November Reading Plans: Novellas, Margaret Atwood and More

This is my third year joining Laura Frey and others in reading novellas in November. Laura has put together a history of the challenge here; it has had various incarnations but has no particular host or rules. Join us if you like! (#NovNov) The definition of a novella seems to be loose – it’s based more on word count than page count – so it’s up to you what you’d like to classify as one. I generally limit myself to books of 150 pages or fewer, though in some cases I’d probably go as high as 180-some. I’ve trawled my shelves and library pile and have four stacks to select from: fiction, classics, novella-length nonfiction, and slightly longer novels (160–190 pages) that I’ll keep around as backups but likely won’t get to.

Between what I have in these stacks, holds I’m waiting on at the library (West by Carys Davies, The Glorious Life of the Oak by John Lewis-Stempel and Holloway by Robert Macfarlane), and some additional choices on my e-readers (Lady into Fox by David Garnett, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot and Childhood: Two Novellas by Gerard Reve), I easily have enough for a book a day. In a future year maybe I’d be able to clear my schedule such that I could indeed read one novella per day, but I have so many review books on the go that I won’t aim for that. Besides, I’m not the kind of reader who’d sit down and read a 160-page book in one sitting; I’d be more likely to read 20 pages each in eight different books.

This is the pile I’ll be starting later today. (The Evans looks long but is 164 pages of text with various full- and half-page black-and-white illustrations dotted through.)

 


I got a headstart on Novellas in November with this Canongate volume published today.

 

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere by Jeanette Winterson 

Last year it was Mary Beard’s Women and Power; in 2018 this is the Christmas gift to slip into every feminist book-lover’s stocking. Adapted from Winterson’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture and supplemented by the text of Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 speech “Freedom or Death,” this is a slim, attractive volume that feels timely if insubstantial. Winterson gives a potted history of suffragism and argues that female brains are not wired differently; it’s just social programming that tells us so. Gender imbalances in university admissions and the job market continued into the 1970s, so it’s no surprise, she says, that women are still catching up 40 years later – and she supports measures that could be labeled as positive discrimination.

From the #MeToo movement she makes what seems like an odd swerve into discussing AI because computer science/Silicon Valley is very male-dominated and she wants to be sure women have a respected role in the future. My reaction to this was the same as to Beard’s book and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists: you can’t (and I don’t) dispute what the author has to say; for the most part the points are compelling and well made. Yet I don’t necessarily feel that I learned anything, or saw something familiar in a new way.

Favorite lines:

“When prejudice and bad science are no longer in the way, women always prove themselves as capable as men.”

“that’s how it is with patriarchy – we don’t notice the all-male panels, the movies where women are just the love interest, the number of male presenters on TV and radio […] and we do need parity, because women are one half of the population.”

My rating:

 

 


Other November reading plans…

 

Margaret Atwood Reading Month

One of my longer novellas is a library copy of Surfacing (1972), which will be my first of two reads for the Margaret Atwood Reading Month hosted by Marcie and Naomi. I also own a copy of The Edible Woman (1969) and look forward to trying both of these early works.

 

Young Writer of the Year Award

Being involved with the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award was one of my  highlights of 2017. I’m excited for this year’s shadow panelists, several of whom are longtime blogging friends, and look forward to following along with the shortlist reads even though I can’t attend this year’s events. With any luck I will already have read at least one or two of the nominees (fingers crossed for Daisy Johnson and Fiona Mozley) so that there’s only a couple more to discover.

 

John Leonard Prize committee

In May I joined the National Book Critics Circle. One of the awards they give annually is the John Leonard Prize for the best first book in any genre. The pool of nominees is based on member recommendations, and a volunteer panel of members (as many as are interested!) then reads the 5–7 finalists and votes for a winner by January 8th. I signed up to be on the panel, so I’m committed to reading all the finalists in e-book format within about six weeks. Again, I hope to find that I’ve already read at least a few of the nominees. Regardless, it will be a fun project to keep me busy over our two weeks in America for the holidays.

 


Any reading plans for November? Will you be joining in with novellas or Margaret Atwood’s books?

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33 thoughts on “November Reading Plans: Novellas, Margaret Atwood and More

    1. I’ve not done Nonfiction November in the past because nonfiction is already about 40% of my reading, so I don’t feel I need the nudge to read more. However, I think I might be tempted to chime in with some fiction/nonfiction pairings for the second week 🙂

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    1. From what I’ve heard about the plot it sounds a lot like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which would be a good thing in my book – I gobbled that one up in a matter of days. But I have also heard that it’s too long, and the Gatsby homage is meh. So we’ll see.

