Category Archives: Reading habits

Book Serendipity, September to October 2021

I call it Book Serendipity when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something pretty bizarre in common. Because I have so many books on the go at once (usually 20–30), I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. I’ve realized that, of course, synchronicity is really the more apt word, but this branding has stuck. This used to be a quarterly feature, but to keep the lists from getting too unwieldy I’ve shifted to bimonthly.

The following are in roughly chronological order.

 

  • Young people studying An Inspector Calls in Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi and Heartstoppers, Volume 4 by Alice Oseman.

 

  • China Room (Sunjeev Sahota) was immediately followed by The China Factory (Mary Costello).
  • A mention of acorn production being connected to the weather earlier in the year in Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian and Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler.

 

  • The experience of being lost and disoriented in Amsterdam features in Flesh & Blood by N. West Moss and Yearbook by Seth Rogen.

 

  • Reading a book about ravens (A Shadow Above by Joe Shute) and one by a Raven (Fox & I by Catherine Raven) at the same time.
  • Speaking of ravens, they’re also mentioned in The Elements by Kat Lister, and the Edgar Allan Poe poem “The Raven” was referred to and/or quoted in both of those books plus 100 Poets by John Carey.

 

  • A trip to Mexico as a way to come to terms with the death of a loved one in This Party’s Dead by Erica Buist (read back in February–March) and The Elements by Kat Lister.

 

  • Reading from two Carcanet Press releases that are Covid-19 diaries and have plague masks on the cover at the same time: Year of Plagues by Fred D’Aguiar and 100 Days by Gabriel Josipovici. (Reviews of both coming up soon.)
  • Descriptions of whaling and whale processing and a summary of the Jonah and the Whale story in Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs and The Woodcock by Richard Smyth.

 

  • An Irish short story featuring an elderly mother with dementia AND a particular mention of her slippers in The China Factory by Mary Costello and Blank Pages and Other Stories by Bernard MacLaverty.

 

  • After having read two whole nature memoirs set in England’s New Forest (Goshawk Summer by James Aldred and The Circling Sky by Neil Ansell), I encountered it again in one chapter of A Shadow Above by Joe Shute.

 

  • Cranford is mentioned in Corduroy by Adrian Bell and Cut Out by Michèle Roberts.

 

  • Kenneth Grahame’s life story and The Wind in the Willows are discussed in On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and The Elements by Kat Lister.

 

  • Reading two books by a Jenn at the same time: Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth and The Other Mothers by Jenn Berney.

 

  • A metaphor of nature giving a V sign (that’s equivalent to the middle finger for you American readers) in On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian.

 

  • Quince preserves are mentioned in The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo and Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian.

 

  • There’s a gooseberry pie in Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore and The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo.
  • The ominous taste of herbicide in the throat post-spraying shows up in On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson.

 

  • People’s rude questioning about gay dads and surrogacy turns up in The Echo Chamber by John Boyne and the DAD anthology from Music.Football.Fatherhood.

 

  • A young woman dresses in unattractive secondhand clothes in The Echo Chamber by John Boyne and Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.
  • A mention of the bounty placed on crop-eating birds in medieval England in Orchard by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates and A Shadow Above by Joe Shute.

 

  • Hedgerows being decimated, and an account of how mistletoe is spread, in On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and Orchard by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates.

 

  • Ukrainian secondary characters in Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth and The Echo Chamber by John Boyne; minor characters named Aidan in the Boyne and Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.

 

  • Listening to a dual-language presentation and observing that the people who know the original language laugh before the rest of the audience in The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo and Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.

 

  • A character imagines his heart being taken out of his chest in Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica and The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki.
  • A younger sister named Nina in Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore and Sex Cult Nun by Faith Jones.

 

  • Adulatory words about George H.W. Bush in The Echo Chamber by John Boyne and Thinking Again by Jan Morris.

 

  • Reading three novels by Australian women at the same time (and it’s rare for me to read even one – availability in the UK can be an issue): Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, The Performance by Claire Thomas, and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood.
  • There’s a couple who met as family friends as teenagers and are still (on again, off again) together in Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.

 

  • The Performance by Claire Thomas is set during a performance of the Samuel Beckett play Happy Days, which is mentioned in 100 Days by Gabriel Josipovici.

