" email asking me how long it had taken to receive the book I'd ordered and that customer service was their highest priority.   That was a silent scream moment for sure.  The point is  I didn't want the freakin' refund, people, I wanted my book.  I mean, why is this so hard to understand? At least now the whole Book Situation (or as my husband calls it the "BS") is resolved, so on to paragraph the third and the


who took an interest in my tale of woe about my inability to get my copy of their novel and emailed me over the weekend with an offer of a copy of the book.  I didn't answer right away just in case pb shop had taken pity on me and had actually sent me the copy to which I was entitled, but this morning's BS email prompted me to respond with a grateful yes. Thank you again, Ed. You deserve a medal.

end and on to the next post, which puts me back on the Booker track.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Good Muslim, by Tahmima Anam [TLC Book Tours]

Harper, 2011
297 pp
hardcover (from the publisher, thank you!)

now, newly released in paperback
Harper Perennial
320 pp

The end of East Pakistan's war for independence came in December  1971, bringing about the birth of the new nation of Bangladesh.  The effects of that civil war and its aftermath for this newly-independent country provide the backdrop for Tahmima Anam's newest novel, The Good Muslim, second in a trilogy beginning with The Golden Age. I've read a number of books by authors from India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan , but this is the first novel I've read set in Bangladesh.  The book is set during the 1980s, but events of the 1970s are offered through flashbacks, telling the story of a brother and sister whose once close relationship is changed after the war -- they go into it together as freedom fighters and come out no longer part of the same world.  Their postwar experiences have shaped who they will be in the new nation -- one becomes a crusader for justice involved in the constant struggle to create a better world for everyone, while one loses faith in the world,  and makes it his life's work helping others to prepare for the next.

Maya and Sohail Haque are siblings who were freedom fighters during the war of liberation, but their postwar experiences have left them troubled and emotionally bruised.   Maya's medical talents were put to use at refugee camps performing abortions for women who had been victims of wartime sexual violence, while Sohail has an encounter in an abandoned army barracks that will trigger a major change in his life.  He returns as a changed and troubled soul, without the ability to express the horrors he's seen and lived through; the former guitar player, lover of Elvis and Rilke and debate-team star soon finds solace in his mother's reading of the Quran;  he now begins to turn toward the shelter  religious faith.   Maya doesn't understand the changes in her brother -- she doesn't understand that he's become a hollowed-out dead soul on the inside and she doesn't get why he's chosen religion when before they would look down on people who clung to "the Book."  Her anger and frustration increase when Sohail makes a grand symbolic gesture of renouncing his worldly self, and then marries a very religious woman named Silvi.  Maya believes it must be the fault his new wife and leaves home; she goes into her own self-imposed exile where she hopes to repay the debt she feels she owes to the lives she took by becoming a "lady doctor," roaming from place to place before settling in a conservative rural village, where she does a lot of good until one particular incident changes everything.  After receiving a telegram that Silvi is dead, Maya decides that it's time to go home to Dhaka and hopes for a reconciliation with her brother.

On her return, however, she finds that not only is her brother still living the religious life, but now he's become a popular leader of a congregation whose base is a shack on the roof of the family home and is even less accessible than he was before she left.  In the meantime, new on the scene is Zaid,  Sohail's little boy, who is lost and adrift after the death of his mother. It has really hurt him -- he acts out in negative behaviors as he deals with not only the loss of his mom, but also with the  lack of hands-on care he needs from his father.   Maya tries to help Zaid by spending time with him playing and trying to teach him things, but she really views her interactions with Zaid as a sort of inroad toward reconnecting with her brother. She believes that Zaid would be happy at a modern school, an idea that Sohail quickly negates, based on his own ideas as to how Zaid should be raised. Maya doesn't understand how Sohail can put his congregation's needs over Zaid's; he doesn't understand why she won't respect his wishes.  Whether or not some sort of harmony can be reached between Maya and Sohail -- between the conflicts of her secular worldview and his faith-based approach  --  is part and parcel of the substance of this story.  In the meantime,  Zaid is the one who ultimately bears the tragic brunt of the clash between these two very different worldviews.  Watching all of this sadness unfold as it plays out in the family home is the only stable figure in all of their lives, their mother Rehana, the common ground between the two. While their conflicts, challenges and their differing concepts of the needs of the people play out at home, the same is also occurring on a much broader scale throughout the country.

