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Sunday Salon: Playing with Format

September 11, 2011


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Since I skipped last week’s Sunday Salon, I have quite a few books to recap! This week sees me changing the format a bit: I’ve arranged my one-sentence thoughts into rough groups by how much I loved/didn’t love the book. You’ll notice that there are five groups, presented in descending order from most to least loved; remember that these represent a judgement of my reading experience, rather than the actual book (for a bit more detail, see my books read page). The first three are all categories I would definitely recommend, more or less enthusiastically; the final two, I’d still recommend but to those with different tastes than myself. I hope the new structure is helpful for anyone who wasn’t always sure how I felt about a title based on my one-sentence recommendation! :)

Before I let the books take over, I’ve also changed my sidebar a bit: I’ve added a ‘Currently Reading’ section that displays the covers of what I’m reading right now. I’ve also included a link to my LibraryThing ‘Currently Reading’ collection, in case you want to the details on any title. Because I have a free WordPress account, I can’t use the LibraryThing widget and instead have to manually change the photos every time I finish or start a book. Because of that, and my awareness that most people view my blog via feed reader and thus don’t see my layout, I’m not sure if I’ll keep the section. I do love seeing what other bloggers are reading, though, when I’m leaving comments on their blogs, and it is fun to have some pretty photos in my sidebar. So we’ll see how it goes! I’m mulling over a few more cosmetic changes…nothing drastic, since I still quite love my header, just some sidebar renovations and perhaps a new page or two (I just recently got around to creating a review policy page to replace the run-on paragraph I used to have stuck awkwardly at the top of my about page). If there’s anything you wish I had in my layout, or a change you made in your own blog that you really love, do share! Oh, and I did add a way to subscribe via e-mail to my sidebar a couple weeks ago, after a kind reader e-mailed me wondering how to do so: WP had taken away the option to subscribe to my blog at the end of posts, and I hadn’t noticed. Whoops!

Anyway, I’m the type that stays with the same look/design for ages…are you like me or do you enjoy tinkering more? Do you have a definite aesthetic for your blog? I want mine to look pretty and streamlined, as well as to be easy to use and read. In practice, this means I’m fond of images and bullet lists and white space whereever possible. I think that the same inspiration I’ve had to simplify and organise and beautify my physical space (why yes, I have redone my bookshelves, but that’s a topic for a different Sunday) is spilling over to my virtual one (let’s not talk about how long it took to declutter my inbox). ;) But enough bloggy talk: let’s get to the books!

Books I Loved and Found Every Page a Delight


Read Still Life by A.S. Byatt if….you love ridiculously long sentences with prose that curls around itself in order to become more and more precise or coming-of-age stories featuring bookish girls or want a peek into life in 1950s Britain.


Read Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous, trans. by Ann Goldstein if….you loved The Moonstone‘s structure and are curious to see how it translates to a setting of modern-day Rome, a significantly lower page count, and an interest in the experiences of immigrants.


Read A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich if….you love nonfiction that is both ‘narrative’ and impeccably researched or scholars who focus on forgotten aspects of history or are curious about life in eighteenth century rural New England or love women’s studies.


Read Wings of the Dove by Henry James if….you love James and are craving him (my reason) or if you enjoy novels focused on the elaborate inner lives of their characters or want to sink yourself into a juicy moral dilemma.

Books I Almost Loved, Except for One or Two Things, or Books Really Liked


Read A Writer’s House in Wales by Jan Morris if….you’re looking for engaging personal nonfiction by a quirky, intelligent, Welsh author.


Read Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell if….your favourite mysteries have an intellectual flavour to them or you enjoy sardonic narrators.


Read Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks if….you’re curious about the neurological and social aspects of being deaf or you just love learning about new cultures.


Read So Far From God by Ana Castillo if….you love magical realism or books set in the US Southwest or novels centered around the experiences of strong, unique women.


Read Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma if….you love fiction that combines the mythic and political into epic storytelling (a la Rushdie or Garcia Marquez) and want to see that translated to a West African setting or you know quite a bit about post-independence Sub-Saharan African politics and want to play ‘spot the lightly fictionalised dictator’ or you’re just looking for a literary page-turner whose writer who can pull off the phrase ‘hyena’s anus’.


