Category Archives: Something Different

Six Degrees of Separation: What Are You Going Through to No Saints Around Here

I’ve become an occasional Six Degrees of Separation post-er, when the mood strikes me and/or I get a flash of inspiration. This month we began with What Are You Going Through, which I reviewed back in October 2020. (See Kate’s opening post.)

Between that, The Friend and A Feather on the Breath of God, Sigrid Nunez has quickly become one of my favourite contemporary authors. I have two more of her novels on the shelf to read soon, one from my birthday haul.

In What Are You Going Through, the narrator is called upon to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. However, I summed up the message as “Curiosity about other lives fuels empathy,” and noted “a sort of slapstick joy early in this morbid adventure.”

 

#1 One of the stand-out books from my 2021 reading so far has been The Inevitable, which is about assisted dying. The case studies are wrenching but compassionately told. Katie Engelhart explores the nuances of situations, crafting expert portraits of suffering people and the medical professionals who seek to help them, and adding much in the way of valuable context.

 

#2 As the saying goes, if there’s one thing inevitable besides death, it’s taxes. And if you’re a U.S. citizen, you will remain accountable to the IRS until the day you die, no matter where you live. (Eritrea is the only other country that requires expatriates to fill in tax returns.) I’ve now gotten my U.S. tax forms down to a science, keeping a list of pointers and previous years’ forms as scanned files so that I just have to plug in the year’s numbers, put zeroes in all the important boxes (since I’ve already paid income tax in the UK), and send it off. A matter of an hour or two’s work, rewarded by a G&T.

But I distinctly remember the Junes when I would spend days muddling through byzantine IRS forms, so I am very grateful that an offer for this e-book arrived in my inbox via my blog contact form in 2017: U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans by Olivier Wagner. It goes through each form, often line by line. Three cheers for actually helpful self-help guides!

 

#3 Another expat tip that I found extremely useful, small as it might seem, is that “quite” means something different in American vs. British English. To an American it’s a synonym for “very”; to the guarded Brits, it’s more like “rather.” I have the Julian Barnes essay collection Letters from London to thank for this vital scrap of etymological knowledge.

 

#4 Unsurprisingly, I have built up a small library of books about understanding the English and their ways. In the How to Be a Brit omnibus, collecting three short volumes from the 1940s–70s, George Mikes (a Hungarian immigrant) makes humorous observations that have, in general, aged well. His mini-essays on tea, weather and queuing struck me as particularly apt. I would draw a straight line from this through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island to the Very British Problems phenomenon.

 

#5 As I was preparing to fly to England for the first time for my study abroad year, one of the authors who most whetted my appetite for British travel was Susan Allen Toth, whose trilogy of UK-themed memoirs-with-recommendations began with My Love Affair with England – included in one of my Landmark Books in My Life posts. I’m rereading one of the other three now.

 

#6 Toth is a very underrated author, I feel. I’ve read most of her memoirs and have a short nonfiction work of hers on my pile for #NovNov. Her most recent book is No Saints Around Here: A Caregiver’s Days (2014), in which she chronicled the last 18 months of her husband James’s life, as she and an army of caregivers coped with his decline from Parkinson’s disease. Toth gets the tone just right: although she is honest, she is never melodramatic; although she often feels sorry for herself, she also recognizes how lucky she has been, not just to have done a good job of looking after James, but to have had him in her life at all.

 

I’ve gone full circle from one story of caregiving to another, via death, taxes and Englishness. The starting and ending books are reminders that you never fully know what another person is going through; all we can do is our best while cutting others some slack.

 


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is our buddy read for week 4 of #NovNov, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Novellas in November (#NovNov) Begins! Leave Your Links Here

I always look forward to November’s reading. Since 2016 I’ve been prioritizing novellas in this month, but this is only the second year that Cathy of 746 Books and I have co-hosted Novellas in November as a proper reading challenge.

We have four weekly prompts and “buddy reads” as below. We hope you’ll join in reading one or more of these with us. The host for the week will aim to publish her review on the Thursday, but feel free to post yours at any time in the month. (A reminder that we suggest 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 for the contemporary week.)

