Category: Reading habits

Library Checkout: November 2019

I’ve been desperately trying to get through the final handful of 2019 releases on my docket, whether they’re review copies or available from the library. So I recently made a last-minute flurry of requests on the 2019 titles I still intend to read, and will do my darndest to get through them all – though I’m definitely being brutal at this point and DNFing anything that doesn’t grab me within the first chapter.

I give links to reviews of any books I haven’t already featured, as well as ratings for all. What have you been reading from your local libraries? Library Checkout runs on the last Monday of every month. I don’t have an official link-up system, but feel free to use this image in your post and to leave a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part.

 

READ

  • Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
  • The Dig by Cynan Jones
  • Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem
  • “Birthday Girl” by Haruki Murakami
  • A Half Baked Idea: How Grief, Love and Cake Took Me from the Courtroom to Le Cordon Bleu by Olivia Potts
  • Chances Are by Richard Russo
  • The Poetry Pharmacy Returns: More Prescriptions for Courage, Healing and Hope by William Sieghart
  • Baker Cat by Posy Simmonds
  • Rain Falling by the River: New and Selected Poems of the Spirit, Christopher Southgate [from my church’s theological library]

SKIMMED

  • Critical: Science and Stories from the Brink of Human Life by Dr Matt Morgan

CURRENTLY READING

  • Ring the Hill by Tom Cox
  • The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Heavens by Sandra Newman
  • My Name Is Why: A Memoir by Lemn Sissay

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • Afloat: A Memoir by Danie Couchman
  • The School of Life: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
  • Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life by Paul Dolan
  • Diary of a Lone Twin by David Loftus

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

ON HOLD, TO BE PICKED UP

  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (I only plan to skim it!)

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Body Lies by Jo Baker
  • Five Ingredient Vegan: 100 Simple, Fast, Modern Recipes by Katy Beskow
  • The Easternmost House: A Year of Life on the Edge of England by Juliet Blaxland
  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
  • Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
  • Under the Camelthorn Tree: Raising a Family among Lions by Kate Nicholls
  • The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn
  • The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
  • Mr Dickens and his Carol by Samantha Silva
  • The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater
  • Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • Live a Little by Howard Jacobson – It’s been a while since I tried a Jacobson novel; the idea of a comic romance between 90-somethings appealed to me. The first chapter, about Beryl and her morbid cross-stitch sayings, was entertaining enough, but the second chapter quickly lost me.
  • After the End by Clare Mackintosh – I thought this might be a bit like a Jodi Picoult book: a gripping, heartwarming issues book with a medical theme. That might indeed be the case, but the first 10 pages were awfully dull.
  • Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith – I read the first and last (title) stories, and started on the second. Two out of three were so bad that if they didn’t have the famous name attached I’m not sure they could have gotten published. In “The Dialectic” Smith attempts to cross Elena Ferrante with Jonathan Safran Foer for a thin tale of a mother and daughter arguing about the treatment of animals on a beach. Main problem: no one speaks like the daughter speaks here, no matter her age or upbringing (“I dislike this place”). The title story, about mothers and daughters in a diverse area of London, is fine, but nothing special. And then the first five pages of “Sentimental Education” were sexually explicit just for the sake of it and too reminiscent of On Beauty. I skimmed through the rest to see if any other story jumped out at me, but decided to move on to something else instead.

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Nightingales in November: A Year in the Lives of Twelve British Birds by Mike Dilger – The writing is very dry: a set of list-like, month-by-month observations.

Does anything appeal from my stacks?

Getting Real about My “Set Aside Temporarily” Shelf

Mid-November, and I’ve been thinking about how many of the books I currently have on the go I will be able to finish before the end of the year – not to mention whether I can squeeze in any more 2019 releases, or get a jump on early 2020 releases (ha!).