 

  • Human ashes are dumped and a funerary urn refilled with dirt in Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica and Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

 

  • Nicholas Royle (whose White Spines I was also reading at the time) turns up on a Zoom session in 100 Days by Gabriel Josipovici.

 

  • Richard Brautigan is mentioned in both The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos and White Spines by Nicholas Royle.
  • The Wizard of Oz and The Railway Children are part of the plot in The Book Smugglers (Pages & Co., #4) by Anna James and mentioned in Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

 

What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

Love Your Library Begins: October 2021

It’s the opening month of my new Love Your Library meme! I hope some of you will join me in writing about the libraries you use and what you’ve borrowed from them recently. I plan to treat these monthly posts as a sort of miscellany.

Although I likely won’t do thorough Library Checkout rundowns anymore, I’ll show photos of what I’ve borrowed, give links to reviews of a few recent reads, and then feature something random, such as a reading theme or library policy or display.

Do share a link to your own post in the comments, and feel free to use the above image. I’m co-opting a hashtag that is already popular on Twitter and Instagram: #LoveYourLibrary.

Here’s a reminder of my ideas of what you might choose to post (this list will stay up on the project page):

  • Photos or a list of your latest library book haul
  • An account of a visit to a new-to-you library
  • Full-length or mini reviews of some recent library reads
  • A description of a particular feature of your local library
  • A screenshot of the state of play of your online account
  • An opinion piece about library policies (e.g. Covid procedures or fines amnesties)
  • A write-up of a library event you attended, such as an author reading or book club.

If it’s related to libraries, I want to hear about it!

 

Recently borrowed

Stand-out reads

 

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

John Boyne is such a literary chameleon. He’s been John Irving (The Heart’s Invisible Furies), Patricia Highsmith (A Ladder to the Sky) and David Mitchell (A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom). Now, with this Internet-age state-of-the-nation satire featuring variously abhorrent characters, he’s channelling the likes of Jamie Attenberg, Jonathan Coe, Patricia Lockwood, Lionel Shriver and Emma Straub. Every member of the Cleverley family is a morally compromised fake. Boyne gives his characters amusing tics, and there are also some tremendously funny set pieces, such as Nelson’s speed dating escapade and George’s public outbursts. He links several storylines through the Ukrainian dancer Pylyp, who’s slept with almost every character in the book and has Beverley petsit for his tortoise.

What is Boyne spoofing here? Mostly smartphone addiction, but also cancel culture. I imagined George as Hugh Bonneville throughout; indeed, the novel would lend itself very well to screen adaptation. And I loved how Beverley’s new ghostwriter, never given any name beyond “the ghost,” feels like the most real and perceptive character of all. Surely one of the funniest books I will read this year. (Full review).

 

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

I was one of those rare readers who didn’t think so much of Normal People, so to me this felt like a return to form. Conversations with Friends was a surprise hit with me back in 2017 when I read it as part of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shadow panel the year she won. The themes here are much the same: friendship, nostalgia, sex, communication and the search for meaning. BWWAY is that little bit more existential: through the long-form e-mail correspondence between two friends from college, novelist Alice and literary magazine editor Eileen, we imbibe a lot of philosophizing about history, aesthetics and culture, and musings on the purpose of an individual life against the backdrop of the potential extinction of the species.

Through their relationships with Felix (a rough-around-the-edges warehouse worker) and Simon (slightly older and involved in politics), Rooney explores the question of whether lasting bonds can be formed despite perceived differences of class and intelligence. The background of Alice’s nervous breakdown and Simon’s Catholicism also bring in sensitive treatments of mental illness and faith. (Full review).

 

This month’s feature

I spotted a few of these during my volunteer shelving and then sought out a couple more. All five are picture books composed by authors not known for their writing for children.

 

Islandborn by Junot Díaz (illus. Leo Espinosa): “Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else.” When the teacher asks them all to draw a picture of the country they came from, plucky Lola doesn’t know how to depict the Island. Since she left as a baby, she has to interview relatives and neighbours for their lasting impressions. For one man it’s mangoes so sweet they make you cry; for her grandmother it’s dolphins near the beach. She gathers the memories into a vibrant booklet. The 2D cut-paper style reminded me of Ezra Jack Keats.