 

1–7 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson – including a giveaway of a signed copy!

 

8–14 November: Short nonfiction (Rebecca)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free to download here from Project Gutenberg. Note: only the first 85 pages constitute her memoir; the rest is letters and supplementary material.)

 

15–21 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

 

22–28 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (free to download here from Project Gutenberg)

 

Leave links to any of your novellas coverage in the comments below or tag us on Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and/or Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books) and we’ll add them to a master list.

 

Enjoy your reading!

 


Ongoing list of Novellas in November 2021 posts:

 

Five novellas: de Kat, Lynch, Mingarelli, Sjón, Terrin (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Four novellas with screen adaptations (a list by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Contemporary novellas from the archives (a list by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

A Child in the Theatre by Rachel Ferguson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Death of the Author by Gilbert Adair (reviewed by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings)

Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Five novellas: Burley, Capote, Hill, Steinbeck, Welsh (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grøndahl (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Open Water & Other Contemporary Novellas Read This Year

An Island by Karen Jennings (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

I’m Ready Now by Nigel Featherstone (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Lonely by Paul Gallico (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Love Child by Edith Olivier (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Murder Included by Joanna Cannan (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald: From Novella to Movie (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

The River by Rumer Godden (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Rector and The Doctor’s Family by Mrs Oliphant (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (reviewed by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Foe by J.M. Coetzee (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Short Non-fiction from the archives (a list by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Nonfiction November: Book Pairing – Novellas and Nonfiction (a list by Cathy at 746 Books)

Casanova’s Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Which Way? by Theodora Benson (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Short Memoirs by Lucille Clifton, Alice Thomas Ellis and Deborah Levy

Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Birds of the Innocent Wood by Deirdre Madden (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (reviewed by Grant at 1streading)

The Poor Man by Stella Benson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Short Nature Books by John Burnside, Jim Crumley and Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Hiroshima by John Hersey (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Short nonfiction by Athill, Herriot and Mantel (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Story of Stanley Brent by Elizabeth Berridge (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Parakeeting of London by Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Taking a Look Back at Novellas Read in 2021 (a list by JDC at Gallimaufry Book Studio)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (a review by Mairead at Swirl and Thread)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

Coda by Thea Astley (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Notes from an Island by Tove Jansson (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Clare at Years of Reading Selfishly)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss

The Looking Glass by Carla Sarett (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Daisy Miller by Henry James (reviewed by Diana at Thoughts on Papyrus)

Heritage by Vita Sackville-West (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

One Billion Years to the End of the World by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (reviewed by Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery)

We Kill Stella by Marlen Haushofer and Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Passing by Nella Larsen, from Novella to Screen (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

The Employees by Olga Ravn and A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Maigret in Court by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus by Lauren Elkin (reviewed by Rebecca at Reading Indie)

Six Scottish Novellas: Gray, Mackay Brown, Mitchison, Muir, Owens, Smith (reviewed by Grant at 1streading)

Cain by José Saramago (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili (Booktube review by Jennifer at Insert Literary Pun Here)

Tinkers by Paul Harding (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard (reviewed by Emma at Book Around the Corner)

Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

Utility Furniture by Jon Mills (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Symposium by Muriel Spark (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, annual Novella Project edition (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

SixforSunday: Novellas Read in 2021 before November (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

The Silent Traveller in Oxford by Chiang Yee (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Spoke by Friedrich Glauser (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Dinner by César Aira (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Scrolls from the Dead Sea by Edmund Wilson (reviewed by Reese at Typings)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

The White Riband by F. Tennyson Jesse (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Translated fiction novellas from the archives, including Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal by Charlie Hill (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Crusade by Amos Oz (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Barbarian Spring by Jonas Lüscher (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Eric at Lonesome Reader)

Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Particularly Cats by Doris Lessing (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel and The Peacock by Isabel Bogdan (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Assembly by Natasha Brown (reviewed at Radhika’s Reading Retreat)

