Tag Archives: buddy read

Book Serendipity, May to Mid-August 2022

This is a regular feature of mine every few months. I call it “Book Serendipity” when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something in common – the more bizarre, the better. Because I usually have 20–30 books on the go at once, I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. The following are in roughly chronological order.

  • Not only did the opening scene of All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt share with Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier a graveyard setting, but more specifically an angel statue whose head falls off.
  • SPOILER: {The protagonist has a backstory of a mother who drowned, presumably by suicide, in Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford and The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.}

 

  • I started reading two e-books on the same day that had Taylor Swift lyrics as an epigraph: Bad Vibes Only by Nora McInerny and Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta. I have never knowingly heard a Taylor Swift song.

 

  • Rescuing insects from a swimming pool in Fledgling by Hannah Bourne-Taylor and In the Quaker Hotel by Helen Tookey.

 

  • Reading two feminist works of historical fiction in which the protagonist refuses to marry (even though it’s true love) at the same time: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and Madwoman by Louisa Treger (about Nellie Bly).
  • Two London-set books featuring a daughter named Mabel, one right after the other: This Is Not a Pity Memoir by Abi Morgan and Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding.

 

  • In Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers I came across the fact that McCullers married the same man twice. Just a few days before, I’d seen that same odd fact about Hilary Mantel in her Wikipedia bio.

 

  • A character named Clodagh in Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden and “Rainbows” by Joseph O’Neill, one of the entries in The Best Short Stories 2022: The O. Henry Prize Winners.

 

  • Reading two books about an English author who died young of TB at the same time: Tenderness by Alison MacLeod (about D.H. Lawrence) and Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit.
  • Reading two novels that mention the shipwreck of the Batavia at the same time: The Night Ship by Jess Kidd (where it’s a major element) and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (just a tiny reference that nonetheless took me aback). According to Wikipedia, “Batavia was a ship of the Dutch East India Company. Built in Amsterdam in 1628 as the company’s new flagship, she sailed that year on her maiden voyage for Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies. On 4 June 1629, Batavia was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, a chain of small islands off the western coast of Australia.”

 

  • David Lack’s Swifts in a Tower is mentioned in Swifts and Us by Sarah Gibson (no surprise there) but also in From the Hedgerows by Lew Lewis.

 

  • There’s a child nicknamed Chub in Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (which both also at least started off being buddy reads with Marcie of Buried in Print!).

 

  • Two novels in quick succession in which the discovery of a horse skeleton sparks the action in one story line: The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde and (coming up soon – I have a library reservation placed) Horse by Geraldine Brooks.
  • Unst, Shetland as a setting in Orchid Summer by Jon Dunn, Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie, Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and Where the Wildflowers Grow by Leif Bersweden.

 

  • “Quiet as it’s kept” (a quote from the opening line of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) is borrowed in a poem in No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies by Julian Aguon and one in the anthology American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide, ed. Susan Barba (“A Siren Patch of Indigo” by Cyrus Cassells).

 

  • I didn’t recognize the word “swingeing” in The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting and encountered it again the same day in Brief Lives by Anita Brookner before I had a chance to look it up (it means extreme or severe).

 

  • A 1950s setting and a main character who is a man with missing fingers/arm in Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and The Young Accomplice by Benjamin Wood.

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

Bookish Bits and Bobs

It’s felt like a BIG week for prize news. First we had the Booker Prize longlist, about which I’ve already shared some thoughts. My next selection from it is Trust by Hernan Diaz, which I started reading last night. The shortlist comes out on 6 September. We have our book club shadowing application nearly ready to send off – have your fingers crossed for us!

Then on Friday the three Wainwright Prize shortlists (I gave my reaction to the longlists last month) were announced: one for nature writing, one for conservation writing, and – new this year – one for children’s books on either.

I’m delighted that my top two overall picks, On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester and Silent Earth by Dave Goulson, are still in the running. I’ve read half of the nature list and still intend to read Shadowlands, which is awaiting me at the library. I’d happily read any of the remaining books on the conservation list and have requested the few that my library system owns. Of the children’s nominees, I’m currently a third of the way through Julia and the Shark and also have the Davies out from the library to read.

As if to make up for the recent demise of the Costa Awards, the Folio Prize has decided to split into three categories: fiction, nonfiction and poetry; the three finalists will then go head-to-head to compete for the overall prize. I’ve always wondered how the Folio judges pit such different books against each other. This makes theirs an easier job, I guess?