 

The Islanders by Helen Dunmore (illus. Rebecca Cobb): Robbie and his family are back in Cornwall to visit Tamsin and her family. These two are the best of friends and explore along the beach together, creating their own little island by digging a channel and making a dam. As the week’s holiday comes toward an end, a magical night-time journey makes them wonder if their wish to make their island life their real life forever could come true. The brightly coloured paint and crayon illustrations are a little bit Charlie and Lola and very cute.

 

Rose Blanche by Ian McEwan (illus. Roberto Innocenti): Patriotism is assumed for the title character and her mother as they cheer German soldiers heading off to war. There’s dramatic irony in Rose being our innocent witness to deprivations and abductions. One day she follows a truck out of town and past barriers and fences and stumbles onto a concentration camp. Seeing hungry children’s suffering, she starts bringing them food. Unfortunately, this gets pretty mawkish and, while I liked some of the tableau scenes – reminiscent of Brueghel or Stanley Spencer – the faces are awful. (Based on a story by Christophe Gallaz.)

 

Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell (illus. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini): The snow angel Sylvie made last winter comes back to her to serve as her guardian angel, saving her from illness and accident risks. If you’re familiar with O’Farrell’s memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, this presents a similar catalogue of near-misses. For a picture book, it has a lot of words – several paragraphs’ worth on most of its 70 pages – so I imagine it’s more suitable for ages seven and up. I loved the fairy tale atmosphere, touches of humour, and drawing style.

 

Weirdo by Zadie Smith and Nick Laird (illus. Magenta Fox): Kit’s birthday present is Maud, a guinea pig in a judo uniform. None of the other household pets – Derrick the cockatoo, Dora the cat, and Bob the pug – know what to make of her. Like in The Secret Life of Pets, the pets take over, interacting while everyone’s out at school and work. At first Maud tries making herself like the others, but after she spends an afternoon with an eccentric neighbour she realizes all she needs to be is herself. It’s not the first time married couple Smith and Laird have published an in-joke (their 2018 releases – an essay collection and a book of poems, respectively – are both entitled Feel Free): Kit is their daughter’s name and Maud is their pug’s. But this was cute enough to let them off.

Planning My Reading Stacks for Novellas in November 2021

Not much more than a week until Novellas in November (#NovNov) begins! I gathered up all of my potential reads for a photo shoot. Review copies are stood upright and library loans are toggled in a separate pile on top; all the rest are from my shelves.

 

Week One: Contemporary Fiction

 

Week Two: Short Nonfiction

 

Week Three: Novellas in Translation

A rather pathetic little pile there, but I also have a copy of that week’s buddy read, Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, on the way. (The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind would be my token contribution to German Literature Month.)

 

Week Four: Short Classics

Last but not least, some comics collections that don’t seem to fit in one of the other categories. Of course, some books fit into two or more categories, and contemporary vs. classic feels like a fluid division – I haven’t checked rigorously for our suggested 1980 cut-off date, so some older stuff might have made it into different piles.

Also available on my Kindle: The Therapist by Nial Giacomelli, Record of a Night too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami, Childhood: Two Novellas by Gerard Reve, and Milton in Purgatory by Edward Vass. As an additional review copy on my Nook, I have Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black, which is 140-some pages.

Plus … I recently placed an order for some new and secondhand books with my birthday money (and then some), and it should arrive before the end of the month. On the way and of novella length are Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns, Bear by Marian Engel, The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy, and In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo.

I also recently requested review copies of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (128 pages; coming out from Faber today) and The Fell by Sarah Moss (160 pages; coming out from Picador on November 11th), so hope to have those in hand soon.

Remember that this year we have chosen a buddy read for each week. I’m again looking after short nonfiction in the second week of the month and short classics in the final week. We plan to post our reviews on the Thursday or Friday of the week in question. Feel free to publish yours at any time in the month and we’ll round up the links on our review posts.

Superman Simon is thinking of reading a novella a day in November! Taken together, I’d have enough novellas here for TWO per day. But my record thus far (in 2018) is 26; since then, I’ve managed 16 per year.