Read Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben if….you’re sometimes exhausted by the depressing conclusions of most of the social justice/environmentalist books you read and want something more hopeful or you’re tired of always seeing developing nations depicted as something the West needs to fix and instead want an author who draws lessons for the West from developing nation success stories or you just enjoy it when nonfiction is well-written and has a compelling human interest.

Books I Definitely Liked, Although They Didn’t Blow Me Away or Books that had Great Points Counterbalanced by Not-Great Ones


Read The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey if….you’re drawn to Golden Age mysteries and can swallow a lot of classist attitudes.


Read Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou, trans. by Katherine Woods Kane if….you’re interested in novels that directly address postcolonial issues and don’t mind when realistic characters and dialogue are sacrificed to politics.


Read The Perpetual Curate by Margaret Oliphant if….you’ve read all of Anthony Trollope and need another author to fill the void, one who’s much more prone to sweeping Victorian generalisations about women.

Books I Didn’t Really Like but Could Still See Some Good Points


Read Graveminder by Melissa Marr if….you’re more interested in a compelling, quick-moving plot than convincing characters (as someone who loved Wicked Lovely, I confess to more than a bit of disappointment).

Books I Finished but Wish I’d Abandoned


Read Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh if….you’re curious about what might happen if the novels PG Wodehouse and Joseph Conrad made a baby and you’ve got a strong stomach for sardonic, misanthropic viewpoints (see: Candide).

The Sunday Salon.com

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57 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda R permalink
    September 11, 2011 7:12 am

    I tinker with my blog in fits and starts. I’m about to delete my wordpress blog as i’ve moved everything back to Blogger. I did keep the name change, though. I like Fig and Thistle more than the Blog Jar.Hard

    • September 13, 2011 8:22 am

      I love your blog name! Also, I wonder if part of why Thistle came to me as a dog name is from your blog inspiration?! I didn’t think of it at time, but I bet it was in my subconscious thanks to you. So yay! :D

  2. Amanda R permalink
    September 11, 2011 7:15 am

    I have no idea why the word hard is on the end of that comment. I blame my Android attempting to be helpful.

  3. September 11, 2011 7:17 am

    I like your review policy, it’s very clear. I tried to be as honest and upfront in mine as possible, and I think you did the same thing. :) As for my blog, I have this crazy impulse to change it all the time. I usually refrain from doing so, but for whatever reason I like change. It’s fun for me. And this post reminded me that I NEED to read some A.S. Byatt. How have I still not done this? Too many books, too little time.

    • September 13, 2011 8:23 am

      Definitely read some Byatt! But Still Life is the second in a quartet, so if you want to start with that, be sure to read Virgin in the Garden first. :)

  4. September 11, 2011 7:31 am

    What a great selection of books! i just added several to my TBR list – thanks!

  5. September 11, 2011 7:58 am

    I’m not a fan of ridiculously long sentences, but I have a feeling my mom would love A Still Life – I’m going to recommend it to her.

    • September 13, 2011 8:24 am

      Be aware, it’s the second in a quartet, so recommend The Virgin in the Garden first! :D

  6. September 11, 2011 7:59 am

    I change my blog around every now and again. I like the change and every once in awhile I get a bit antsy for something new. The Josephine Tey book sounds interesting. I’ll have to look her up on Goodreads. And I actually enjoyed Graveminder by Marr but I’ve seen a lot of people that didn’t. (I really liked the way you set up your reads by level of enjoyment).

  7. September 11, 2011 8:55 am

    I hope you decide to keep your currently reading pics. Like you, I love seeing what people are reading! :)

    • September 13, 2011 8:24 am

      Well, then I’ll keep it just for you Debi! :D

  8. September 11, 2011 9:03 am

    I don’t make changes to my blog very often. I keep wanting to give it a new look but can never seem to find time! Still Life sounds interesting – I’ve only read two of A.S. Byatt’s books so far and am looking forward to reading more. And I’d like to try another Josephine Tey book after reading my first one, The Daughter of Time, a few months ago.

    • September 13, 2011 8:25 am

      Still Life’s the second in a quartet, so read The Virgin in the Garden first! :D Also, I read Daughter of Time a few months ago as well.