Obviously I've offered a very simplified synopsis, and there is much more to the story. I'll leave the analytical reviews and the subtexts, nuances and yada yada to the professionals; as a casual yet interested reader, however, my response to the novel is that it is well worth reading as it touches on some very important issues.  Most of them deal with the problems regarding peacetime conflicts that arise in trying to determine the direction of the country.  That aspect of the book, as well as the author's focus on women's issues,  has an immediate relevance to what's happening in the world right now, primarily in the Middle East.  I liked the book very much, but I did take issue with a couple of things.  First, Maya is the dominant personality here, the progressive crusader who has definitely done a great deal of good, especially in her work in small rural villages. Yet, considering that Sohail and his conversion are major components of this story, setting up the distance that grows between the two siblings,  there is very little coming from inside of Sohail's head.  Whether it was conscious or not, Maya's dominance results in an inequality that might move the reader away from appreciating Sohail's point of view, which seems sort of unfair to me.   Second, there are so many times when this story  verges into unnecessary melodrama that it broke my concentration.

Aside from my issues with this novel, it is a very good book that I would definitely recommend. 

My thanks to Trish at TLC book tours! 

you can follow this book as it makes its way around at the tlc website

Monday, August 13, 2012

ah - they now have a name for it!

I saw this on one of my facebook friend's posts and had to share.  I'm relieved that this is a recognized condition for my addiction.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

bangs head on table

Today my ongoing problem with pbshop just reached a new level of absurdity. Let me just say that  I have used pbshop for years and rarely, if ever, have I had a problem. I actually like this seller.  Back on July 25 I ordered my copy of Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng from pbshop via I got a very timely delivery of Madame Bovary instead.  God help you if you ever receive an incorrect order from pbshop.  Yesterday's directions were to send the book back to their facility in Illinois, which I did; today I received another email telling me to return the book to their place in the UK.  I am about ready to scream.

Luckily for me Amazon has a record of all of the buyer-seller messages in a very organized inbox/sent messages format. I have also been keeping a record chronologically myself and thought I would share. It's like they don't even hear what I am saying.  Take note of #6 -- it sparked today's incident of banging head on table.

#1: Nancy to pbshop:
Inquiry from Amazon customer Nancy Oakes: Received wrong item (Order: 103-9381534-9324203)
From: Nancy Oakes
Sent: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 12:26 PM
To: pbshop

Order ID: 103-9381534-9324203

1 of The Garden of Evening Mists. by Tan Twan Eng
Hi there! I opened a parcel from you guys today and to my surprise, instead of Garden of Evening Mists, I have a lovely copy of Flaubert's Madame Bovary.  I am not worried about how this might have happened; I really need a copy of Garden of Evening Mists quickly so I am writing to find out how we can fix this problem.

Any help would be definitely appreciated.

Thank you

#2: pbshop to Nancy
 RE: Inquiry from Amazon customer Nancy Oakes: Received wrong item (Order: 103-9381534-9324203)
From: pbshop
Sent: Thursday, August 9, 2012 2:43 AM
To: Nancy Oakes
Order ID: 103-9381534-9324203
1 of The Garden of Evening Mists. by Tan Twan Eng

We are very sorry you have not received item you ordered

In order for us to resolve this quickly, can you please supply more information on the item you have received?
We ask you kindly answer the below questions:
* What is the barcode number on the item received? (This is also known as the ISBN)
* Was any paperwork included with this item? Please provide any information stated on this or if possible please provide a photo.
*On what date was this item delivered to your address?
We thank you kindly for your assistance with this.
Our apologies for any inconvenience caused,

Kindest Regards


Customer Care

#3 Nancy to pbshop: (August 9)
The bar code on Madame Bovary is 97800995298666. 
Paperwork included is a "Despatch Note" with a bar code. Under the bar code are the numbers 103-9381534-9324203
There is an order number 103-9381534-9324203
Supplied by PBShop
Catalogue Number is 9781905802494  Title and Artist: The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng [Hardcover] by T

There is no return label at the bottom of the page.