I have no specific number in mind this time. Considering I also plan to read one or two books for Margaret Atwood Reading Month (and perhaps one for AusReading Month) and have a blog tour date, as well as other review books to catch up on and in-demand library books to keep on top of, I can’t devote my full attention to novellas.

If I can read all the review copies, mop up the 4–5 set-aside titles on the pile (the ones with bookmarks in), maybe manage two rereads (the Wharton plus Conundrum), make a dent in my owned copies, and get to one or more from the library, I’ll be happy.

Karen, Kate and Margaret have already come up with their lists of possible titles. Cathy’s has gone up today, too.

Do you have any novellas in mind to read next month?

Coming Soon … A New “Love Your Library” Meme

I know that lots of my readers are dedicated library users. Some of you even work or volunteer in a library, too. Whether or not you blog about books yourself, you’re welcome to join in this simple meme designed to celebrate libraries. Use ’em or lose ’em, after all.

This challenge is entirely open-ended, but here are some things you might consider posting on your blog or to social media:

  • Photos or a list of your latest library book haul
  • An account of a visit to a new-to-you library
  • Full-length or mini reviews of some recent library reads
  • A description of a particular feature of your local library
  • A screenshot of the state of play of your online account
  • An opinion piece about library policies (e.g. Covid procedures or fines amnesties)
  • A write-up of a library event you attended, such as an author reading or book club.

(Image by StockSnap from Pixabay)

 

If it’s related to libraries, I want to hear about it. I’ll post on the last Monday of each month (unless a holiday interferes), but feel free to post whenever you wish. Do share a link to your own post in the comments of my latest one, and use the above image, too. I’m co-opting a hashtag that is already popular on Twitter and Instagram: #LoveYourLibrary.

Get thinking about what you might want to post on Monday the 25th!

 


Love Your Library has grown out of the monthly “Library Checkout” meme – created by Shannon of River City Reading and previously hosted by Charleen of It’s a Portable Magic, I then hosted it for four years starting in October 2017. Here’s an archive of my past posts.

If you want to continue using this framework to keep track of your library borrowing, the categories are Library Books Read; Currently Reading; Checked Out, To Be Read; On Hold; and Returned Unread. I sometimes added Skimmed Only and Returned Unfinished. I usually gave star ratings and links to reviews of any books I managed to read.

October Reading Plans and Books to Catch Up On

My plans for this month’s reading include:

 

Autumn-appropriate titles & R.I.P. selections, pictured below.

October releases, including some poetry and the debut memoir by local nature writer Nicola Chester – some of us are going on a book club field trip to see her speak about it in Hungerford on Saturday.

 

A review book backlog dating back to July. Something like 18 books, I think? A number of them also fall into the set-aside category, below.

 

An alarming number of doorstoppers:

  • Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson (a buddy read underway with Marcie of Buried in Print; technically it’s 442 pages, but the print is so danged small that I’m calling it a doorstopper even though my usual minimum is 500 pages)
  • The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki (in progress for blog review)
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (a library hold on its way to me to try again now that it’s on the Booker Prize shortlist)
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (in progress for BookBrowse review)

Also, I’m aware that we’re now into the last quarter of the year, and my “set aside temporarily” shelf – which is the literal top shelf of my dining room bookcase, as well as a virtual Goodreads shelf – is groaning with books that I started earlier in the year (or, in some cases, even late last year) and for whatever reason haven’t finished yet.

Setting books aside is a dangerous habit of mine, because new arrivals, such as from the library or from publishers, and more timely-seeming books always edge them out. The only way I have a hope of finishing these before the end of the year is to a) include them in challenges wherever possible (so a few long-languishing books have gone up to join my novella stacks in advance of November) and b) reintroduce a certain number to my current stacks at regular intervals. With just 13 weeks or so remaining, two per week seems like the necessary rate.

 

Do you have realistic reading goals for the final quarter of the year? (Or no goals at all?)

Library Checkout, September 2021

My library has been closed for a few weeks while a new lighting system is being installed, so I’ve had fewer opportunities to pick out books at random while shelving. Still, I have quite a stockpile at home – a lot of the books are being saved for Novellas in November – so I can’t complain. Meanwhile, I’m awaiting my holds on some of the biggest releases of the year.

