Library Checkout, August 2020 & #WITMonth 2020, Part II

I’ve been volunteering at my local library twice a week since the start of the month, shelving and picking books off the shelves to fulfill reservations. Every time I’m there I spot more titles to add to my online wish list. It’s been a convenient excuse to return and pick up books, including book group sets. I was first in the queue for some brand-new releases this month.

Have you been able to borrow more books lately? Feel free to use the image above and leave a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part in Library Checkout (which runs on the last Monday of every month), or tag me on Twitter and/or Instagram (@bookishbeck / #TheLibraryCheckout).



  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Addition by Toni Jordan [book club choice]
  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (reviewed below)


  • Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town by Lamorna Ash
  • The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals by Patrick Barkham
  • Water Ways: A Thousand Miles along Britain’s Canals by Jasper Winn


  • Close to Where the Heart Gives Out: A Year in the Life of an Orkney Doctor by Malcolm Alexander
  • A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
  • Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land


  • Can You Hear Me? A Paramedic’s Encounters with Life and Death by Jake Jones
  • Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You, edited by Adam Kay



  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
  • What Have I Done? An Honest Memoir about Surviving Postnatal Mental Illness by Laura Dockrill
  • How to Be Both by Ali Smith
  • Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer



  • Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen


  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood
  • Just Like You by Nick Hornby
  • 33 Meditations on Death: Notes from the Wrong End of Medicine by David Jarrett
  • Sisters by Daisy Johnson
  • Vesper Flights: New and Selected Essays by Helen Macdonald
  • English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • Jack by Marilynne Robinson
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward
  • The Courage to Care: A Call for Compassion by Christie Watson
  • The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn



  • Apeirogon by Colum McCann – I only made it through the first 150 pages. A work that could have been very powerful if condensed instead sprawls into repetition and pretension. I still expect it to make the Booker shortlist, but not to win. I’ll add further thoughts closer to the time.
  • That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu – I was expecting a memoir in verse about life in foster care; this is autofiction in dull fragments. I read the first 23 pages out of 113, waiting for it to get better.



  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – I needed to make room for some new books on my account, so will request this at another time.
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell – I realized the subject matter didn’t draw me enough to read 500+ pages. So I passed it to my husband, a big Mitchell fan, and he read it happily, but mentioned that he didn’t find it compelling until about 2/3 through and he thought the combination of real-life and made-up figures (including from Mitchell’s previous oeuvre) was a bit silly.
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – Again, I needed to make space on my card and was, unsurprisingly, daunted by the length of this 1,000+-page omnibus paperback. When I do try the novel, I’ll borrow it in its three separate volumes!


What appeals from my stacks?


My second choice for Women in Translation Month (after The Bitch by Pilar Quintana) was:


Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (2016)

[Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang]

The title character is a sort of South Korean Everywoman whose experiences reveal the ways in which women’s lives are still constrained by that country’s patriarchal structures and traditions. She and her fellow female students and colleagues are subject to myriad microaggressions, from being served cafeteria lunches after the boys to being excluded from leadership of university clubs to having no recourse when security guards set up cameras in the female toilets at work. Jiyoung is wary of marriage and motherhood, afraid of derailing her budding marketing career, and despite her determination to do things differently she is disappointed at how much she has to give up when she has her daughter. “Her career potential and areas of interest were being limited just because she had a baby.”

The prose is flat, with statistics about women’s lives in Korea unnaturally inserted in the text. Late on we discover there’s a particular reason for the clinically detached writing, but it’s not enough to fully compensate for a dull style. I also found the translation shaky in places, e.g. “She cautiously mentioned shop sales … to the mother who’d dropped by at home to make dinner” and “Jiyoung made it home safely on her boyfriend’s back, but their relationship didn’t.” I most liked Jiyoung’s entrepreneurial mother, who occasionally shows her feisty spirit: “The porridge shop was my idea, and I bought the apartment. And the children raised themselves. Yes, you’ve made it, but you didn’t do it all by yourself,” she says to her husband. “Run wild!” she exhorts Jiyoung, but the system makes that vanishingly difficult.

24 responses

  1. Really looking forward to the new Susanna Clark – far too long since Jonathan Strange which I absolutely loved.
    The Rebanks book also appeals, as does Vesper Flights. Bet they both reference John Clare!
    I’m a Library volunteer too, but our library is tiny and 100% volunteer run, so we do the whole caboodle!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be so fun! I can help, but only up to a certain point (e.g. nothing that involves the computer system) — I imagine there’s a certain resistance here to letting volunteers do tasks that only trained and paid librarians should be able to. Though, really, I’ve always thought that library work is mostly intuitive. That’s why I never got a library science degree in the 6.5 years I worked in libraries.