Speaking of prize judging, I’ve been asked to return as a manuscript judge for the 2023 McKitterick Prize administered by the Society of Authors, the UK trade union for writers. (Since 1990, the McKitterick Prize has been awarded to a debut novelist aged 40+. It’s unique in that it considers unpublished manuscripts as well as published novels – Political Quarterly editor Tom McKitterick, who endowed the Prize, had an unpublished novel at the time of his death.) Although I’d prefer to be assessing ‘real’ books, the fee is welcome. Submissions close in October, and I’ll spend much of November–December on the reading.

 

Somehow, it’s August. Which means:

  • Less than a month left for the remaining 10 of my 20 Books of Summer. I’m actually partway through another 12 books that would be relevant to my flora theme, so I just have to make myself finish and review 10 of them.
  • It’s Women in Translation month! I’m currently reading The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde and have The Summer Book by Tove Jansson out from the library. I also have review copies of two short novels from Héloïse Press, and have placed a library hold on The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun. We’ll see how many of these I get to.

 

Marcie (Buried in Print) and I have embarked on a buddy read of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I’ve never read any of his major works and I’m enjoying this so far.

Goodreads, ever so helpfully, tells me I’m currently 37 books behind schedule on my year’s reading challenge. What the website doesn’t know is that, across my shelves and e-readers, I am partway through – literally – about 90 books. So if I could just get my act together to sit down and finish things instead of constantly grabbing for something new, my numbers would look a lot better. Nonetheless, I’ve read loads by anyone’s standard, and will read lots more before the end of the year, so I’m not going to sweat it about the statistics.

 

A new home has meant fun tasks like unpacking my library (as well as not-so-fun ones like DIY). As a reward for successfully hosting a housewarming party and our first weekend guests, I let myself unbox and organize most of the rest of the books in my new study. My in-laws are bringing us a spare bookcase soon; it’s destined to hold biographies, poetry and short story collections. I thought I’d be able to house all the rest of my life writing and literary reference books on two Billy bookcases, but it’s required some clever horizontal stacks, special ‘displays’ on the top of each case, and, alas, some double-stacking – which I swore I wouldn’t do.

Scotland and Victoriana displays, unread memoirs and literary reference books at left; medical reads display and read memoirs at right.

I need to acquire one more bookcase, a bit narrower than a Billy, to hold the rest of my read fiction plus some overflow travel and humour on the landing.

I get a bit neurotic about how my library is organized, so questions that others wouldn’t give much thought to plague me:

  • Should I divide read from unread books?
  • Do I hide the less sightly proof copies in a stack behind the rest?
  • Is it better to have hardbacks and paperbacks all in one sequence, or separate them to maximize space?

(I’ve employed all of these options for various categories.)

I also have some feature shelves to match particular challenges, like novellas, future seasonal reads, upcoming releases and review books to catch up on, as well as signed copies and recent acquisitions to prioritize. Inevitably, once I’ve arranged everything, I find one or two strays that then don’t fit on the shelves I’ve allotted. Argh! #BibliophileProblems, eh?

I’ve been skimming through The Bookman’s Tale by Ronald Blythe, and this passage from the diary entry “The Bookshelf Cull” stood out to me:

“Should you carry a dozen volumes from one shelf to another, you will most likely be carrying hundreds before you finish. Sequences will be thrown out; titles will have to be regrouped; subjects will demand respect.”


What are your August reading plans? Following any literary prizes?

How are your shelves looking? Are they as regimented as mine, or more random?

March Reading Plans

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring, with daffodils a-blooming, so I have amassed a set of appropriate reads and aim to report on them in two installments between April and May. I was already partway through Davidson’s novel, I’m getting stuck into the Fitzgerald and Knausgaard, and I hope to start the Woolf soon. I also have a review copy of Ghosts of Spring by Luis Carrasco.

Much as I tried with #FinishItFebruary, I still have some set-aside titles I couldn’t get through before the end of last month. It’s a good thing that (as I’ll never forget Damian Barr commenting) books are patient. I’ll reintroduce these to my stacks in the weeks to come, but NO MORE BOOKS can join them. I’m going to be strict with myself: keep going with a book or DNF it; no more limbo.


One of my informal goals for the rest of the year is to have a buddy read on the go with my husband at all times. I’d noticed that I happened to have duplicate copies of a couple of books, and then started to look out for extra copies at the free mall bookshop and Little Free Library in 2019–21, so I’ve ended up with 11 books in total: three nature classics, four travel books, three novels to reread, and one to read for the first time. Nature/travel is where our taste most often overlaps, but John Irving is our mutual favourite author and English Passengers is a novel we both loved. We’ll work out a schedule for 1–2 per month. He reads faster than I do (but has much less time to read overall), so we’ll agree on a time frame and chat either as we go or when we’ve both finished a book. Let me know if you fancy joining in with any of these.