This will most likely be our last September in our current rental place as we’ve started house-hunting in the neighbourhood, so I’m trying to appreciate the view from my study window while I can. I’m taking one photo per day to compare. The first hints of autumn leaves are coming through. (Look carefully to the right of the table and you’ll see our cat!)

As always, I give links to reviews of books not already featured, as well as ratings. I would be delighted to have other bloggers – not just book bloggers – join in with this meme. Feel free to use the image below and leave a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part in Library Checkout (on the last Monday of each month), or tag me on Twitter and Instagram: @bookishbeck / #TheLibraryCheckout & #LoveYourLibraries.

 

READ

  • Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories by A.S. Byatt
  • Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson
  • Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • September 11: A Testimony (Reuters)
  • Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell [graphic novel]
  • Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich [graphic novel]

 

SKIMMED

  • The Easternmost Sky: Adapting to Change in the 21st Century by Juliet Blaxland
  • Gardening for Bumblebees: A Practical Guide to Creating a Paradise for Pollinators by Dave Goulson
  • An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey by Mairi Hedderwick
  • A Walk from the Wild Edge by Jake Tyler

 

CURRENTLY READING

  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
  • Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
  • Anarchipelago by Jay Griffiths
  • The Cure for Good Intentions: A Doctor’s Story by Sophie Harrison
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  • Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven
  • Cut Out by Michèle Roberts
  • Yearbook by Seth Rogen
  • A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven by Joe Shute
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

 

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • The Sea Is Not Made of Water: Life between the Tides by Adam Nicolson

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • October, October by Katya Balen
  • Winter Story by Jill Barklem
  • Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
  • The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
  • Barn Owl by Jim Crumley
  • Kingfisher by Jim Crumley
  • Otter by Jim Crumley
  • Victory: Two Novellas by James Lasdun
  • Jilted City by Patrick McGuinness
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
  • Conundrum by Jan Morris [to reread]
  • The State of the Prisons by Sinéad Morrissey
  • Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven
  • Before Everything by Victoria Redel
  • The Performance by Claire Thomas
  • Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

 

Plus a modest new pile from the university library:

  • The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
  • The Takeover by Muriel Spark (for 1976 Club)
  • The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind

ON HOLD, TO BE PICKED UP

  • The Echo Chamber by John Boyne
  • The Blind Light by Stuart Evers
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan

 

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Spike: The Virus vs. the People – The Inside Story by Jeremy Farrar
  • Mrs March by Virginia Feito
  • Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
  • The Book Smugglers (Pages & Co., #4) by Anna James
  • The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
  • Metamorphosis: Selected Stories by Penelope Lively
  • Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations by Kathryn Mannix
  • Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
  • Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  • Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout
  • Liv’s Alone by Liv Thorne
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler
  • The Magician by Colm Tóibín
  • Still Life by Sarah Winman (to try again)

 

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • Something out of Place: Women & Disgust by Eimear McBride – I hadn’t gotten on with her fiction so thought I’d try this short nonfiction work, especially as it was released by the Wellcome Collection and based on research she did at the Wellcome Library. However, it was very dull and just seemed like a string of quotes from other people.
  • 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next by Jeanette Winterson – I looked at the first essay to consider reviewing this one, but Winterson’s musings on technology and Mary Shelly feel very familiar – from her previous work as well as others’.

 

RETURNED UNREAD

  • I Give It to You by Valerie Martin – I’ll get this suspenseful Tuscany-set novel out again next summer instead.
  • Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff – I ran out of time to read this before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, but I wouldn’t rule out reading it in the future.

 

What appeals from my stacks?

Book Serendipity, July to August 2021

I call it Book Serendipity when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something pretty bizarre in common. Because I have so many books on the go at once (usually 20–30), I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. I’ve realized that, of course, synchronicity is really the more apt word, but this branding has stuck. This used to be a quarterly feature, but to keep the lists from getting too unwieldy I’ve shifted to bimonthly.

The following are in roughly chronological order.

 

  • I read two novels about the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl at the same time: Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth and When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain.