  9. September 11, 2011 9:44 am

    Well, I guess I liked Handfull of Dust more than you did, and I love, love, love Candide. I also like the new ranked review format you’re using. Even if I would have moved Waugh a bit closer to the top of the list. ;-)

    • September 13, 2011 8:26 am

      Yeah: I loathed Candide. LOL (But oddly enough, enjoyed Gulliver’s Travels until the last trip.) I’ll add it to my list ‘fictional styles that irrationally alienate me’: it can live with the dystopian genre.

  10. September 11, 2011 9:45 am

    I want my layout simple, easy to navigate, and brown. Accent colors may come and go, but I just love brown for a book blog. I also try and keep it as uncluttered as possible; nothing makes me cringe more than stumbling across a blog with three equal columns, forcing the content to compete with useless widgets and buttons for your attention. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    • September 13, 2011 8:27 am

      I love your colour scheme: definitely bookish! Also, I’m the super-cluttered layouts freak me out too: it’s difficult for me to focus on the text.

  11. September 11, 2011 11:21 am

    Ooh I read Still Life years ago but remember it very fondly. I loved it too – particularly the scene where the narrator is studying for her exams and is reading extracts from three books at a time (Proust? Racine? something like that). I don’t know why it sticks in my mind so. I’d also like to read the Jan Morris book; sounds very interesting.

  12. September 11, 2011 11:37 am

    As always, lots of interesting books :) I rarely play with my blog layout though I really should at least get a header some day….. some day! heh

  13. September 11, 2011 11:48 am

    A Midwife’s Tale was very good. I don’t play around with my look too much. It’s not that I don’t want to but I’m trying to keep myself from adding everything I come across. :-) Good review policy too. I need to take a look at mine again.

  14. September 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    I really like how you’ve grouped your reviews in this post. I’ve read a couple of Bill McKibben books and enjoy him as an author. I haven’t read the one you posted about, but as I like his approach, I may get around to it someday. The next one I want to read by him is Eaarth.

    I don’t think I’ve tinkered with the layout of my blog much since I first started it. I’ve changed the header photo a few times, but that’s it.

  15. September 11, 2011 1:16 pm

    Oh wow, so much stuff going on here! I really want to read Still Life. Byatt has always been good to me.

    • September 13, 2011 8:27 am

      In case you didn’t already know (as a Byatt fan), Still Life’s the second in a quartet, so read The Virgin in the Garden first! :D

  16. September 11, 2011 4:21 pm

    Yay, Sarah Caudwell! I’m glad you enjoy her too. :)

  17. September 11, 2011 4:37 pm

    I never update my currently reading side bar. I should! But it’s still Solo by Rana Dasgupta, which I read back in March. Some of these look so good, and as usual, I haven’t read any :). So many good things to add to my TBR. Thank you, Eva! I also owe you an email! I will get it to you soon, promise.

    • September 13, 2011 8:28 am

      No worries about the e-mail: I’ll be excited when I get it, whenever you have time. ;)

  18. September 11, 2011 5:34 pm

    a strong stomach for sardonic, misanthropic viewpoints

    I laughed aloud because not only does this describe me, but I’m currently reading and loving a book that’s even more misanthropic (at least on the surface) than Waugh. Also laughed aloud at your Wings of the Dove entry because I don’t think I’ll EVER be craving James. The beauty of literary subjectivity. ;-)

    One we do agree on, though, is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: I’ve been meaning to get to more of her stuff. Just love her minute attention to detail, engaging style, thorough research…what’s not to appreciate?

    • September 13, 2011 8:29 am

      Oh yes Emily: it’s funny how some books we both love (Sagas of Icelanders), whereas on other authors we part ways. ;) I’ll give you all the classic misanthropes, and you can pass all of Henry James over here!

  19. September 11, 2011 6:44 pm

    I have the same free WordPress/Library Thing update problem, but I’ve decided I like the look of currently reading books in my sidebar enough that it’s worth the extra effort. And like you, I like seeing what others are reading. I occasionally tinker, but for the most part I try to stay with the same format–clean, simple, easy-to-read. (I hope!)

    • September 13, 2011 8:30 am

      I definitely think you meet your format goals: your blog’s a pleasure to visit! :) I’m getting pretty attached to the Currently Reading thing already, so I imagine I’ll keep it up.

      • September 13, 2011 9:38 am

        Aw, thank you, Eva! It’s a pleasure to visit here as well.