 

Of course, it’s also Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy of 746 Books, and I’ve earmarked these fiction options for the next few weeks. So far I’ve started Maggie O’Farrell’s debut novel. Plus I just got Wendy Erskine’s story collection Dance Move out from the library, and I have Colm Tóibín’s forthcoming poetry collection on my e-reader.

I’m currently reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, a collection of autobiographical essays by Irish women writers that originated on the radio. I also got a jump-start in late February by reading these two short books by writers from Ireland:

 

Wild Child: A Journey through Nature by Dara McAnulty; illus. Barry Falls (2021)

I’d expected this to be just a picture book. Instead, it’s a guided tour through four landscapes – the garden, the woods, the uplands, and a river – and it combines Robert Macfarlane-esque poetry (the rhyming and alliteration are reminiscent of The Lost Words books) with facts and crafts/activities. It starts small, with the birds a child in the UK might be able to see out their window, and then ventures further afield. There is a teaching focus, with information on species’ classification, life cycles and migrations. I also learned to recognize hazel catkins and flowers, and then identified them on our walk later the same day! But the main aim, I think, is simply to encourage wonder and inspire children to get outside and explore the nature around them. I liked the illustrations, but wish the birds hadn’t been given slightly googly eyes. (Public library)

 

To Star the Dark by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (2021)

Like many, I discovered Ní Ghríofa through A Ghost in the Throat, a genre-bending work of feminist autofiction. I treated myself to a copy of this, her sixth poetry collection, as part of a Waterstones haul with my Christmas book token. One poem actually mentions Eibhlín Dubh, subject of A Ghost in the Throat, and the work as a whole has some of the same attributes, blending biographical portraits and historical reflection with autobiographical material.

“Two Daydreams” connects a teenager in a history exam with the generations leading back to the Famine. “An Experiment to Engineer an Inheritance of Fear” wonders if there is an inherited Irish trauma: “Give her terror in a meadow. / Bind her fear to a black potato. … / When exposed to the ancestral scent, great-grandchildren will show signs of distress.” A newborn’s stay in the NICU occasions “Seven Postcards from a Hospital” (originally addressed to Sara Baume, Ní Ghríofa reveals in the Notes). Marine biologist Maude Delap is the subject of one multi-part poem.

Sensual imagery abounds, and there are several incantatory spells, including the spring one below. My favourite poem was “Craquelure,” likening cracks in a fellow bus passenger’s phone screen to the weathering old paintings develop. (New purchase)

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder for #NordicFINDS

For my meager contribution to Annabel’s five-week Nordic FINDS challenge, I got out my copy of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder that came from the free mall bookshop in 2020.

 

Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy (1994)

[Translated from the Norwegian by Paulette Møller]

Sophie Amundsen, 14 going on 15, starts receiving mysterious letters asking her life’s big questions: Who are you? Where does the world come from? Soon her anonymous correspondent starts sending whole sheaves of paper elaborating on episodes from the unfolding history of philosophy, from creation myths through the Greek philosophers to Marxism and Darwinism via the Renaissance and Enlightenment. She’s so engrossed in her impromptu philosophy course that she starts to neglect her schoolwork and worry her mother. Sophie identifies the letter-writer as one Alberto Knox, who perhaps lives in a lake cabin nearby, and starts to interact with him by writing back. (I loved that their letters are delivered by a golden Labrador named Hermes.) Meanwhile, she’s perplexed by all the postcards she receives addressed to “Hilde,” also 15. Is she reading Hilde’s story, or is Hilde reading hers?

I’ll be honest … I made it just 96 pages (out of 394) before I started skimming, flipping past big chunks to get to the story. As to what I did experience, my feelings are mixed:

  • On the one hand, this is certainly a more fun way to encounter philosophy than the textbook I had in college, while still offering accurate and thorough information.
  • On the other hand, is the novel’s young adult audience really going to stick around for all the talky/preachy bits surrounding the slightly magical, mind-bending plot?

I think this became a word-of-mouth bestseller a couple of decades ago because of its novelty value. It’s a book that asks and assumes a lot of its readers: that we be curious and diligent, that we engage in the universal search of meaning. As Alberto writes in his first proper letter, “We feel we are part of something mysterious and we would like to know how it all works.” I feel I missed my moment to read it, though I can admire its aim.

(See Annabel’s review here.)

 

My current Scandinavian read is Land of Snow and Ashes by Petra Rautiainen, a Finnish author, about the treatment of Sámi people during World War II (coming out from Pushkin Press tomorrow).

