Category: Reading habits

20 Books of Summer 2018

This is my first year joining in with the 20 Books of Summer challenge run by Cathy of 746 Books. I’ve decided to put two twists on it. One: I’ve only included books that I own in print, to work on tackling my mountain of unread books (300+ in the house at last count). As I was pulling out the books that I was most excited to read soon, I noticed that most of them happened to be by women. So for my second twist, all 20 books are by women. Why not? I’ve picked roughly half fiction and half life writing, so over the next 12 weeks I just need to pick one or two from the below list per week, perhaps alternating fiction and non-. I’m going to focus more on the reading than the reviewing, but I might do a few mini roundup posts.

I’m doing abysmally with the goal I set myself at the start of the year to read lots of travel classics and biographies, so I’ve chosen one of each for this summer, but in general my criteria were simply that I was keen to read a book soon, and that it mustn’t feel like hard work. (So, alas, that ruled out novels by Elizabeth Bowen, Ursula K. LeGuin and Virginia Woolf.) I don’t insist on “beach reads” – the last two books I read on a beach were When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin, after all – but I do hope that all the books I’ve chosen will be compelling and satisfying reads.

 

  1. To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine – I picked up a copy from the Faber Spring Party, having no idea who Albertine was (guitarist of the all-female punk band The Slits). Everyone I know who has read this memoir has raved about it.
  2. Lit by Mary Karr – I’ve read Karr’s book about memoir, but not any of her three acclaimed memoirs. This, her second, is about alcoholism and motherhood.
  3. Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi by Pamela Timms – I bought a bargain copy at the Wigtown Festival shop earlier in the year. Timms is a Scottish journalist who now lives in India. This should be a fun combination of foodie memoir and travel book.
  4. Direct Red: A Surgeon’s Story by Gabriel Weston (a woman, honest!) – Indulging my love of medical memoirs here. I bought a copy at Oxfam Books earlier this year.

5. May Sarton by Margot Peters – I’ve been on a big May Sarton kick in recent years, so have been eager to read this 1997 biography, which apparently is not particularly favorable.

6. Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy – I bought this 1960s hardback from a charity shop in Cambridge a couple of years ago. It will at least be a start on that travel classics challenge.

 

7. Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations by Vendela Vida – This was Vida’s first book. It’s about coming-of-age rituals for young women in America.

8. Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly by Sue Halpern – Should fall somewhere between science and nature writing, with a travel element.

 

9. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle – L’Engle is better known for children’s books, but she wrote tons for adults, too: fiction, memoirs and theology. I read the stellar first volume of the Crosswicks Journal, A Circle of Quiet, in September 2015 and have meant to continue the series ever since.

10. Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley – You know how I love reading with the seasons when I can. This slim 2007 volume of stories is sure to be a winner. Seven of the 10 originally appeared in the New Yorker or Granta.

 

11. Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore – I’ve only ever read Dunmore’s poetry. It’s long past time to try her fiction. This one comes highly recommended by Susan of A life in books.

12. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Oates is intimidatingly prolific, but I’m finally going to jump in and give her a try.

13. Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto – A token lit in translation selection. “This is the story of [a] remarkable expedition through grief, dreams, and shadows to a place of transformation.” (Is it unimaginative to say that sounds like Murakami?)

 

14. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – How have I not read any of her fiction yet?! This has been sitting on my shelf for years. I only vaguely remember the story line from the film, so it should be fairly fresh for me.

15. White Oleander by Janet Fitch – An Oprah’s Book Club selection from 1999. I reckon this would make a good beach or road trip read.

16. Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz – Another Oprah’s Book Club favorite from 2000. Set in Wisconsin in the years after World War I.

 

  1. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler – Tyler novels are a tonic. I have six unread on the shelf; the blurb on this one appealed to me the most. This summer actually brings two Tylers as Clock Dance comes out on July 12th – I’ll either substitute that one in, or read both!

 

18. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – I’ve only read Gay’s memoir, Hunger. She’s an important cultural figure; it feels essential to read all her books. I expect this to be rough.

19. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay – This has been on my radar for such a long time. After loving my first Hay novel (A Student of Weather) last year, what am I waiting for?

20. Fludd by Hilary Mantel – I haven’t read any Mantel in years, not since Bring Up the Bodies first came out. While we all await the third Cromwell book, I reckon this short novel about a curate arriving in a fictional town in the 1950s should hit the spot.

 


I’ll still be keeping up with my review books (paid and unpaid), blog tours, advance reads and library books over the summer. The aim of this challenge, though, is to make inroads into the physical TBR. Hopefully the habit will stick and I’ll keep on plucking reads from my shelves during the rest of the year.