Ludmilla by Paul Gallico (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal (reviewed by Susan at A life in books)

An interview with Stella Sabin of Peirene Press (by Cathy at 746 Books)

Behind the Mask by Kate Walter

The Pigeon and The Appointment

In the Company of Men and Winter Flowers

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli (reviewed by Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery)

Inspector Chopra & the Million Dollar Motor Car by Vaseem Khan (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Father Malachy’s Miracle by Bruce Marshall (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ignorance by Milan Kundera (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Rider on the Rain by Sébastien Japrisot and The Saint-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet and Fear by Stefan Zweig (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Some classics from my archives (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

The Cardinals by Bessie Head (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed, A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Deep by Rivers Solomon (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

Four novellas, four countries, four decades (reviewed by Emma at Book Around the Corner)

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (reviewed by Reese at Typings)

The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley (reviewed by Nancy Elin)

Six Short Cat Books: Muriel Barbery, Garfield and More

Catholics by Brian Moore (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

The Witch of Clatteringshaws by Joan Aiken (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Three to See the King by Magnus Mills (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada and Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell (reviewed by Dr Laura Tisdall)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Love by Angela Carter (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Novellas in November 2021 Wrap Up (by Carol at Reading Ladies)

A Guide to Modernism in Metroland by Joshua Abbott and Black London by Avril Nanton and Jody Burton (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Karen at The Simply Blog)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk)

More Ideas of Novellas to Read for #NovNov

Still in need of ideas for what to read in November? Here are our novella-friendly lists of authors and publishers that fit the bill!

Authors who tend(ed) to write short books:

  • James Baldwin
  • J.L. Carr
  • Barbara Comyns
  • Alice Thomas Ellis
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Paul Gallico
  • Kaye Gibbons
  • Susan Hill
  • Denis Johnson – Train Dreams was one of our most-reviewed books last year
  • Gabriel Josipovici
  • Claire Keegan
  • Shena Mackay
  • Ian McEwan
  • Sarah Moss’s three latest
  • Jean Rhys
  • Georges Simenon
  • Muriel Spark
  • John Steinbeck
  • Nathanael West
  • Jacqueline Woodson

 

In nonfiction – nature books:
  • Jim Crumley
  • John Lewis-Stempel

 

In nonfiction – animal/pet books:
  • Derek Tangye
  • Doreen Tovey

 

UK publishers that specialize in novellas:

Fairlight Books

Fitzcarraldo Editions (especially their early releases)

Holland Park Press

Penguin’s Little Black Classics series

Pushkin Press

 

Worldwide publishers that specialize in novellas:

Fish Gotta Swim Editions (Canada)

Melville House – “The Art of the Novella” series (USA)

Nouvella (USA) – Take a look at the last couple of rows on their merchandise page!

Quattro Books (Canada)

 

UK publishers that specialize in novellas in translation:

And Other Stories

Charco Press – contemporary Latin American literature

Fitzcarraldo Editions

Holland Park Press

Les Fugitives – translations from the French

Lolli Editions (thanks to Annabel for this one)

Peirene Press – Cathy will be hosting an interview with them during translation week!

Pushkin Press

 

UK sources of short nonfiction:

Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series

Fitzcarraldo Editions – some of their longform essays are under 200 pages

Penguin’s Great Ideas series

Little Toller Books – mostly nature and travel monographs

The School of Life – most of the ones in this particular series are under 200 pages

Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series

Wellcome Collection Books – a number of their recent releases are under 200 pages

 

You could also check out some of last year’s Novellas in November content: 89 posts from 30 bloggers, including single reviews, multi-reviews and favourites lists.

 

Still stumped? Try these articles:

(Note: not all of the suggestions stick to our definition of a novella.)

 

And, if you’re looking for a bit of context, the other year Laura F. put together a history of the Novellas in November challenge.

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?