In the back of my mind, however, is some mild, self-induced anxiety. You see, the other year I started an exclusive Goodreads shelf (i.e., one that doesn’t fall into one of the three standard categories, “Read,” “Currently Reading” or “Want to Read”) called “Set Aside Temporarily,” on which I place a book I have put on hiatus for whatever reason, whether I’d read a handful of pages or 200. Maybe a few library holds came in that I needed to finish before a strict due date, or I took on a last-minute review assignment and needed to focus on that book instead.

Usually, though, it’s just a case of having started too many books at once. I’m addicted to finishing books, but also to starting them – often a fresh stack of four or five in one sitting, to add to my 10 or more already on the go. I always used to say that I read 10‒15 books at a time, but in the latter half of this year that has crept up to 20‒25. Sometimes I can manage it; other times it feels like too much, and a few books from the stack fall by the wayside and get stuck with that polite label of “set aside.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t enjoying them, just that they were less compelling than some other reads.

Some of my “set aside” reads, stacked up next to my reading armchair.

So as I contemplated this virtual shelf, which as of the 12th had 33 titles on it, I figured I have the following alternatives for each book: pick it back up immediately and finish it as soon as possible, ideally this year (especially if it’s a 2019 release, so it can be in the running for my Best Of lists); regretfully mark it as a DNF; put it back on the shelf, with or without a place marker, to read some other time; skim to the end if I wasn’t getting on with it particularly well yet want to know what happens; or keep it in limbo for now and maybe read it in 2020.

I told myself it was decision time on all of these. Here’s how it played out:

(* = 2019 release)

 

Currently reading:

  • Let’s Hope for the Best by Carolina Setterwall*
  • Savage Pilgrims: On the Road to Santa Fe by Henry Shukman

 

To resume soon:

  • The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland* (as soon as my library hold comes in)
  • Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner*
  • The Spirit of Christmas: Stories, Poems, Essays by G.K. Chesterton
  • The River Capture by Mary Costello*
  • The Scar by Mary Cregan*
  • The Envoy from Mirror City by Janet Frame
  • Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston*
  • Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Way through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon*
  • Kinds of Love by May Sarton
  • All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf by Katharine Smyth*
  • Dancing with Bees by Brigit Strawbridge Howard*
  • A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas (a re-read)
  • The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall*

 

DNFed:

  • The Manticore by Robertson Davies – A different perspective isn’t enough to keep me interested in a recounting of the events from Fifth Business.
  • The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (even though I’d read 250 pages of the danged thing) – Painstaking but worthy historical fiction.
  • Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman – The first 100 or so pages were pleasant reading during a beer festival, but I had no impetus to pick it up afterwards.
  • A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman* – The first 12% didn’t grab me. Never say never, but I don’t plan on picking it back up soon. Sad, as this was one of my most anticipated releases of the year.
  • The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf – I really tried. It was the third Woolf novel I’d picked up (and put down) in quick succession this year. She’s just such hard work.

 

Returned to the shelf for another time:

  • Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
  • Emerald City by Jennifer Egan
  • The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
  • Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
  • Wait Till I Tell You by Candia McWilliam
  • The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
  • Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy
  • A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies by John Murray
  • Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

 

To skim:

  • The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom* – Although very well written, this is dense with family detail, more than I really need.

 

Still set aside:

  • In the Springtime of the Year by Susan Hill – to finish off next spring!
  • Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch (a university library book) – It’s in discrete essays so can be picked up and put down at will.

 

Some general observations: Recently I’ve lacked staying power with short story collections. However, I find it’s not usually a problem to read a few stories (or essays) and then return to a collection some months later. Memoirs, travel books and quiet fiction can also withstand an interruption. If I’ve put aside a plotty or style-heavy novel, however, that’s a bad sign that I will probably end up DNFing it.

 

Do you have a physical or virtual shelf of books that are partly read and languishing? How have you tackled it in the past?

