Category: Reading habits

Library Checkout: November 2018

library-checkout-feature-image

This month I focused on novella-length books, though I also managed a doorstopper from the Booker Prize shortlist. I only have another three weeks until I fly to America for Christmas, so I may end up canceling some of the reservations below, or just taking a chance that they won’t come in for me until the new year. (As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and links to Goodreads reviews where I haven’t already featured the books on the blog in some way.)

 

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

CURRENTLY READING

  • West by Carys Davies
  • House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Winter by Ali Smith

CURRENTLY SKIMMING

  • In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World by Simon Garfield
  • Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold van de Laar

TO SKIM ONLY

  • Rewild Yourself : 23 Spellbinding Ways To Make Nature More Visible by Simon Barnes
  • Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts by Brené Brown
  • The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • Selected Poems by Edmund Blunden
  • Daphne by Will Boast
  • Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen
  • The Binding by Bridget Collins
  • Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington
  • Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds
  • A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes
  • Fox 8 by George Saunders
  • The Brief Life of Flowers by Fiona Stafford

RETURNED UNFINISHED

  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami – I cut my losses at page 120. At that point the story still hadn’t taken off. The setup is fairly similar to that of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and so was not fresh or enticing enough.
  • The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell – I read the first chapter (21 pages) and enjoyed it well enough, but didn’t feel any need to continue.
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos – I’m interested in trying more literary/crossover crime novels and liked the synopsis of this one, but didn’t enjoy the hardboiled style. I read the first 20 pages.

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Varina by Charles Frazier – I tried the first few pages and wasn’t drawn in.
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – I put it down when I found a dangling modifier on page 2! Some people might be willing to look past issues of writing quality and appreciate a story, but I have so many hundreds of books waiting to be read that I am keen not to waste my time on anything even remotely subpar.
  • The Long Take by Robin Robertson – Getting through 240 pages of a novel in verse was never really going to happen. (I managed about two.)
  • The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke – No chapters, okay. No heading breaks, maybe alright. But no paragraphs? That’s a step too far!

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


I don’t have an official link-up system, so please just pop a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part in Library Checkout this month. (Feel free to use the feature image in your post.)

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November Reading Plans: Novellas, Margaret Atwood and More

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

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

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

 


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

 

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere by Jeanette Winterson 

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

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

Favorite lines:

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

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

My rating:

 

 


Other November reading plans…

 

Margaret Atwood Reading Month

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

 

Young Writer of the Year Award

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

 

John Leonard Prize committee

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

 


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

Library Checkout: October 2018

It’s been a year since I relaunched the Library Checkout meme. I want to say a big thank you to the handful of bloggers who have joined in since then. It’s such a quick, fun and easy post to put together by the final Monday of each month. Why not take part?!

In the past month I’ve been reading from the Booker Prize longlist. Although I also read within my comfort zones of historical fiction and memoirs, I’ve dabbled in genres I don’t read as often, like graphic novels and middle-grade fiction.

For November’s challenges I’m stockpiling novella-length books, one of them for Margaret Atwood Reading Month. At some point I’ll have to get real about how many more 2018 releases I can read before I fly to America for Christmas, which may mean canceling some reservations. I’m holding out for at least the Murakami and Obama titles to arrive in time!

(As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and links to Goodreads reviews where I haven’t already featured the books on the blog in some way.)

 

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

SKIMMED ONLY

  • My Father and Myself by J.R. Ackerley 
  • Noonday by Pat Barker 
  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan [Read in 2015; re-skimmed for book club.] 
  • Wilding by Isabella Tree 

CURRENTLY READING

  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

CURRENTLY READING-ish (set aside temporarily)

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
  • The Long Take by Robin Robertson
  • The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

ON HOLD, TO BE PICKED UP

  • Varina by Charles Frazier

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett
  • Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley
  • West by Carys Davies
  • Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy [poetry]
  • House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
  • In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World by Simon Garfield
  • The Glorious Life of the Oak by John Lewis-Stempel
  • Holloway by Robert Macfarlane et al.
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Fox 8 by George Saunders
  • Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds [graphic novel]

RETURNED UNFINISHED

RETURNED UNREAD

  • A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Too dang long! Tiny print and over 500 pages. I don’t think I’ll be completing the My Struggle series.
  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller – This was requested after me, and I knew I wouldn’t have time for it. Also, I think I’ve lost interest for now.

 

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

 


I don’t have an official link-up system, so please just pop a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part in Library Checkout this month. (Feel free to use the image in your post.)