Birthday Book Haul and More

This week I received some very good bookish news that I should be able to share in early November. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve made it a habit of posting something about each birthday I’ve celebrated since I started blogging. Maybe because, otherwise, the years pass so quickly that I can’t remember from one to another what I did, ate, or received as presents! So, to follow on from my posts from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, here’s this year’s rundown. (I haven’t read any more birthday acquisitions since last year’s overhaul. It’s a good thing books are patient.)

It was a lovely, warm autumn day yesterday. I took off work and spent some time reading (of course) and charity shopping for books and a cute new autumn-colours sweater (UK: jumper) before putting in my usual couple of hours volunteering at the library. I did my good deed for the day there by spotting that a copy of the new Sally Rooney novel had gone onto a display shelf instead of to one of the 26 people in the holds queue – oops!

Charity shop haul

Despite a busy termtime week at work, my husband made deep-dish pizzas and the very decadent Bananas Foster cupcakes from the American-in-London Hummingbird Bakery cookbook Life Is Sweet. Next weekend we have a concert by Nerina Pallot, one of our favourite singer-songwriters, and managed to get a Saturday lunchtime table at Henry and Joe’s, the closest our town has to fine dining, so I’ll consider those additional birthday treats. We’ll be spending this weekend down with our goddaughter and her parents – her second birthday (today) being much more important than my 38th – including a trip to the zoo.

Here’s my book haul thus far, with a few more to come, I expect. I also got some birthday money that I may well spend on books. After all, there are some novellas, poetry collections and recent releases that have been calling my name…

Get Ready for Novellas in November!

Novellas: “all killer, no filler”

~Joe Hill

For the second year in a row, Cathy of 746 Books and I are co-hosting Novellas in November as a month-long challenge with four weekly prompts.

New this year: each week we will take it in turns to host a “buddy read” of a featured book we hope you will join in reading. We’re announcing the challenge early to give you plenty of time to get your stack ready.

(We suggest 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 as a definition of “contemporary.”)

 

1–7 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson – including a giveaway of a signed copy!

 

8–14 November: Short nonfiction (Rebecca)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free to download here from Project Gutenberg. Note: only the first 85 pages constitute her memoir; the rest is letters and supplementary material.)

 

15–21 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

 

22–28 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (free to download here from Project Gutenberg)

 

 

We’re looking forward to having you join us! Keep in touch via Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books) and feel free to use the terrific feature images Cathy has made and the hashtag #NovNov.

Six Degrees of Separation: Second Place to Woman on the Edge of Time

The last Six Degrees of Separation post I did was back in April; I’ve fallen out of the habit since then. But this month an idea seized me and I’m back! This time we begin with Second Place by Rachel Cusk, which is on the Booker Prize longlist. (See Kate’s opening post.)

When I saw Cusk speak at the online Hay Festival, I learned that Second Place (my review) was loosely inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir Lorenzo in Taos, about the time when D.H. Lawrence came to visit her in New Mexico. Thoughts of Lawrence in Taos inevitably take me back to my first (and only) academic conference in 2005, hosted by the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America in Santa Fe, with a fieldtrip out to his Taos ranch.

 

#1 One of the books I read ‘in preparation’ for attending that conference was Small World by David Lodge, a comedic novel about professors on the international conference circuit. I’ve included it as one of the Landmark Books of My Life.

 

#2 Flights and “small world” connections also fill the linked short story collection Turbulence by David Szalay.

 

#3 If you can bear to remember the turbulence of recent history, UnPresidented by Jon Sopel is a breezy diary of the 2020 U.S. election. We were lucky enough to have the author, a BBC presenter and brother of one of our members, join our book club discussion on Zoom.

 

#4 That punning title reminded me of A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson, his first and probably best work of popular science – all of his books since have been very similar, but that’s no problem because his enthusiasm for insect life is infectious and he writes with the wit and charm of Gerald Durrell.

 

#5 Goulson’s latest book, which I’ve recently reviewed for Shelf Awareness, is called Silent Earth, about the grave threats that insects face (pesticides, invasive species, climate change and much more). It’s the second book I’ve read in recent years (the first was Losing Eden by Lucy Jones) that is explicitly based on or inspired by Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Like Carson’s book, these seek to effect real societal change.