      1. The Library computer system is actually very good – much better than some I have worked on. However, ‘having to do everything’ in our library does make recruiting volunteers extra hard for obvious reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I finished Vesper Flights this weekend having taken my time over it. Lots to enjoy and think about. In contrast, I practically inhaled Dear Reader which is a lovely intimate book. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had both via NetGalley but would prefer to have the print books in my hands, so will patiently await the library copies.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I rather liked the flat style of Kim Jiyoung, and thought it contributed to the Everywoman message which was its theme. I’m scarcely an expert on Korean writing, though I’ve read anything that comes my way, but understatement and telling it as it is seems to be a bit of a characteristic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. It’s not a style that attracts me. I don’t know a lot of Korean lit, but enjoyed The Vegetarian more due to its subject matter (but not others by Kang).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We’re obviously quite different. The Vegetarian is my least favourite Han Kang!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely library lists and interesting reviews – I think Queenie was quite badly misrepresented, I loved it, esp having lived in S London in my more rackety years, but it was upsetting and difficult to read in places. I think I’d seen that before I read it from someone else’s review, however, which helped. I found Addition too traumatic a read to enjoy it (I’d forgotten about the explicit bits, too!). I think having at the time undiagnosed PTSD didn’t help me with that one. I want to read the Korean book and don’t mind a flat narration as I feel it comes with the territory in East Asian books to a large extent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ll be able to get past the style to enjoy the feminist message of Kim Jiyoung.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading Piranesi very soon. So looking forward to that. I must read Queenie, being a South Londoner I hope it’ll chime with me like Liz. I can’t remember much about Addition except Tesla? I read it when it first came out. Well done for volunteering, but it’s such a shame that libraries are so poorly funded that they have to rely on goodwill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, yes, the main character (who has OCD) is obsessed with Tesla and keeps his picture above her bed. It was a weird blend of serious subjects and chick lit/romance, but the book club had requested a light read and it seemed to fit the bill.

      We’re pretty lucky at this central branch to have lots of staff and lots of volunteers, and I don’t get the sense that they couldn’t get by without us. The smaller branches find it more difficult, though. One had to rebrand as a community hub; another was closed and reopened as an independent, entirely volunteer-run service.


  6. Volunteering sounds like a great thing to be doing. I loved Mitchell’s last few full length novels but the blurb of Utopia Avenue doesn’t appeal at all, so I might also give it a miss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find the shelving sessions really peaceful, and it’s nice to feel productive. Things will change a bit on 21st September when customers are allowed in for brief browsing (for now they can only come to the entrance for prearranged book collections).

      I have only ever read The Thousand Autumns… and Slade House, so in some ways I’ve read the odd ones out. Cloud Atlas is the Mitchell novel I most want to read, and have meant to read for ages.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Slade House is the only Mitchell novel I completely haven’t got on with! My favourites are The Thousand Autumns and The Bone Clocks, although Cloud Atlas is great too.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Welp, I didn’t even know it was Women in Translation month, and here I am on the last day of the party. Good thing I’m reading Tove Jansson! Too bad about the Colum McCann–don’t feel the need to try that now. Still need to order The Girl with the Louding Voice from my library, and I expect I’ll wait quite a long time for that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark it on your calendar for next August! I wish I’d managed more than just two novellas for it (and I didn’t really like either).

      I thought the McCann could have been a masterpiece at 200 pages. But he’s set himself a structure (1,001 sections = 1,001 Nights) that means the content gets really repetitive.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I haven’t had library access for months and months… you’d think that would mean an opportunity to attack my own TBR stacks but no, my reading has really dropped during COVID 😦


    1. Aww, that’s too bad. Has your library system made any plans to reopen at least for collecting reservations?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, not at this stage. We are in strict lockdown where I live (until mid-September when there will be a review).


    2. A second lockdown is a fear here and has been implemented in some areas (Glasgow, Manchester).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s been much harder than the first one but I’m still happy that the government has taken a conservative approach.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Lots of overlap in our stacks and plans. I suppose the volume I’m most keen to try is Colum McCann’s; I suspect that the elements which annoyed you will be the ones which I enjoy. But it’ll probably be a year or so, in paperback-times, before I get to it (I don’t want to rush for a duedate with it). I’m also super looking forward to Queenie and to the Susanna Clarke. Enjoy your meditation in the stacks! (I laughed at your response to 1Q84…it is HUGE. But I found the audio was very seductive.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The McCann is one to read in short bursts, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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