Where shall I start? If I was going to sensibly move from darkest to lightest, I’d probably start with An Untamed State and/or Lit. Or I might try to lure in the summer weather by reading the two summery ones…


Which of these books have you read? Which ones appeal?

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Library Checkout: May 2018

I know lots of my readers are dedicated library users. Why not join in with Library Checkout this holiday weekend, or next month? It’s a quick and fun post to put together, it celebrates libraries, and it gets me some of my best engagement! I generally post on the last Monday of the month, but whenever suits your schedule is fine. Use the image above, and paste a link to your post in the comments. (I haven’t worked out an official link-up system yet.)

As usual, my “Checked Out” pile is so stupidly big that I’m just going to list and photograph the new arrivals since last month. Also as usual, I’ve added in star ratings and any links to Goodreads reviews of books I haven’t already featured on the blog.

 

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

SKIMMED ONLY

 

Recent and current Wellcome Book Prize themed reading. Top row from library.

CURRENTLY READING

  • Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope [poetry]
  • The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
  • The Unmapped Mind: A Memoir of Neurology, Incurable Disease and Learning How to Live by Christian Donlan
  • Places I Stopped on the Way Home: A Memoir of Chaos and Grace by Meg Fee
  • Leaving before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
  • The Long Goodbye: A Memoir of Grief by Meghan O’Rourke
  • The Reading Promise: 3,218 Nights of Reading with My Father by Alice Ozma
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

CURRENTLY READING-ish (set aside temporarily)

  • To the Is-Land: An Autobiography by Janet Frame
  • Tender by Belinda McKeon
  • Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn
Women’s Prize long- and shortlisted books.

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • The Day that Went Missing: A Family Tragedy by Richard Beard
  • Happiness by Aminatta Forna
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin
  • The White Book by Han Kang
  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • A Normal Family: Everyday Adventures with Our Autistic Son by Henry Normal
  • The Still Point by Amy Sackville
  • That Was when People Started to Worry: Windows into Unwell Minds by Nancy Tucker
Latest library book haul

ON HOLD, READY TO BE PICKED UP

  • The Lido by Libby Page
  • First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story about Anxiety by Sarah Wilson

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • A Moment of Grace by Patrick Dillon
  • The Stopping Places: A Journey through Gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas
  • The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads by Alistair Moffat
  • The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken
  • The Crossway by Guy Stagg
  • Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain
  • The Librarian by Salley Vickers
  • Shepherd of Another Flock: The Charming Tale of a New Vicar in a Yorkshire Country Town by David Wilbourne
  • The Boy behind the Curtain: Notes from an Australian Life by Tim Winton
  • The Paper Lovers by Gerard Woodward

RETURNED UNFINISHED

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith (lost interest, plus it’s requested after me)
  • The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson (requested after me; I’ll get it out again another time)


What have you been reading from your local libraries? Does anything appeal from my stacks?

Library Checkout: April 2018

The last two months were bumper editions and saw me getting through loads of library books. That’s slowed down this month, replaced by books I own, review copies and advanced reads from NetGalley or Edelweiss. Boy, are the library books stacking up! My public library system’s website says you can have 15 books out at a time … but the self-service machines don’t cut you off until after you pass 30, at least not in my experience, so I currently have 32 books on loan. (No, I’m not particularly sorry about that. I’m keeping the library system in business, and the few remaining staff members in their jobs! And anyone who wants these books can simply put in a free reservation request, so I don’t feel that I’m hogging them.)

The “Checked Out” pile is so stupidly big that I’m just going to list and photograph new arrivals since last month. As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and any links to Goodreads reviews of books I haven’t already featured on the blog.

 

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

  • The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley 
  • The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley 
  • To Be a Machine: Adventures among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell 
  • In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott 

SKIMMED ONLY

  • The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel 
  • The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman 

CURRENTLY READING

  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  • How to Develop Emotional Health by Oliver James
  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds [poetry] by Ocean Vuong
  • Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

CURRENTLY READING-ish (set aside temporarily)

  • To the Is-Land: An Autobiography by Janet Frame
  • Tender by Belinda McKeon
  • Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  • The Executor by Blake Morrison
  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman

ON HOLD, READY TO BE PICKED UP

  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin
  • Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
  • The Unmapped Mind: A Memoir of Neurology, Incurable Disease and Learning How to Live by Christian Donlan
  • Happiness by Aminatta Forna
  • Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
  • The White Book by Han Kang
  • The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson
  • Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss
  • Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology by Suzanne O’Sullivan
  • The Still Point by Amy Sackville
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  • Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar 
  • Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim by Alexandra Heminsley 
  • Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively 

What have you been reading from your local libraries? Does anything appeal from my stacks?