November Plans: Novellas, Margaret Atwood Reading Month & More

This is my fourth year joining Laura Frey and others in reading mostly novellas in November. Last year Laura 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 and #NovellasinNovember) The definition of a novella is loose – it’s based more on the word count than the number of pages – 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 I might go as high as 180-some if there aren’t that many words on a page. Some, including Laura and Susan, would be as generous as 200.

I’ve trawled my shelves for fiction and nonfiction stacks to select from, as well as a few volumes that include several novellas (I’d plan on reading at least the first one) and some slightly longer novels (150–190 pages) for backups. [From the N. West volume, I just have the 52-page novella The Dream Life of Balso Snell, his debut, to read. The Tangye book with the faded cover is Lama.] Also available on my Kindle are 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* (both *Fairlight Moderns Novellas, as is Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville).

 

 

Other November reading plans…

 

Margaret Atwood Reading Month

This is the second year of #MARM, hosted by Canadian bloggers extraordinaires Marcie of Buried in Print and Naomi of Consumed by Ink. This year they’re having a special The Handmaid’s Tale/The Testaments theme, but even if you’re avoiding the sequel, join us in reading one or more Atwood works of your choice. She has so much to choose from! Last year I read The Edible Woman and Surfacing. This year I’ve earmarked copies of the novel The Robber Bride (1993) and Moral Disorder (2006), a linked short story collection, both of which I got for free – the former from the free bookshop where I volunteer, and the latter from a neighbor who was giving it away.

 

Nonfiction November

I don’t usually participate in this challenge because nonfiction makes up at least 40% of my reading anyway, but last year I enjoyed putting together some fiction and nonfiction pairings and ‘being the expert’ on women’s religious memoirs, a subgenre I have a couple of books to add to this year. So I will probably end up doing at least one post. The full schedule is here.

 

Young Writer of the Year Award

Being on the shadow panel for the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award was a highlight of 2017 for me. I was sad to not be able to attend any of the events last year. I’m excited for this year’s shadow panelists, a couple of whom are blogging friends (one I’ve met IRL), and I look forward to following along with the nominated books and attending the prize ceremony at the London Library on December 5th.

With any luck I will already have read at least one or two books from the shortlist, which is to be announced on November 3rd. I have my fingers crossed for Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Daisy Johnson, Elizabeth Macneal, Stephen Rutt and Lara Williams; I expect we may also see repeat appearances from one of the poets recognized by the Forward Prizes and Guy Gunaratne, the winner of the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize.

 

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

Library Checkout: October 2019

The R.I.P. challenge plus a bunch of in-demand reservations coming in for me at around the same time meant that I had a lot to read from the library this month. I give links to reviews of any books I haven’t already featured, as well as ratings for all.

What have you been reading from your local libraries? Library Checkout runs on the last Monday of every month. I don’t have an official link-up system, but feel free to use this image in your post and to leave a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part.

READ

SKIMMED

  • The Prison Doctor: My time inside Britain’s most notorious jails by Dr Amanda Brown with Ruth Kelly
  • Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon: The New Science and Stories of the Brain by Rahul Jandial

CURRENTLY READING

  • A Half Baked Idea: How Grief, Love and Cake Took Me from the Courtroom to Le Cordon Bleu by Olivia Potts
  • Chances Are by Richard Russo
  • The Poetry Pharmacy Returns: More Prescriptions for Courage, Healing and Hope by William Sieghart

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • Nightingales in November: A Year in the Lives of Twelve British Birds by Mike Dilger
  • Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame [university library]
  • Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem
  • Critical: Science and Stories from the Brink of Human Life by Dr Matt Morgan
  • Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • Five Ingredient Vegan: 100 Simple, Fast, Modern Recipes by Katy Beskow
  • The Easternmost House: A Year of Life on the Edge of England by Juliet Blaxland
  • Ring the Hill by Tom Cox
  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
  • The School of Life: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
  • Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
  • My Name Is Why: A Memoir by Lemn Sissay
  • Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
  • The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • The Hoarder by Jess Kidd
  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong – I read the first chapter (11 pages), which, had it been a short story, would have been a 5-star stand-alone. But I felt that this was a novel that would be characterized more for its beautiful language and observations than for its plot, and as such the reading experience might be akin to eating a three-course meal made up entirely of toffee – just too much. I’d be happy to stand corrected and try this again another time, though.