 

  • Two novels in a row were set on a holiday in Spain: Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon and The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
  • I encountered mentions of the removal of the Edward Colston statue in God Is Not a White Man by Chine McDonald and I Belong Here by Anita Sethi on the same evening.

 

  • Characters have the habit of making up names and backstories for strangers in Ruby by Ann Hood and Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon.

 

  • The main female character says she works out what she thinks by talking in Second Place by Rachel Cusk and The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

 

  • A passive mother is bullied by her controlling husband in Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon and Female Friends by Fay Weldon.

 

  • Two reads in a row were a slim volume on the necessity of giving up denial: What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri (re: racism) and What If We Stopped Pretending by Jonathan Franzen (re: climate change).
  • Expressions of a strange sense of relief at disaster in Forecast by Joe Shute (re: flooding) and The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (re: a car accident).

 

  • The biomass ratios of livestock to humans to other mammals are cited in Silent Earth by Dave Goulson, The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green, and Bewilderment by Richard Powers.

 

  • Two Booker nominees referencing china crockery: An Island by Karen Jennings and China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (yep, it’s talking about the plates rather than the country).
  • Teens sneak vodka in Heartstopper, Volume 3 by Alice Oseman and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

 

  • Robert FitzRoy appears in The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn and Forecast by Joe Shute, and is the main subject of This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, a doorstopper that has been languishing on my set-aside pile.
  • Dave Goulson’s bumblebee research is mentioned in The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn, which I was reading at the same time as Goulson’s new book, Silent Earth.

 

  • Reading two cancer memoirs that mention bucket lists at the same time: No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler and Year of Plagues by Fred D’Aguiar.
  • Mentions of the damaging practice of clearing forest to plant eucalyptus in The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn and Forecast by Joe Shute.

 

  • Mentions of mosquito coils being used (in Borneo or Australia) in Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood.
  • Different words to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lola Akinmade Åkerström and How We Do Family by Trystan Reese.

 

  • A brief mention of China and Japan’s 72 mini-seasons in Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles: this will then be the setup for Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian, which I’ll be reading later in September.

 

  • Beached whales feature in Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs and Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles.

 

  • A chapter in No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler is entitled “Flesh & Blood,” which is the title of the whole memoir by N. West Moss that I picked up next – and both are for Shelf Awareness reviews.

 

  • A description of a sonogram appointment where the nurse calls the doctor in to interpret the results and they know right away that means the pregnancy is unviable, followed by an account of a miscarriage, in Flesh & Blood by N. West Moss and How We Do Family by Trystan Reese.
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer and Robert Macfarlane quoted in Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz and Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles.

 

What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

Library Checkout, August 2021

I’ve read a little of everything this month, including a Booker Prize nominee and one from the Wainwright Prize longlist. A few reads were good enough to make it onto my growing “Best of 2021” list. (Full reviews of the Green and Thirkell coming soon.) In September one of my usual foci is short story collections, so I plan to get through the Butler and Byatt next month. Cathy and I have also been plotting about Novellas in November, so I’ve checked out a number of short works in advance.

As always, I give links to reviews of books not already featured, as well as ratings. I would be delighted to have other bloggers – not just book bloggers – join in with this meme. 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 (on the last Monday of each month), or tag me on Twitter and Instagram: @bookishbeck / #TheLibraryCheckout & #LoveYourLibraries.

 

READ

  • Autumn Story by Jill Barklem (a children’s book – these don’t count towards my year total)
  • Second Place by Rachel Cusk
  • What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri
  • Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Dave Goulson (for Shelf Awareness review)
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a human-centered planet by John Green
  • The Rome Plague Diaries: Lockdown Life in the Eternal City by Matthew Kneale
  • Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
  • When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
  • Heartstoppers, Volume 3 by Alice Oseman
  • Heartstoppers, Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
  • Earthed: A Memoir by Rebecca Schiller
  • Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons by Joe Shute
  • August Folly by Angela Thirkell
  • The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk (a mostly wordless graphic novel, so I didn’t count it towards my year total)
  • Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham

SKIMMED

  • I Belong Here: A Journey along the Backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi
  • Plague: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Slack

 

CURRENTLY READING

  • Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories by A.S. Byatt
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
  • Anarchipelago by Jay Griffiths
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  • Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • Cut Out by Michèle Roberts
  • Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