Book Triage

I feel like I have more books staring at me than ever before. I could blame free library reservations and a trip to Wigtown, but there’s one more major reason for the books stacking up: an utter lack of restraint when it comes to requesting or accepting books for review. I’ve had loads of books coming through the door in the past month or so. Some were offered to me by authors or publishers via Goodreads, Twitter or my blog’s contact form. Others I sent e-mails to request after I saw tempting reviews in the Guardian or previews on Susan’s blog.

Of course I want to read all of these books. I really want to read most of them. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of requesting, borrowing or buying them. But even so, there’s only so much time. It’s not just a simple matter of picking up the book(s) from the stack that I most feel like reading at a given moment anymore. No, it’s become a triage process whereby I have to assess them by order of urgency.

So, what are my priorities? Here’s a baker’s dozen, in photos.

 

  1. Wellcome Book Prize shortlist reading. I’m on the last of six now; this is for the blog tour coming up next week.

  1. Library books that are due in early May and requested after me.

  1. Books I’ve requested for a blog review, in release date order. I feel so behind that you can expect some doubled-up reviews or mini-reviews in roundup form.

  1. Books I’ve agreed to review for another outlet, even if that’s just Goodreads.

  1. My first-ever buddy read: Small Island with Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink, arranged months ago. Join us!

  1. Month- or season-specific reads.

  1. Public library books with no current renewal issues.

  1. Booker Prize winners for the 50th anniversary this summer – I’ll at least review the Coetzee for Shiny New Books, and perhaps a few more on the blog if I get the time.

  1. Three more Iris Murdoch novels to read as part of Liz’s #IMReadalong later on in the year, starting in June.

  1. Bibliotherapy prescriptions.

  1. Books I’ve set aside temporarily, generally because I have enthusiastically started too many at once and had to put some down to pick up more time-sensitive review books. Many of these I was enjoying very much and could see turning out to be 4- or even 5-star reads (especially Brooks, Frame and Matthiessen); others I might end up abandoning.

  1. University library books, which can be renewed pretty much indefinitely.

  1. Every other book I own, even if I had it eyed up for a particular challenge. My vague resolution to read lots of travel books and biographies has pretty much gone by the wayside so far. I also have barely managed a single classic. Sigh! There’s still two-thirds of the year left, but I certainly won’t be managing the one a month from these genres that I proposed.

What’s your book triage situation like?

What to Look Out for in April

April will be a busy month on the blog what with four Wellcome Book Prize shortlist reviews plus posts on our shadow panel decision and the awards ceremony, three blog tours within a week, and various other review books jostling for my attention.

To be reviewed at any time.

April 5th seems to be a huge day for new releases. I own four print books that are all coming out on that day; alas, the only one I’ve been able to start is Elizabeth J. Church’s All the Beautiful Girls, for an upcoming Shiny New Books review. I’m approaching the one-quarter point. The others may well have to wait for a quieter time.

April 5th releases.

I started another April 5th release on my Kindle a couple of weeks ago, Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam. It’s about a missionary couple whose lives are disrupted by the return of an older missionary. I was thinking of abandoning it until I got to the last line of the prologue, which threw in a pretty great twist. So maybe I’ll go back to it.

For now, I can recommend the one April 5th release I actually managed to finish:

 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

If you loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I have just the book for you: another feel-good World War II-set novel with characters you’ll cheer for. December 1940, London: Twenty-two-year-old Emmeline Lake dreams of being a Lady War Correspondent, but for now she’ll start by typing up the letters submitted to Henrietta Bird’s advice column in Woman’s Friend. All too quickly, though, the job feels too small for Emmy. Mrs. Bird refuses to print letters on Unpleasant subjects, which could include anything from an inappropriate crush to anxiety. She thinks cowardly readers bring their troubles on themselves and need to buck up instead of looking to others for help. But Emmy can’t bear to throw hurting people’s missives away. Perhaps she could send some advice of her own?

Emmy shares a flat with her best friend Bunty, and they each have a fiancé who is part of the war effort. As a volunteer for the Fire Brigade, Emmy sees the effects of Luftwaffe bombings up close. But it’s only after heartache hits home for both of these young women that they really understand how much is at stake in the war. The novel got a little melodramatic for me in its last quarter, but it’s overall a charming “Keep Calm and Carry On” and Stick It to Hitler-style story that never strays far from jollity for too long.