  20. September 11, 2011 10:23 pm

    I love how eclectic your choices are! I consider myself a big reader, but even some of your titles I’ve never heard of, and the way you review makes you want to read them. I’m enjoying your blog.

  21. September 12, 2011 7:19 am

    I haven’t really read James yet but I’m glad to hear that you crave him sometimes! I’ve been meaning to read Urdich as well. Sounds very good.

    • September 13, 2011 8:31 am

      If you’re looking for a first James read, you might want to try Portrait of a Lady! I know you love a lot of Victorian lit, and it’s the most Victorian of his novels that I’ve read so far.

  22. September 12, 2011 7:58 am

    I usually keep tot he same blog look mainly due to branding. I know how confusing it is to go on a blog that you read and be startled by the look – wondering if it is the right blog…. now that being said… I just overhauled my entire look this past weekend…. LOL It has been over a year since I have done that and now I will leave it alone again.

  23. September 12, 2011 10:48 am

    I have WordPress too, and with regard to the “Currently Reading” widget: really, once you get used to it, it’s not that much of a hassle. It’s just part of maintaining my blog (to me). I could see the temptation to lose it if you’re not used to it.

    I *love* seeing what people are reading. (However, I am coming to the realization that sometimes when I put that book up in the “Currently Reading” widget, it can spell the voice of doom for it and I move on to other things. I am sure some psychologist could have a heyday with that… :-)

    • September 13, 2011 8:34 am

      Well, my problem is that I tend to read books quite quickly, especially when I recently experimented w reading only book at a time. Now that I’m back to being a reading polygamist, the covers last longer! lol @ the effect of your widget on your reading!

  24. September 12, 2011 8:09 pm

    I love the improvements you have made to your blog. Your design is clean and easy to read. I will click through from my Reader from now on so I can appreciate it!

  25. September 12, 2011 8:20 pm

    I have A Handful of Dust on my shelves but I know it won’t be the next Waugh I read. There are others in line ahead of it!
    I love Tey’s books but I also have no problem reading period books and letting go of my own modern morals and views. They are what they are.
    And I’m totally going to have to remember the Amara Lakhous book. It sounds really good!

    • September 13, 2011 8:35 am

      You know, I don’t usually have any problem reading old books and not
      judging by modern standards either: I love Sayers and Christie, who
      both sometimes write some hair-rising (to my eyes) things. Not to
      mention all of the classics authors I adore, who have views that today
      would be called sexist, racist, what have you. But there’s something
      about Tey that just rubs me the wrong way…I can’t put my finger on
      precisely what it is, but this is my third go with her so I think it’s
      just not going to work.

  26. September 13, 2011 12:10 am

    I used to tinker around with my blog design a lot. I think its had about 5 entirely new facelifts, but I am finally very happy with it now and I don’t think Ill change it again. Every now and again I change the order of my side bar just for fun.

    I read Seeing Voices years ago because I learnt sign language and was volunteering at a primary school for deaf children who used Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as their first language. I found it a very fascinating book, especially the American perspective. Here in Australia I think most people born deaf are given cochlear implants or somehow integrated into mainstream schooling and there isn’t quite the same priority placed on Deaf culture are there is in America. That’s just my view anyway.

    • September 13, 2011 8:37 am

      It’s an older book, so I’m curious about what current Deaf culture is like! And your header is so cute, I can understand why you’re so happy with it. :D

  27. September 13, 2011 8:46 am

    Yeay! That’s the one my classics book club is reading for November!

  28. September 14, 2011 6:01 pm

    Surprisingly enough, I hadn’t heard of Still Life before, but loved Possession. I’ll put that on the wish list. I just love how I leave blogging for a while and then come back to get loads of recommendations I hadn’t thought possible.

  29. September 19, 2011 4:36 am

    i am Deaf and I have had seeing voices on my shelf for a long time. I think I will read it soon after seeing your review of it.

  30. September 19, 2011 9:33 pm

    Glad you liked Clash of Civilizations… I read it last year and rather enjoyed it,

  31. September 20, 2011 2:51 pm

    Love your description of the Hamidou book :) I also tend to stay with a design for a long time. Like you, I use the Vigilance theme. I want to change designs and will probably do so by the end of the year. WP has released a lot of good looking themes. Now it’s down to choosing one which can be hard to do. All the best.

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