The Blind Assassin Reread for #MARM, and Other Doorstoppers

It’s the fourth annual Margaret Atwood Reading Month (#MARM), hosted by Canadian blogger extraordinaire Marcie of Buried in Print. In previous years, I’ve read Surfacing and The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride and Moral Disorder, and Wilderness Tips. This year Laila at Big Reading Life and I did a buddy reread of The Blind Assassin, which was historically my favourite Atwood novel. I’d picked up a free paperback the last time I was at The Book Thing of Baltimore. Below are some quick thoughts based on what I shared with Laila as I was reading.

 

The Blind Assassin (2000)

Winner of the Booker Prize and Hammett Prize; shortlisted for the Orange Prize

I must have first read this about 13 years ago. The only thing I remembered before I started my reread was that there is a science fiction book-within-the-book. I couldn’t recall anything else about the setup before I read in the blurb about the suspicious circumstances of Laura’s death in 1945. Indeed, the opening line, which deserves to be famous, is “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

I always love novels about sisters, and Iris is a terrific narrator. Now a cantankerous elderly woman, she takes us back through her family history: her father’s button factory and his clashes with organizing workers, her mother’s early death, and her enduring relationship with their housekeeper, Reenie. Iris and Laura met a young man named Alex Thomas, a war orphan with radical views, at the factory’s Labour Day picnic, and it was clear early on that Laura was smitten, while Iris went on to marry Richard Griffen, a nouveau riche industrialist.

Interspersed with Iris’s recollections are newspaper articles that give a sense that the Chase family might be cursed, and excerpts from The Blind Assassin, Laura’s posthumously published novel. Daring for its time in terms of both explicit content and literary form (e.g., no speech marks), it has a storyline rather similar to 1984, with an upper-crust woman having trysts with a working-class man in his squalid lodgings. During their time snatched together, he also tells her a story inspired by the pulp sci-fi of the time. I was less engaged by the story-within-the-story(-within-the-story) this time around compared to Iris’s current life and flashbacks.

In the back of my mind, I had a vague notion that there was a twist coming, and in my impatience to see if I was right I ended up skimming much of the second half of the novel. My hunch was proven correct, but I was disappointed with myself that I wasn’t able to enjoy the journey more a second time around. Overall, this didn’t wow me on a reread, but then again, I am less dazzled by literary “tricks” these days. At the sentence level, however, the writing was fantastic, including descriptions of places, seasons and characters’ psychology. It’s intriguing to think about whether we can ever truly know Laura given Iris’s guardianship of her literary legacy.

If you haven’t read this before, find a time when you can give it your full attention and sink right in. It’s so wise on family secrets and the workings of memory and celebrity, and the weaving in of storylines in preparation for the big reveal is masterful.

Some favourite passages:

“What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves – our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.”

“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.”

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it. Impossible, of course.”

My original rating (c. 2008):

My rating now:

 

What to read for #MARM next year, I wonder??

 


In general, I have been struggling mightily with doorstoppers this year. I just don’t seem to have the necessary concentration, so Novellas in November has been a boon. I’ve been battling with Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel for months, and another attempted buddy read of 460 pages has also gone by the wayside. I’ll write a bit more on this for #LoveYourLibrary on Monday, including a couple of recent DNFs. The Blind Assassin was only my third successful doorstopper of the year so far. After The Absolute Book, the other one was:

 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

In Towles’ third novel – a big, old-fashioned dose of Americana – brothers and pals set out from Nebraska on road and rail adventures to find a fortune in 1950s New York. The book features some fantastic characters. Precocious Billy steals every scene he appears in. Duchess is a delightfully flamboyant bounder, peppering his speech with malapropisms and Shakespeare quotes. However, Emmett is a dull protagonist, and it’s disappointing that Sally, one of just two main female characters, plays such a minor role. A danger with an episodic narrative is that random events and encounters pile up but don’t do much to further the plot. At nearly 200 pages in, I realized little of consequence had happened yet. A long road, then, with some ups and downs along the way, but Towles’ fans will certainly want to sign up for the ride.

See my full review for BookBrowse; see also my related article on Studebaker cars.

With thanks to Hutchinson for the free copy for review.

 

Anything by Atwood, or any doorstoppers, on your pile recently?

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (#NovNov Classics Week Buddy Read)

For the short classics week of Novellas in November, our buddy read is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911). You can download the book for free from Project Gutenberg here if you’d still like to join in.

Did you have to read Ethan Frome in school? For American readers, it’s likely that it was an assigned text in high school English. I didn’t happen to read it during my school days, but caught up in 2006 or 2008, I think, and was impressed with this condensed tragedy and the ambiance of a harsh New England winter. It struck me even more on a reread as a flawless parable of a man imprisoned by circumstance and punished for wanting more.