Does anything appeal from my stacks?

My (Not the) Booker Prize Reading

A week from today, on the 14th (my birthday, as well as Susan’s – be sure to wish her a happy one!), this year’s Booker Prize will be announced. The Prize’s longlist didn’t contain much that piqued my interest this time around; I read one book from it and didn’t get on with it well at all, and I also DNFed another three.

 

Read

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson does her darndest to write like Ali Smith here (no speech marks, short chapters and sections, random pop culture references). Cross Smith’s Seasons quartet with the vague aims of the Hogarth Shakespeare project and Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and you get this odd jumble of a novel that tries to combine the themes and composition of Frankenstein with the modern possibilities of transcending bodily limitations. Her contemporary narrator is Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor sponsored by the Wellcome Trust who supplies researcher Victor Stein with body parts for his experiments in Manchester. In Memphis for a tech expo, Ry meets Ron Lord, a tactless purveyor of sexbots.

Their interactions alternate with chapters narrated by Mary Shelley in the 1810s; I found this strand much more engaging and original, perhaps because I haven’t read that much about Shelley and her milieu, whereas it feels like I’ve read a lot about machine intelligence and transhumanism recently (To Be a Machine, Murmur, Machines Like Me). I think Winterson’s aim was to link the two time periods through notions of hybridness and resistance to death. It never really came together for me.

 

DNFed

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – I read the first 76 pages. The other week two grizzled Welsh guys came to deliver my new fridge. Their barely comprehensible banter reminded me of that between Maurice and Charlie, two ageing Irish gangsters. The long first chapter is terrific. At first these fellas seem like harmless drunks, but gradually you come to realize just how dangerous they are. Maurice’s daughter Dilly is missing, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to find her. Threatening to decapitate someone’s dog is just the beginning – and you know they could do it. “I don’t know if you’re getting the sense of this yet, Ben. But you’re dealing with truly dreadful fucken men here,” Charlie warns at one point. I loved the voices; if this was just a short story it would have gotten a top rating, but I found I had no interest in the backstory of how these men got involved in heroin smuggling.

The Wall by John Lanchester – I lost interest in it and wasn’t drawn in by the first pages.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – I read the first 35 pages. There’s a lot of repetition; random details seem deliberately placed as clues. I’m sure there’s a clever story in here somewhere, but apart from a few intriguing anachronisms (in 1988 a smartphone is just “A small, flat, rectangular object … lying in the road. … The object was speaking. There was definitely a voice inside it”) there is not much plot or character to latch onto. I suspect there will be many readers who, like me, can’t be bothered to follow Saul Adler from London’s Abbey Road, where he’s hit by a car in the first paragraph, to East Berlin.

 


There’s only one title from the Booker shortlist that I’m interested in reading: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I’ll be reviewing it later this month as part of a blog tour celebrating the Aké Book Festival, but as a copy hasn’t yet arrived from either the publisher or the library I won’t have gotten far into it before the Prize announcement.

 

As for the other five on the shortlist…

  • I’m a conscientious objector to Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. I haven’t appreciated her previous dystopian sequels, and I’ve never really understood all the hype around The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • I don’t plan on reading Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport – unless some enterprising soul produces an abridged version of no more than 250 pages.*
Ducks, Newbury
  • I didn’t rate The Fishermen highly enough to give Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities a try.
  • I forced myself through Midnight’s Children some years back. What a pointless slog! Lukewarm reviews of his recent work mean I’m now doubly determined to avoid Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte.
  • Although the setup appeals to me (a prostitute’s whole life spooling out in front of her in the moments before her death) and I enjoyed her previous novel well enough, I’ve not heard enough good things to pick up Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.