Incidents of Book Serendipity

Since May I’ve been posting my occasional reading coincidences on Twitter and/or Instagram. This is 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 serendipitous incidents. What’s the weirdest one you’ve had lately? (The following are in rough chronological order.)

 

  • Two historical novels set (partially) among the slaves of Martinique and featuring snippets of Creole (Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man and Jane Harris’s Sugar Money)
  • A book about epilepsy and a conductor’s memoir, followed by a novel with a conductor character and another who has seizures (Suzanne O’Sullivan’s Brainstorm and Lev Parikian’s Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?  to Caoilinn Hughes’s Orchid & the Wasp)

 

  • Two characters mistake pregnancy for cholera (in Alexandra Fuller’s Leaving Before the Rains Come and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil)

 

  • Two characters are reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (in Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Good Morning, Midnight and Julie Buntin’s Marlena) … I’ve since tried again with Le Guin’s book myself, but it’s so dry I can only bear to skim it.

 

  • Two memoirs by Iranian-American novelists with mental health and drug use issues (Porochista Khakpour’s Sick and Afarin Majidi’s Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror)
  • References to the blasé response to Martin Luther King’s assassination in North Carolina (in Paulette Bates Alden’s Crossing the Moon and David Sedaris’s Calypso)

 

  • The Police lyrics (in Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard [a whole essay called “Sting”])
  • Salmon croquettes mentioned in Less by Andrew Sean Greer and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

 

  • I’m reading Beryl Markham’s West with the Night … and then Glynnis MacNicol picks that very book up to read on a plane in No One Tells You This

 

  • Starting two books with the word “Ladder” in the title, one right after the other: Ladders to Heaven by Mike Shanahan and Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler (followed just a couple of weeks later by A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne!)
  • Two books set in Dunedin, New Zealand, one right after the other – I planned it that way, BUT both have a character called Myrtle (To the Is-Land by Janet Frame and Dunedin by Shena Mackay). Then I encountered Harold Gillies, the father of plastic surgery, in Jim McCaul’s Face to Face, and guess what? He was from Dunedin!
    • Then I was skimming Louisa Young’s You Left Early and she mentioned that her grandmother was a sculptor who worked with Gillies on prostheses, which was the inspiration for her WWI novel, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.

 

  • Two novels featuring drug addicts (Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin and Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn)

 

  • The same Wallace Stevens lines that appear as an epigraph to Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered are mentioned in Elaine Pagels’s Why Religion? – “After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.”
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is mentioned in Little by Edward Carey and Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

 

  • Reading Nine Pints, Rose George’s book about blood, at the same time as Deborah Harkness’s Time’s Convert, which is partially about vampires; in this it takes 90 days for a human to become fully vampirized – the same time it takes to be cured of an addiction according to the memoir Ninety Days by Bill Clegg.

October Reading Plans: R.I.P. and More

For the first time I’m joining in with the R.I.P. challenge (that’s “Readers Imbibing Peril,” if you’re unfamiliar) – a spur to read the dark fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror and suspense books I own during the month of October. None of these are go-to genres for me, but I do have some books that fit the bill. To start me off, I set aside this pile early in September. I’m not sure how many I’ll get through, so I’m not committing to a particular number.

Several of my review books for the month also happen to be appropriate, beginning with one of my current reads, Little by Edward Carey, a delightfully macabre historical novel about the real-life girl who became Madame Tussaud of waxworks fame. I hope to review it here soon. I also have Deborah Harkness’s latest and an upcoming fable by A.L. Kennedy. Continuing last month’s focus on short stories, I’m going to start on Aimee Bender’s 2013 volume soon; it might just be fantastical enough to count towards the challenge.

I’ve never read anything by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, so Annabel, Laura and I are embarking on a buddy read of The Left Hand of Darkness this month, too.

And then I may cheat and add in these two ‘blood-y’ nonfiction books since I’m going to be reading them soon anyway.

My other goal is to read more of the print books I’ve acquired over the past year, including some of 2017’s birthday and Christmas hauls and the books I bought at Bookbarn and in Wigtown. My birthday is coming up in the middle of the month, so it would be good to start chipping away at these stacks before the new acquisitions pile up much more!

 


I got a head start on a month of spooky reading with Sarah Perry’s new Gothic tale, Melmoth. It seems to have been equally inspired by Charles Robert Maturin’s 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer and by Perry’s time in Prague as a UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence. The action opens in Prague in 2016 as Helen Franklin, a translator, runs into her distressed friend Dr. Karel Pražan one December night. An aged fellow scholar, Josef Hoffman, has been found dead in the National Library, where Helen and Karel first met. Karel is now in possession of the man’s leather document file, which contains accounts of his Holocaust-era family history and of his investigations into the Melmoth legend. She was one of the women at Jesus’s empty tomb but denied the resurrection and so was cursed to wander the Earth ever after. As Hoffman explains, “she is lonely, with an eternal loneliness” and “she comes to those at the lowest ebb of life.”