#6 Carson, Goulson and Jones all conjure up dystopian scenarios of unimaginable natural loss to spur readers into action. A feminist classic my book club read earlier in the year, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, contrasts utopian and dystopian scenes experienced by a Latina woman who’s been confined to a mental hospital. Will society evolve into a utopian vision of subsistence living and absolute gender equality, or move towards further isolation and urban barrenness? It’s an unusual and fascinating novel with hints of science fiction, but grounded in the real world. I still haven’t managed to review it, but next month’s 1976 Club may be just the excuse I need. Do give it a try!

Cycling round from one feminist novel to another, I’ve also featured a couple of personal favourites, some recent works, and a classic of nature writing.

Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s R.I.P.-appropriate starting point is the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

USA Trip and Book Acquisitions

On Wednesday I got back from my first trip to the USA in two years. It was for the special occasion of my mother getting remarried, so was well worth the extra complications of pandemic travelling. While quarantining at my sister’s house for a week, I observed the chaos of a household with FIVE members in virtual schooling. When it all got too noisy for me, I’d retreat upstairs to read with Pierre the cat.

I also spent some time, as always, going through my boxes of mementoes and books in her basement. I later sold back several boxes’ worth of books that I’d weeded out, but of course I acquired more as well. Below are a super-belated Christmas 2019 gift, my Wonder Book haul, hand-me-downs from my stepfather, two Dollar Tree purchases, and my 2nd & Charles haul (mostly from the clearance shelves). Subtracting buyback credit, my total spend was $3.76!

Almost purchased, just for the title.

The wedding itself (and meeting my new stepfather and his daughters) went beautifully. We had hot but not unbearable weather, and bright sun for picture-taking. The below passage from Carol Shields’s The Box Garden, which I’d noted last year while buddy reading it with Buried in Print, felt particularly apt for the occasion.

I also acquired two new U.S. releases to review for BookBrowse.

I squeezed most of the new acquisitions, plus another 37 books from storage, into my suitcases. I focused on bringing back books I’m eyeing up for certain challenges, appealing memoirs, and books I want to reread (the far left stack below).

As for those mementoes, I made some amusing finds, including my childhood blankie; the “medical kit” I made at about age nine, inspired by a visit to the National Museum of Health and Medicine and my love for the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; and a few early writing attempts. “A Day in the Life of a Gangster” is a story I wrote at probably age seven. I love the old typewriter font, but my “About the Author” note was the funniest bit – I am so not a mystery reader anymore, and I doubt I’d been on a single proper hike at that point in my life. Newsboys: Take Me to Your Concert was my co-written entry for the Write-a-Book Contest in eighth grade, and What Is a Llama? I wrote and illustrated with my own photographs at age 14 as a county 4H project. I even won a ribbon and a cash prize in the random amount of $4.34.

Back in self-isolation here in the UK, I had seven review copies waiting for me, and another five have arrived in the last couple of days, so the cycle never ends: acquire books, read books, write about books, part with or figure out how to store and/or display books…

On with the summer reading!

Silly Stuff (Recent Follows, Likes, Searches, and Comments)

Another review catch-up post and the first few of my 20 Books of Summer are coming up later this week. Before that … I’ve been saving up some funny follows and spam comments, as well as a couple of likes on Goodreads that were too apt not to share. I also always enjoy looking at the random searches that have led people to my blog. (Previously surveyed in May 2016, October 2016, June 2017, and July 2020.)

 

My blog has divine approval.

(I especially love the idea that I can find out “what he’s up to” by reading his blog.)

 

The right readers found my reviews.

 

Random searches:

 

July 29, 2020: shaun bythell anna, val howlett, ruth pavey, romance novel with a butler named bolt

 

September 15: meaning of ian love doreen, what is the meaning of the title clock dance?