 

*However, I was delighted to find a copy of her 1991 novel, Varying Degrees of Hopelessness (just 182 pages, with short chapters often no longer than a paragraph and pithy sentences) in a 3-for-£1 sale at our local charity warehouse. Isabel, a 31-year-old virgin whose ideas of love come straight from the romance novels of ‘Babs Cartwheel’, hopes to find Mr. Right while studying art history at the Catafalque Institute in London (a thinly veiled Courtauld, where Ellmann studied). She’s immediately taken with one of her professors, Lionel Syms, whom she dubs “The Splendid Young Man.” Isabel’s desperately unsexy description of him had me snorting into my tea:

He had a masculinity.

His broad shoulders and narrow hips gave him a distinctive physique.

He held seminars and wore red socks.

To hold seminars seemed to indicate a wish to develop a rapport with his students.

The red socks seemed to indicate testosterone.

I swooned in admiration of him.

Unfortunately, the Splendid Young Man is more interested in Isabel’s portly flatmate, Pol. There’s a screwball charm to this campus novel full of love triangles and preposterous minor characters. I laughed at many of Ellmann’s deadpan lines, and would recommend this to fans of David Lodge’s academic comedies. But if you wish to, you could read this as a cautionary tale about the dangers of romantic fantasies. Ellmann even offers two alternate endings, one melodramatic and one more prosaic but believable. I’ll seek out the rest of her back catalogue – so thanks to the Booker for putting her on my radar.

 

 

In the meantime, I did a bit better with the “Not the Booker Prize” (administered by the Guardian) shortlist, reading three out of their six:

 

Flames by Robbie Arnott

This strange and somewhat entrancing debut novel is set in Arnott’s native Tasmania. The women of the McAllister family are known to return to life – even after a cremation, as happened briefly with Charlotte and Levi’s mother. Levi is determined to stop this from happening again, and decides to have a coffin built to ensure his 23-year-old sister can’t ever come back from the flames once she’s dead. The letters that pass between him and the ill-tempered woodworker he hires to do the job were my favorite part of the book. In other strands, we see Charlotte traveling down to work at a wombat farm in Melaleuca, a female investigator lighting out after her, and Karl forming a close relationship with a seal. This reminded me somewhat of The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett and Orkney by Amy Sackville. At times I had trouble following the POV and setting shifts involved in this work of magic realism, though Arnott’s writing is certainly striking.

A favorite passage:

“The Midlands droned on, denuded hill after denuded hill, until I rolled into sprawling suburbs around noon. Here’s a list of the places I’d choose to visit before the capital: hell, anywhere tropical, the Mariana Trench, a deeper pit of hell, my mother’s house.”

 


My thanks to Atlantic Books for the free paperback copy for review.

See Susan’s review for a more enthusiastic response.

 

 

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James: A twisty, clever meta novel about “Daniel James” trying to write a biography of Ezra Maas, an enigmatic artist who grew up a child prodigy in Oxford and attracted a cult following in 1960s New York City, where he was a friend of Warhol et al. (See my full review.)

 

Supper Club by Lara Williams: A great debut novel with strong themes of female friendship and food. The Supper Club Roberta and Stevie create is performance art, but it’s also about creating personal meaning when family and romance have failed you. (See my full review.)

 

The other three books on the shortlist are:

  • Skin by Liam Brown: A dystopian novel in which people become allergic to human contact. I think I’ll pass on this one.
  • Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin: A debut novel by a Norwegian author that proceeds backwards to examine the life of a woman struggling with endometriosis and raising a young daughter. I’m very keen to read this one.
  • Spring by Ali Smith: I’ve basically given up on Ali Smith – and certainly on the Seasons quartet, after DNFing Winter.