Other readalikes: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff and The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Some favorite lines:

“I told myself we could all get blown up by tomorrow so we might just as well enjoy ourselves.”

“Granny didn’t spend half her life chaining herself to railings for today’s woman to moon around waiting for some chap to look after her.”

My rating:

 


On Monday we’re off to Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town, for five days. Though we’ve been to Hay-on-Wye, Wales six times, we’ve never been to Wigtown despite meaning to for years. When I read Shaun Bythell’s Wigtown bookselling memoir last autumn, it felt like a sign that it was time. Did you see his The Diary of a Bookseller has been described in French as le quotidien d’un libraire misanthrope écossais (literally, “the daily life of a misanthropic Scottish bookseller”)?

That’s too good! If only it were the official French title. I will of course be visiting his shop, and asking for a signature on my proof copy if I can pluck up the nerve. We’ll strive to be model customers lest we become the subject of a grumpy Tweet or Facebook post.

Coals to Newcastle and all that, but here’s the pile I’ve packed for Wigtown.

This is mostly for the six-hour car rides there and back. During the days we’ll be busy with outings to the surrounding countryside plus book shopping and café visits, but I daresay there will be some time for reading at the B&B in the afternoons and evenings.

For once I haven’t scoured my shelves for place-appropriate books; I don’t think I own any particularly Scottish reads, unless Michel Faber’s Under the Skin counts (ah wait, I also have an Ali Smith novel on the shelf).

Anyway, this time I’ve really just put together a pile of books I’ve been wanting to read for ages. The only ‘work’-related one is Between Stone and Sky, for a TLS review; otherwise I’m giving myself from Easter through the 6th off. I’m not even sure I’ll take my Kindle, except as a backup – that kind of thing could get you (or, rather, your Kindle) shot in this town. If I do, I’ll be sure to leave it behind in the B&B room or the glove box when we go into town for the day!

 

What are you up to in April?

Library Checkout: March 2018

Last month I rejoiced that reservations would once again be free through my library system. On the very day the policy came into effect, what did I do? Went into the online catalogue and placed 15 reservations (the maximum). And then when some of those arrived for me, I placed more to get back up to 15. And then when some of those arrived… You get the picture. Why this compulsive placing of holds when I already have massive stacks of books to read? I have nothing to say in my defense. At least books are a benign addiction, right?

This month I also resumed using a library system I haven’t used in several years. I had a few hours to kill in Reading town center before a routine hospital appointment, so decided to take advantage of the library’s stock, which seems to be particularly good on memoirs by women.

So as not to overwhelm you, and because so many books are still hanging on from previous months, I’ll only feature the new to-be-read arrivals since last month’s Library Checkout post, and in photo form. As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and links to Goodreads reviews of books I haven’t already featured on the blog.

 

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

SKIMMED ONLY

  • With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix – I now own a copy that I will revisit for the Wellcome Book Prize shadow panel.

CURRENTLY READING

  • To the Is-Land: An Autobiography by Janet Frame
  • Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
  • Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn
  • The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman
  • Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

(Cut off in middle photo: Cold Earth by Sarah Moss and The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar)

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley
  • The Wonder Down Under: A User’s Guide to the Vagina by Dr. Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl
  • Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope
  • The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig
  • Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis
  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  • Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim by Alexandra Heminsley
  • Morning: How to Make Time: A Manifesto by Allan Jenkins
  • The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel
  • The Executor by Blake Morrison
  • To Be a Machine: Adventures among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell
  • Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology by Suzanne O’Sullivan
  • Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border between Life and Death by Adrian Owen
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  • Not that Kind of Love by Clare Wise and Greg Wise

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine – I lost interest and have plenty of other medical-themed reads on the pile thanks to the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist.

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young – I read the first 33 pages out of 137. I had two problems with the book: the twee anthropomorphism (“almost every day, we see daughters consulting their mothers about impending confinements, or maybe just discussing the weather”), and the fact that the author, a family farmer, can be compassionate enough to call intensive animal-rearing “iniquitous criminality” yet raises animals and lovingly observes their behavior only to see them killed.

What have you been reading from your local libraries? Does anything appeal from my stacks?