 

October 24: rebel angels, shaun bythell wife, shaun bythell wedding, alison bechdel garfield grotesque human lips

 

November 20: ordinary planet comic, isabelle’s appearance in olive again

 

February 10, 2021: promise and fail soap by celestial church, review of the moon and sixpence, books less than 50 pages, winter soldier novel zimmer smoking pipe

 

March 24: one foot in the grave mr prosnett, employer and “silvie braun”, short poem about a black cat called scarlett

 

May 7: shaun bythell wedding, jessica fox shaun, who is shaun bythell wife, shaun bythell partner anna

 

May 13: illness is all in the mind

 

(So much enduring interest in Shaun Bythell’s love life!!)

 

 

Spam comments that made me laugh:

 

August 22, 2020: “Ranunculus, Wax Flowers, Combined Greenery.” (from “Get well soon cards with flowers”)

 

November 27: “Hi there mates, fastidious paragraph and nice urging commented here, I am truly enjoying by these.”

 

December 2: “hi, i am woo from Sweden and i want to explain any thing about “pandemic”. Please ask me 🙂”

 

March 2, 2021: “carrie underwood songs sad”

 


If you blog, too, do you keep an eye on these things?
What’s the funniest one you had lately?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to Girl, Woman, Other

This month we begin with Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (2020), last year’s Booker Prize winner. (See Kate’s opening post.) I tried it a couple of times and couldn’t get past page 100, but I’ve kept my proof copy on the shelf to try some other time.

 

#1 The main character’s sweet nickname takes me to Sugar and Other Stories by A.S. Byatt. Byatt is my favourite author. Rereading her The Matisse Stories last year was rewarding, and I’d eventually like to go back to the rest of her short fiction. I read Sugar and Other Stories in Bath in 2006. (As my MA year in Leeds came to a close, I interviewed at several libraries, hoping to get onto a graduate trainee scheme so I could stay in the UK for another year. It didn’t work out, but I got to tour many wonderful libraries.) I picnicked on the grass on a May day on the University of Bath campus before my interview at the library.

I can’t claim to remember the book well overall, but I do recall the story “The July Ghost,” in which a man at a party tells a story about his landlady and the silent boy he’s seen in her garden. This turns out to be the ghost of her son, who died when he was hit by a car two summers earlier. I’ve never forgotten it because that’s exactly what happened to Byatt’s 12-year-old son.

 

#2 The title of that memorable story takes me to The First Bad Man by Miranda July. This review from the early days of my blog is still inexplicably popular in terms of number of views. The novel is full of unlikable characters and quirkiness for the sake of it; I doubt I would have read it had I not been sent an unsolicited review copy by the U.S. publisher.

 

#3 According to a search of my Goodreads library, the only other book I’ve ever read by a Miranda is A Girl Walks into a Book by Miranda K. Pennington, a charming bibliomemoir about the lives and works of the Brontës. I especially enjoyed the cynical dissection of Wuthering Heights, a classic I’ve never managed to warm to.

 

#4 From one famous set of sisters in the arts to another with Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, a novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. It is presented as Vanessa’s diary, incorporating letters and telegrams. The interactions with their Bloomsbury set are delightful, and sibling rivalry is a perennial theme I can’t resist.

 

#5 Another Vanessa novel and one I would highly recommend to anyone wanting a nuanced look at the #MeToo phenomenon is My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. It’s utterly immersive and as good a first-person narrative as anything Curtis Sittenfeld has ever written. I also appreciated the allusions to other works of literature, from Nabokov (the title is from Pale Fire) to Swift. This would make a great book club selection.

 

#6 Speaking of feminist responses to #MeToo, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is just as good as you’ve heard. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? It’s a linked short story collection about 12 black women navigating twentieth-century and contemporary Britain – balancing external and internal expectations to build lives of their own. It reads like poetry.

 

Cycling round from one Booker Prize winner to another, I’ve featured stories by and about strong women, with most of my links coming from names and titles.

Whatever could be on the 2021 Booker Prize longlist? We have a lot of literary prize races to see out before then, but I’m keen to learn what Rev. Rowan Williams and the rest of the judges deem worthy.

 


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is Beezus and Ramona, in honour of Beverly Cleary (May 1, 2021).

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?