(The Not the Booker Prize will be announced on the Guardian website this Friday the 11th.)

 

Have you read something from the (Not the) Booker shortlist(s)? Any predictions for next week?

Book Serendipity, 2019 Second Half

I call it serendipitous when two or more books that I’m reading 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 between 10 and 20 – I guess I’m more prone to such incidents. I post these occasional reading coincidences on Twitter. What’s the weirdest one you’ve had lately? (The following are in rough chronological order.)

[Previous 2019 Book Serendipity posts from April and July.]

 

  • Two novels in which a character attempts to glimpse famous mountains out of a train window but it’s so rainy they can barely be seen: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma and The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann.
  • Ex-husbands move from England to California and remarry younger women in The Stillness The Dancing by Wendy Perriam and Heat Wave by Penelope Lively.

 

  • References to Edgar Allan Poe in both Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma.

 

  • An account of Percy Shelley’s funeral pyre in both The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma and Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.

 

  • Mentions of barn owls being killed by eating poisoned rats in Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington and Homesick by Catrina Davies.
  • Miriam Rothschild is mentioned in Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman and An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell.

 

  • Gorse is thrown on bonfires in Homesick by Catrina Davies and The Stillness The Dancing by Wendy Perriam.

 

  • A character has a nice cup of Ovaltine in Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym and The Stillness The Dancing by Wendy Perriam.

 

  • I started two books with “Bloom” in the title on the same day.

 

  • Two books I finished about the same time conclude by quoting or referring to the T. S. Eliot lines about coming back to the place where you started and knowing it for the first time (Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington and This Is Not a Drill, the Extinction Rebellion handbook).

 

  • Three books in which the narrator wonders whether to tell the truth slant (quoting Emily Dickinson, consciously or not): The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood.

 

  • On the same day, I saw mentions of crullers in both On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
  • There are descriptions of starling murmurations over Brighton Pier in both Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman and Expectation by Anna Hope. (Always brings this wonderful Bell X1 song to mind!)

 

  • I was reading The Outermost House by Henry Beston and soon after found an excerpt from it in Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman; later I started The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland, whose title is a deliberate tip of the hat to Beston.

 

  • At a fertility clinic, the author describes a pair of transferred embryos as “two sequins of light” (in On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming) and “two points of light” (in Expectation by Anna Hope).

 

  • Mentions of azolla ferns in Time Song by Julia Blackburn and Bloom (aka Slime) by Ruth Kassinger.

 

  • Incorporation of a mother’s brief memoir in the author’s own memoir in On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming and All Things Consoled by Elizabeth Hay.

 

  • Artist mothers in On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming, All Things Consoled by Elizabeth Hay, and Expectation by Anna Hope.

 

  • Missionary fathers in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The Wind that Lays Waste by Selva Almada.
  • Twins, one who’s disabled from a birth defect and doesn’t speak much, in Golden Child by Claire Adam and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

 

  • An Irish-American family in a major East Coast city where the teenage boy does construction work during the summers in Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.

 

  • SPOILERS: A woman with terminal cancer refuses treatment so she can die on her own terms and is carried out into her garden in Expectation by Anna Hope and A Reckoning by May Sarton.

 

  • A 27-year-old professor has a student tearfully confide in her in Crow Lake by Mary Lawson and The Small Room by May Sarton.
  • Reading The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom at the same time as The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.

 

  • “I was nineteen years old and an idiot” (City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert); “I was fifteen and generally an idiot” (The Dutch House, Ann Patchett).

 

  • Mentions of a conjuring tricks book in Time Song by Julia Blackburn and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies.

 

  • A teen fleeces their place of employment in Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore.
  • A talking parrot with a religious owner in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

 

  • Pictorial book serendipity: three books I was reading, and another waiting in the wings, had a red, black and white color scheme.

 

  • Kripalu (a Massachusetts retreat center) is mentioned in Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner and Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene.