Is this just a tale used to scare children? In any case, it resonates with Helen, who exiled herself to Prague 20 years ago to escape guilt over a terrible decision. For most of the book we get only brief glimpses into Helen’s private life, like when she peeks into the under-the-bed shoebox where she keeps relics of the life she left behind. We do eventually learn what she ran away from, but by then I was so weary of dull found documents, irritating direct reader address (“Look! It is evening now … Reader, witness, here is what you see”), and toothless Gothic tropes that the reveal was barely worth hanging around for. Alas, I found the whole thing pretty melodramatic and silly, and not in the least bit frightening.

I truly loved The Essex Serpent (), but I think Perry is one of those authors where I will need to skip every other release and just read the even numbers; After Me Comes the Flood, her first, was one of my lowest-rated books ever (). I recall that when I saw her speak at Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature in 2016 Perry revealed that Novel #4 will be a contemporary courtroom drama. I’ll try again with that one.

My rating:


Melmoth is released in the UK today, October 2nd. My thanks to Serpent’s Tail for a proof copy for review. It comes out in the USA from Custom House on the 16th. Sarah Perry has written an interesting article about being on strong pain medication while writing Melmoth.

 

Will you be reading anything scary in the month ahead? Can you recommend any of the books I have coming up?

Library Checkout: September 2018

I figured out how to set up an alert for 2018 and 2019 releases in my library system’s catalogue so that I get e-mail digests listing all the new books on order. This means I can instantly place holds on loads of buzzy new books. I started with a bunch of the Booker longlistees, even the ones I wasn’t entirely sure about. The only downside is that all the brand-new books tend to start arriving at once. Gah! To make things more manageable for myself, I went ahead and canceled the holds on most of the books that didn’t advance to the Booker shortlist.

(As usual, I’ve added in star ratings and links to Goodreads reviews where I haven’t already featured the books on the blog in some way.)

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

SKIMMED ONLY

CURRENTLY READING

  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain

CURRENTLY READING-ish (set aside temporarily)

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison
  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan [I’ve already read this one, some years ago, but it’s my book club’s October selection, so I will at least look back over it before the meeting.]
  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller
  • Wilding by Isabella Tree

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett
  • Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley
  • French Exit by Patrick deWitt
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso [graphic novel]
  • Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
  • Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co., #1) by Anna James
  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  • A Man in Love: My Struggle, Volume 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  • Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

RETURNED UNREAD

  • Happiness by Aminatta Forna – I loved the premise of this one (it was on my most anticipated list) but didn’t enjoy the style of the first 10 or 15 pages.
  • The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson – It’s requested after me and I know I just don’t have time for it, especially if I want to prioritize the Booker-shortlisted books as they arrive.


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

 

I don’t have an official link-up system, so please just post a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve taken part in Library Checkout this month. (Feel free to use the image at the top.)

Library Checkout: August 2018

After I got back from America the library pile started out tiny and gradually grew bigger as I added on more reservations for books I’d forgotten about or saw were on order.

LIBRARY BOOKS READ

  • To the Is-Land: An Autobiography by Janet Frame 
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer 
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell 

SKIMMED ONLY

CURRENTLY READING

  • Madame Zero by Sarah Hall
  • Taking Mesopotamia by Jenny Lewis [poetry]
  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • You Left Too Early: A True Story of Love and Alcohol by Louisa Young

CURRENTLY READING-ish (set aside temporarily)

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

  • Happiness by Aminatta Forna
  • The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
  • The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn [I plan to read only the second volume, Bad News]
  • First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story about Anxiety by Sarah Wilson


These university library books have been hanging around for a loooooooooooong time, and most likely will continue to do so for months to come:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination by Richard Mabey
  • The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton

IN THE RESERVATION QUEUE

  • A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
  • French Exit by Patrick deWitt
  • All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison
  • Pages & Co by Anna James
  • The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson
  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain

RETURNED UNFINISHED

RETURNED UNREAD

  • The Stopping Places: A Journey through Gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas – I lost interest and the first few pages didn’t grab me.

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

 

(If youre participating in Library Checkout this month, use the link below to add your post via Inlinkz.)

https://www.inlinkz.com/cs.php?id=795144