Snow-y Reads

It’s been a frigid start to March here in Europe. Even though it only amounted to a few inches in total, this is still the most snow we’ve seen in years. We were without heating for 46 hours during the coldest couple of days due to an inaccessible frozen pipe, so I’m grateful that things have now thawed and spring is looking more likely. During winter’s last gasp, though, I’ve been dipping into a few appropriately snow-themed books. I had more success with some than with others. I’ll start with the one that stood out.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg (1992)

[trans. from the Danish by Felicity David]

Nordic noir avant la lettre? I bought this rather by accident; had I realized it was a murder mystery, I never would have taken a chance on this international bestseller. That would have been too bad, as it’s much more interesting than your average crime thriller. The narrator/detective is Smilla Jaspersen: a 37-year-old mathematician and former Arctic navigator with a Danish father and Greenlander mother, she’s a stylish dresser and a shrewd, bold questioner who makes herself unpopular by nosing about where she doesn’t belong.

Isaiah, a little Greenlander boy, has fallen to his death from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment complex where Smilla also lives, and she’s convinced foul play was involved. In Part I she enlists the help of a mechanic neighbor (and love interest), a translator, an Arctic medicine specialist, and a mining corporation secretary to investigate Isaiah’s father’s death on a 1991 Arctic expedition and how it might be connected to Isaiah’s murder. In Part II she tests her theories by setting sail on the Greenland-bound Kronos as a stewardess. At every turn her snooping puts her in danger – there are some pretty violent scenes.

I read this fairly slowly, over the course of a month (alongside lots of other books); it’s absorbing but in a literary style, so not as pacey or full of cliffhangers as you’d expect from a suspense novel. I got myself confused over all the minor characters and the revelations about the expeditions, so made pencil notes inside the front cover to keep things straight. Setting aside the plot, which gets a bit silly towards the end, I valued this most for Smilla’s self-knowledge and insights into what it’s like to be a Greenlander in Denmark. I read this straight after Gretel Ehrlich’s travel book about Greenland, This Cold Heaven – an excellent pairing I’d recommend to anyone who wants to spend time vicariously traveling in the far north.

Favorite wintry passage:

“I’m not perfect. I think more highly of snow and ice than of love. It’s easier for me to be interested in mathematics than to have affection for my fellow human beings.”

My rating:

 

 

One that I left unfinished:

 

Snow by Orhan Pamuk (2002)

[trans. from the Turkish by Maureen Freely]

This novel seems to be based around an elaborate play on words: it’s set in Kars, a Turkish town where the protagonist, a poet known by the initials Ka, becomes stranded by the snow (Kar in Turkish). After 12 years in political exile in Germany, Ka is back in Turkey for his mother’s funeral. While he’s here, he decides to investigate a recent spate of female suicides, keep tabs on the upcoming election, and see if he can win the love of divorcée Ipek, daughter of the owner of the Snow Palace Hotel, where he’s staying. There’s a hint of magic realism to the novel: the newspaper covers Ka’s reading of a poem called “Snow” before he’s even written it. He and Ipek witness the shooting of the director of the Institute of Education. The attempted assassination is revenge for him banning girls who wear headscarves from schools.

As in Elif Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve, the emphasis is on Turkey’s split personality: a choice between fundamentalism (= East, poverty) and secularism (= West, wealth). Pamuk is pretty heavy-handed with these rival ideologies and with the symbolism of the snow. By the time I reached page 165, having skimmed maybe two chapters’ worth along the way, I couldn’t bear to keep going. However, if I get a recommendation of a shorter and subtler Pamuk novel I would give him another try. I did enjoy the various nice quotes about snow (reminiscent of Joyce’s “The Dead”) – it really was atmospheric for this time of year.

Favorite wintry passage:

“That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.”

My rating:

 

 

One that I only skimmed:

 

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes (2002)

Having recovered from an illness that hit at age 25 while he was studying for a doctorate, Fiennes set off to track the migration route of the snow goose, which starts in the Gulf of Mexico and goes to the Arctic territories of Canada. He was inspired by his father’s love of birdwatching and Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose (which I haven’t read). I thought this couldn’t fail to be great, what with its themes of travel, birds, illness and identity. However, Fiennes gets bogged down in details. When he stays with friendly Americans in Texas he gives you every detail of their home décor, meals and way of speaking; when he takes a Greyhound bus ride he recounts every conversation he had with his random seatmates. This is too much about the grind of travel and not enough about the natural spectacles he was searching for. And then when he gets up to the far north he eats snow goose. So I ended up just skimming this one for the birdwatching bits. I did like Fiennes’s writing, just not what he chose to focus on, so I’ll read his other memoir, The Music Room.

My rating:

 

Considered but quickly abandoned: In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Would like to read soon: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen – my husband recently rated this 5 stars and calls it a spiritual quest memoir, with elements of nature and travel writing.

 

 


What’s been your snowbound reading this year?