 

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • The Easternmost Sky: Adapting to Change in the 21st Century by Juliet Blaxland
  • Gardening for Bumblebees: A Practical Guide to Creating a Paradise for Pollinators by Dave Goulson
  • An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey by Mairi Hedderwick
  • September 11: A Testimony (Reuters)
  • Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • Winter Story by Jill Barklem
  • The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
  • Barn Owl by Jim Crumley
  • Kingfisher by Jim Crumley
  • Otter by Jim Crumley
  • Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin
  • The Cure for Good Intentions: A Doctor’s Story by Sophie Harrison
  • Victory: Two Novellas by James Lasdun
  • Jilted City by Patrick McGuinness
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
  • Conundrum by Jan Morris [to reread]
  • The State of the Prisons by Sinéad Morrissey
  • The Sea Is Not Made of Water: Life between the Tides by Adam Nicolson
  • Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven
  • Before Everything by Victoria Redel
  • Yearbook by Seth Rogen
  • A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven by Joe Shute
  • The Performance by Claire Thomas
  • A Walk from the Wild Edge by Jake Tyler
  • Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul

 

ON HOLD, TO BE PICKED UP

  • Notes from a Summer Cottage: The Intimate Life of the Outside World by Nina Burton
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Echo Chamber by John Boyne
  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It by Oliver Burkeman
  • Spike: The Virus vs. the People – The Inside Story by Jeremy Farrar
  • Mrs March by Virginia Feito
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
  • The Book Smugglers (Pages & Co., #4) by Anna James
  • The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
  • Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations by Kathryn Mannix
  • I Give It to You by Valerie Martin
  • Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
  • Something out of Place: Women & Disgust by Eimear McBride
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan
  • Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler
  • The Disaster Tourist by Ko-Eun Yun

 

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • August by Callan Wink – The first few pages were about a farm boy working out how to kill all the cats. No thanks.

 

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews – Luckily, I remembered that Laila said it was awful!
  • The Summer before the Dark by Doris Lessing – I should have learned from Memoirs of a Survivor that I don’t get on with her vague dystopian stuff.

 

What appeals from my stacks?

Lana Bastašić for WIT Month 2021 & September Reading Plans

My literature in translation statistics for 2021 have been abysmal so far, but here’s my token contribution to Women in Translation Month: Catch the Rabbit by Lana Bastašić, originally published in 2018 and translated from the Serbo-Croatian by the author herself.

Sara has made a new life for herself in Dublin, with a boyfriend and an avocado tree. She rarely thinks about her past in Bosnia or hears her mother tongue. It’s a rude awakening, then, when she gets a phone call from her childhood best friend, Lejla Begić. Her bold, brassy pal says she needs Sara to pick her up in Mostar and drive her to Vienna to find her brother, Armin. No matter that Sara and Lejla haven’t been in contact in 12 years. But Lejla still has such a hold over Sara that she books a plane ticket right away.

Alternating chapters, with the text enclosed in brackets, dive into the friends’ past: school days, losing their virginity, and burying Lejla’s pet white rabbit, Bunny. Sara often writes as if to Lejla: “I can’t beautify those days, I can’t give them some special, big meaning. You would despise me for it. Besides, I don’t know how to write those two kids: you keep shrinking and growing in my memory, like illusive land to desperate sailors.”

In the road trip scenes, we have to shake our heads at how outrageous Lejla is: peeing in a cornfield, throwing her used tampons out the window, and orchestrating a farcical situation when she lies and tells their host that Sara only speaks English. A lovable rogue, she drives the book’s action. Indeed, Sara realizes, “both the car and I were nothing but an extension of Lejla’s will, she moved us with her words, and we followed obediently.”

This offbeat novel struck me, bizarrely, as a cross between Asylum Road and When God Was a Rabbit. I sometimes find that work in translation, particularly Eastern European, has too much quirkiness for the sake of it. That’s probably true here, and although the nostalgia element was appealing the emotional payoff wasn’t enough to satisfy me. However, I did love a late scene where Sara gazes at Albrecht Dürer’s famous Young Hare painting, and keep an eye out for how the ending connects back to the beginning.