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  1. This is an epic list, Rebecca. My favourite part of Novellas in November this year is that, as far as I’ve seen, not a single person has TBR’d the same book as anyone else. And that’s with about 25 people doing this event. Kind of amazing. It’s so great. Goes to show how many great novellas there are out there that we haven’t tackled.

    Good luck with what looks like a busy reading month!

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  2. There is so much goodness here!
    Looking through your piles of novellas, I think there’s only one that I’ve read (The Old Man and the Sea). I might have read Love Story long, long ago.
    The John Leonard Prize committee sounds like fun. And, of course, I’m very curious to find out what you think of the Atwood books!

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  3. I think I’m sorta, kinda doing NaNo this month. At least trying to write something every single day. I’m actually reading a novella at the moment: Camp Olvido by Lawrence Coates is set in 1930s California. Very Steinbeck-ian with beautiful language. And I’m ashamed to say I’ve read the entirety of only one book of Atwood’s: Bodily Harm–not one of her bests, I don’t think. I guess I should read The Handmaid’s Tale??

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    1. I was lukewarm on The Handmaid’s Tale, but then again, it was probably 7-8 years ago that I read it, so I guess I should reread it (or find a way to watch the series). I know zero about Bodily Harm! I’ve not heard of your novella, but I’ll look into it. Best of luck with your daily writing. That will surely make a dent in any project.

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  4. “Besides, I’m not the kind of reader who’d sit down and read a 160-page book in one sitting; I’d be more likely to read 20 pages each in eight different books.” – I love this! Sums up how you read. Marvellous (I’d read 100 pages of one and 60 of another, I think).

    Reading plans for November: my Iris Murdoch of course then I need to work on getting all books from Christmas and birthday last year read. I might need to skip past the ones I bought between the two festivals but I will get at least some of the way there …

    Happy novella-ing!

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    1. You’re always much more on top of your reading pile than I am 😉 I loaded up one corner of the spare room bed with recent birthday acquisitions and various secondhand hauls and I don’t think I’ll be shifting any of it before the year is out.

      I often see people say “I read it in one sitting” as a mark of how good a book was. Even if it was 300 pages! I can’t imagine sitting in a chair reading for that long at a time (and I’m actually a pretty slow reader, so the 300 pages would take me at least 5 hours). I consider myself a pretty patient person, but when it comes to reading my attention does flit from one book to another, and I like the sense of making progress in a whole stack of books at once rather than just focusing on one.

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    1. Excellent! I failed at the Coe, so it’s a good thing you’re reviewing it for SNB and not me.

      I just picked up the new Murakami from the library today; it is decidedly NOT a novella 😉 But I will try to fit it in alongside lots of slimmer books.

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  5. Re: #novnov I think I’ve read seven in your stacks, but the one that stands out is Mule/Ice-cream, mainly because I loved the way that she shelved her books! (You will appreciate that detail too!) I’m planning to take part, and did start off with a Mavis Gallant novella straight away, but I haven’t gotten around to snapping a picture of my stack yet. Actually, that’s partly because I keep adding to it! How many have you finished so far? 🙂
    Re: #MARM Without having planned to do so, I ended up reading the stageplay of The Penelopiad, which was funnier than I remembered (I’ve seen it, not read it) and now I’m rereading Life before Man. Surfacing is one which it would be very easy to blast through; it reads very quickly but there is other stuff going on beneath the *ahem* surface (though perhaps mostly of interest as an early Canadian novel, as there’s a lot about US/Cdn identity and interchanges). You’re probably going to hate it! *grins* Or, are you done already?

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    1. I was inspired to read Like a Mule… because of very enthusiastic reviews from Naomi F. and Elle, and then I also worked (briefly) with the author when she was an editor at OZY – she’s since moved on, but she was so pleasant and warm to correspond with. I got the secondhand copy as a gift from my wishlist, and turns out it’s signed!!

      I think I’m currently reading six novellas, so I won’t likely finish a set and get them written up until Friday. I’m enjoying Surfacing so far.

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      1. Signed: what a nice surprise. That doesn’t always excite me, but it does with this book, because that warmth seems to come through the story and so it’s doubly nice to imagine her holding the book to sign it. 🙂

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  6. I am *so* glad you did this post, because I heard about Novellas in November a couple of years ago, but lost the detail about who was hosting it and where I was supposed to add my contributions. I will definitely be joining in and, this time, I’ll keep the details of who’s hosting the enterprise!

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