As soon as I locate my other camera I'll send pictures -- all I have right now is an iphone which takes worthless shots

The book was delivered August 8th, 2012 (yesterday)

Can you please expedite this matter and send me another copy of Garden of Evening Mists at the price I paid?

#4 pbshop to Nancy (August 10)
Friday, August 10, 2012 1:48 AM
To: Nancy Oakes

Order ID: 103-9381534-9324203

1 of The Garden of Evening Mists. by Tan Twan Eng
We are very sorry your order is incorrect.

Please return it by the most economical method of postage to:


3565 Butterfield Road
Unit A

Please state on the despatch note the reason for return and if you would like a refund or a replacement and include this along with the book.

Our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Kindest Regards


Customer Care

#5 Nancy to pbshop
 Inquiry from Amazon customer Nancy Oakes: Received wrong item (Order: 103-9381534-9324203)
From: Nancy Oakes
Sent: Friday, August 10, 2012 9:27 AM
To: pbshop

Order ID: 103-9381534-9324203

1 of The Garden of Evening Mists. by Tan Twan Eng
 Thank you for your response. 

A) I am mailing/returning  the incorrect book today to your IL facility.  I put a note as asked on the packing to slip to indicate that I would like a replacement rather than a refund. 

B) As I have asked three times now, can you PLEASE dispatch a replacement copy immediately? No one has said whether or not you intend to replace the wrong book with the one that I ordered.  I also do not understand why I am responsible for return postage since this was not my error -- to send it in the most "expedited fashion" as you requested, I have to mail it priority mail which is much more than the $3.99 postage I've already paid.

Thank you.  PLEASE just replace my book and contact me when it has been mailed.

#6 pbshop to Nancy
 RE: Inquiry from Amazon customer Nancy Oakes: Received wrong item (Order: 103-9381534-9324203)
From: pbshop
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2012 6:08 AM
To: Nancy Oakes

Order ID: 103-9381534-9324203
1 of The Garden of Evening Mists. by Tan Twan Eng
Please return it by the most economical method of postage to:

Unit 22
Horcott Industrial Estate
Horcott Road

Please state on the despatch note the reason for return and if you would like a refund or a replacement and include this along with the book.

Our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Kindest Regards


Customer Care
#7 Nancy to pbshop
Dear Claudia,
My error: I confused "economical" with "expedited."  But as per instructions (see below on August 11 email), I sent the book to your US facility in Illinois. 

I must say, I'm rather surprised. pbshop has been one of my favorite online sellers and this is just absolutely ridiculous:
a)  I have already indicated SEVERAL times that I would prefer a replacement rather than a refund (at the price quoted)
b)  I'm getting two different sets of instructions from two different people
c)  I receive one e-mail a day, and no one has yet to tell me when I might be receiving a replacement for the incorrect book that pbshop sent to me

I would prefer to continue doing business with pbshop.  If you look at my buying history, you'll see it's been going on for years and I have rarely had a problem.  I am just so surprised and frankly, a little, no change that -- quite a bit frustrated at the customer service with this issue. Now obviously I've sent the book to the incorrect location and I'm sure that's going to further hold up my order replacement. 

All I want is my new book at the price you quoted me.  Thank you.