(Simon appreciated this European Union Prize for Literature winner more than I did: his review compares the picture of asymmetrical female friendship favourably to that in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.)

With thanks to Picador for the free copy for review.

Did you do any special reading for Women in Translation month this year?

 

September Reading Plans

Each September I make a bit more of an effort to read short stories, which otherwise tend to sit on my shelves and Kindle unread. Last year I managed to read eight collections for this challenge. How many will I get to this year?! Here’s my shelf of potential reads:

I’ll reread selections from the Byatt anthology (I’ve read all of her published short story collections before and own two of them, one of which I reread last year) and will otherwise focus on books by women. I’ve had good success with Amy Bloom and Helen Simpson stories in previous years, so I’ll definitely plan to read those plus Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler (from the university library).

Since I own THREE unread collections by Alice Munro, it’s time to tackle one, probably Dear Life since I’ve owned it the longest – it’s a review copy that arrived before her Nobel Prize win and I’ve (oops) never reviewed it. The World Does Not Require You is also a long-languishing review copy, so might be my one male-penned title.

What are your September reading plans? Any short story collections you’ve read recently and would recommend to me?

Library Checkout, July 2021

As seems to happen every few months, I felt the urge to cull my library stack and only keep out the books I’m actually excited about reading right now. So you’ll see that a lot of books got returned unread in July. I did manage to read a handful as well, though, with the list looking longer than it really is because of a lot of undemanding children’s and YA material. My summer crush is the super-cute Heartstoppers comics series.

As always, I give links to reviews of books not already featured, as well as ratings for reads and skims. I would be delighted to have other bloggers – not just book bloggers – join in with this meme. 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 (on the last Monday of each month), or tag me on Twitter and Instagram: @bookishbeck / #TheLibraryCheckout & #LoveYourLibraries.

 

READ

 

SKIMMED

  • Consumed: A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar

 

CURRENTLY READING

  • Second Place by Rachel Cusk
  • What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri
  • All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
  • The Rome Plague Diaries: Lockdown Life in the Eternal City by Matthew Kneale
  • Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
  • When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
  • Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich
  • Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham

 

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • I Belong Here: A Journey along the Backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi
  • Plague: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Slack

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • Autumn Story by Jill Barklem
  • The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
  • The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  • The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
  • Gardening for Bumblebees: A Practical Guide to Creating a Paradise for Pollinators by Dave Goulson
  • The Summer before the Dark by Doris Lessing
  • Jilted City by Patrick McGuinness
  • The State of the Prisons by Sinéad Morrissey
  • Stiff by Mary Roach
  • August Folly by Angela Thirkell
  • August by Callan Wink

 

ON HOLD, TO BE PICKED UP

  • The Easternmost Sky: Adapting to Change in the 21st Century by Juliet Blaxland
  • The Sea Is Not Made of Water: Life between the Tides by Adam Nicolson
  • Heartstoppers, Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
  • Earthed: A Memoir by Rebecca Schiller
  • Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons by Joe Shute
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
  • The Echo Chamber by John Boyne
  • Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories by A.S. Byatt
  • Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
  • Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Dave Goulson
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  • The Cure for Good Intentions: A Doctor’s Story by Sophie Harrison
  • An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey by Mairi Hedderwick
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
  • The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
  • Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
  • His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
  • Heartstoppers, Volume 3 by Alice Oseman
  • Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven
  • Before Everything by Victoria Redel
  • Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • Cut Out by Michèle Roberts
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler
  • The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk
  • A Walk from the Wild Edge by Jake Tyler
  • 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
  • The Disaster Tourist by Ko-Eun Yun

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  • Still Life by Sarah Winman

None of these captivated me after 10–30 pages. I’ll try the Shipstead and Winman again another time.

 

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Misplaced Persons by Susan Beale
  • This Happy by Niamh Campbell
  • Heavy Light: A Journey through Madness, Mania and Healing by Horatio Clare
  • Lakewood by Megan Giddings
  • The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
  • A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf
  • Joe Biden: American Dreamer by Evan Osnos
  • The Dig by John Preston
  • Dreamland by Rosa Rankin-Gee

The last of these was requested after me; I (at least temporarily) lost interest in the rest.

 

What appeals from my stacks?