 

  • The character of Netty Quelch in Robertson Davies’s The Manticore reminds me of Fluffy in Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.

 

  • The artist Chardin is mentioned in How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton and Varying Degrees of Hopelessness by Lucy Ellmann.

 

  • A Czech grand/father who works in a plant nursery in the opening story of Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever and Patricia Hampl’s The Florist’s Daughter.
  • The author was in Eva Le Gallienne’s NYC theatre company (Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention and various works by May Sarton, also including a biography of her).

 

  • Gillian Rose’s book Love’s Work is mentioned in both Notes Made while Falling by Jenn Ashworth and My Year Off by Robert McCrum. (I will clearly have to read the Rose!)

 

  • Sarah Baartman (displayed in Europe as the “Hottentot Venus”) is mentioned in Shame on Me by Tessa McWatt and Hull by Xandria Phillips.

Library Checkout: September 2019

A quieter month of trying to finish up some books that I’ve had on the go for quite a while. I give links to reviews of any books I haven’t already featured, and ratings for ones I’ve read or skimmed. What have you been reading from your local libraries? Library Checkout runs on the last Monday of every month. I don’t have an official link-up system, but feel free to use this image in your post and to leave a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part.

 

READ

SKIMMED

  • The Lost Art of Scripture by Karen Armstrong
  • The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey [university library]
  • The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads by Alistair Moffat

CURRENTLY READING

  • Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The Envoy from Mirror City by Janet Frame [university library]
  • The Electricity of Every Living Thing: One Woman’s Walk with Asperger’s by Katherine May
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon: The New Science and Stories of the Brain by Rahul Jandial

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ (all for R.I.P.!)

  • The Hoarder by Jess Kidd
  • The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

+ Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame [university library], The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Easternmost House: A Year of Life on the Edge of England by Juliet Blaxland
  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
  • The Confession by Jessie Burton
  • The School of Life: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
  • A Half-Baked Idea: How Grief, Love and Cake Took Me from the Courtroom to Le Cordon Bleu by Olivia Potts
  • Chances Are by Richard Russo
  • The Poetry Pharmacy Returns: More Prescriptions for Courage, Healing and Hope by William Sieghart
  • My Name Is Why: A Memoir by Lemn Sissay
  • Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith
  • Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • The Porpoise by Mark Haddon – I read “The Flight,” the excellent 10-page prologue, which is almost like a stand-alone short story and features a terrifying plane crash and its aftermath. But after that I found I had zero interest in continuing with a Pericles update.
  • The Well-Beloved by Thomas Hardy [university library]
  • Dark Glasses by Blake Morrison [university library] – I read all but the final and longest poem, “The Inquisitor,” so about 50 out of 79 pages. I have trouble remembering now what the book is about, beyond, well, everything: life, family, seasons, choices, regrets.
  • I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder – I read the introduction and part of the first chapter (about 12 pages). I’m not sure how I heard about it or why I thought I wanted to read it. I guess it sounded like it would be an amusing family memoir that employed humor as well as pathos when dealing with serious subjects like depression. I’d never heard of the author, though (a broadcaster and Guardian columnist), so I had no specific interest in his life story and the writing had nothing to recommend it.
  • Some Hope by Edward St. Aubyn – I read the first chapter, skipped forward to read the first few pages of Chapter 10 (when Patrick tries to be more mature and nuanced in his thinking as he searches for peace of mind; it’s too simple to just loathe his father), and skimmed to the end. This is more like Never Mind than Bad News in that it returns to that shallow, glittering world of the rich partying set. I found I had trouble keeping all the secondary characters straight, and didn’t care about them; I only wanted to hear about Patrick.

RETURNED UNREAD

  • If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman – I tried the first few pages and didn’t enjoy the style. It felt awfully portentous for what is essentially women’s fiction.

Does anything appeal from my stacks?