Nancy Oakes

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

weekly longlist progress report

I was so happy this afternoon when my whacko mail lady brought me books #4 and #5, The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman and The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng, both due to be arriving either today or tomorrow.   But to my very big surprise, when I unwrapped the package that was supposed to contain Garden of Evening Mists after opening the Beauman book, there was a big fat copy of Madame Bovary there instead.  My first reaction, of course, was an unabbreviated and very loud  "WTF???" which immediately made my little  blind dog Cleo bark because she knows when I use the "F" portion of that phrase, I'm not in a good mood and she was freaked out.  After getting her quiet by assuring her that everything was okay (which it really wasn't but her bark is as sharp as knives) I looked at the packing slip inside Madame Bovary, and sure enough, it said that I'd just received Tan Twan Eng's novel.  So since I ordered it from the UK, and it was like 8 pm there and likely after the close of business today, I have to wait until tomorrow to see how we're going to get this straightened out.  Another freakin' delay.

The good news is that I now have four of the unread BPLL novels -- The Teleportation Accident, Communion Town, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Swimming Home, which I'm halfway through and absolutely loving.  Has anyone else read this one yet?  Another set of cheerful tidings:  Amazon UK sent me an email saying that a couple of the books that were originally scheduled to be sent in September should be here within a couple of weeks or so.

So that's my story today -- I wish I had finished Swimming Home so I would have something tangible to report, but I was in the middle of an ARC of Paul Auster's new autobiography (which is also amazing, review coming soon)  last night  until one a.m when I finally turned its last page.  One more promised novel and I can fully focus on the longlist.

Wish me luck with the book exchange...I have rarely had problems with the seller I used so I'm a little thrown off.

ADDENDUM: 2 hours later: I just checked Amazon and the lowest price for Garden of Evening Mists is now over $41!!! Crikey! I hope that pbshop honors the price it gave me ... 41 dollars isn't worth it for this book. 

ADDENDUM:  24 hours later: Another day down the toilet with this book and solving my problem. An email was waiting for me from pbshop when I got up this morning, with questions I was supposed to answer. Took care of that, sent pictures.  Five hours later no response.  It's now almost 6:30 p in the UK and the business day is likely over -- a total waste of a day. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

-- non-Booker post (well, a nonpost, really): The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle

Spiegel and Grau, 2012
432 pp

Run, do not walk, to your bookstore, library or wherever you find your books and grab a copy of this novel. 

The book isn't being released for another few weeks so I won't do a full review just yet, but as a heads-up, one will be coming down the pike and it's going to say what an awesome novel this is.  It is highly intelligent yet satirical, funny in a dark sort of way and filled with the most amazing people.  I don't know why, but the blurb calls it a "thrillingly suspenseful work of literary horror..." which may lead some prospective readers to not read it because of the 'literary horror' label.  Move on to the next part of the blurb where it notes ..."about friendship, love, and the courage to slay our own demons,"  and it's more on the money.  And there's another constant in the novel -- Vincent van Gogh.  I won't say more now, but I'll definitely recommend it before I talk about it in fuller depth later.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August -- the Booker Prize Longlist, part one

photo from

Well, here it comes again -- that 2-month stretch of time where I read my way through the Booker Prize longlist (BPLL). This time around, I've got a 3-book jump on the stack, having already completed Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil,  Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel and Skios, by Michael Frayn.  But Houston, we do have a problem.  The only book out of the remaining nine that is currently in my possession is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce -- the others are either in transport from the UK or won't even get here until September.  I can't decide if I should just a) go ahead and read it and get it out of the way first thing, or b) wait until I have more here so that I feel like I have a choice.   Or maybe c) I should just procrastinate on deciding since I seem to be able to do that very well. Or maybe I'll  finish the books I've already started and make a decision afterward.  Oh wait -- that goes under c).

Whatever way I go with these books, there are only nine for a two-month span of time, meaning that it should be an easy time.  So in an around the BPLL I'll continue my crime reading, throw in a couple of new books I just got and I'll also probably be giving away a lot of books this month. Stay tuned.