I had forgotten that the novella is presented as a part-imagined reconstruction of the sad events of Ethan Frome’s earlier life. A quarter-century later, the unnamed narrator is in Wharton’s fictional Starkfield, Massachusetts on business, and hears the bare bones of Ethan’s story from various villagers before meeting the man himself. Ethan, who owns a struggling sawmill, picks up extra money from odd jobs. He agrees to chauffeur the narrator to engineering projects in his sleigh, and can’t conceal his jealousy at a technical career full of travel – a reminder of what could have been had he been able to continue his own scientific studies. A blizzard forces the narrator to stay overnight in Ethan’s home, and the step over the threshold sends readers back in time to when Ethan was a young man of 28.

 

*There are SPOILERS in the following.*


Ethan’s household contains two very different women: his invalid wife, Zeena, eight years his elder; and her cousin, Mattie Silver, who serves as her companion and housekeeper. Mattie is dreamy and scatter-brained – not the practical sort you’d want in a carer role, but she had nowhere else to go after her parents’ death. She has become the light of Ethan’s life. By contrast, Zeena is shrewish, selfish, lazy and gluttonous. Wharton portrays her as either pretending or exaggerating about her chronic illness. Zeena has noticed that Ethan has taken extra pains with his appearance in the year since Mattie came to live with them, and conspires to get rid of Mattie by getting a new doctor to ‘prescribe’ her a full-time servant.

The plot turns on an amusing prop, “Aunt Philura Maple’s pickle-dish.” While Zeena is away for her consultation with Dr. Buck, Ethan and Mattie get one evening alone together. Mattie lays the table nicely with Zeena’s best dishes from the china cabinet, but at the end of their meal the naughty cat gets onto the table and knocks the red glass pickle dish to the floor, where it smashes. Before Ethan can obtain glue to repair it in secret, Zeena notices and acts as if this never-used dish was her most prized possession. She and Ethan are both to have what they most love taken away from them – but at least Ethan’s is a human being.

I had remembered that Ethan fell in love with a cousin (though I thought it was his cousin) and that there is a dramatic sledding accident. What I did not remember, however, was that the crash is deliberate: knowing they can never act on their love for each other, Mattie begs Ethan to steer them straight into the elm tree mentioned twice earlier. He dutifully does so. I thought I recalled that Mattie dies, while he has to live out his grief ever more. I was gearing myself up to rail against the lingering Victorian mores of the time that required the would-be sexually transgressing female to face the greatest penalty. Instead, in the last handful of pages, Wharton delivers a surprise. When the narrator enters the Frome household, he meets two women. One is chair-bound and sour; the other, tall and capable, bustles about getting dinner ready. The big reveal, and horrible irony, is that the disabled woman is Mattie, made bitter by suffering, while Zeena rose to the challenges of caregiving.

Ethan is a Job-like figure who lost everything that mattered most to him, including his hopes for the future. Unlike the biblical character, though, he finds no later reward. “Sickness and trouble: that’s what Ethan’s had his plate full up with, ever since the very first helping,” as one of the villagers tells the narrator. “He looks as if he was dead and in hell now!” the narrator observes. This man of sorrow is somehow still admirable: he and Zeena did the right thing in taking Mattie in again, and even when at his most desperate Ethan refused to swindle his customers to fund an escape with Mattie. In the end, Mattie’s situation is almost the hardest to bear: she only ever represented sweetness and love, and has the toughest lot. In some world literature, e.g. the Russian masters, suicide might be rendered noble, but here its attempt warrants punishment.

{END OF SPOILERS.}

 

I can see why some readers, especially if encountering this in a classroom setting, would be turned off by the bleak picture of how the universe works. But I love me a good classical tragedy, and admired this one for its neat construction, its clever use of foreshadowing and dread, its exploration of ironies, and its use of a rustic New England setting – so much more accessible than Wharton’s usual New York City high society. The cozy wintry atmosphere of Little Women cedes to something darker and more oppressive; “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters,” a neighbor observes of Ethan. I could see a straight line from Jude the Obscure through Ethan Frome to The Great Gatsby: three stories of an ordinary, poor man who pays the price for grasping for more. I reread this in two sittings yesterday morning and it felt to me like a perfect example of how literature can encapsulate the human condition.

(Secondhand purchase) [181 pages]

 

My original rating (c. 2008):

My rating now:

 

Keep in touch via Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books), using the hashtag #NovNov. We’ll add any of your review links in to our master posts.

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (#NovNov Translated Buddy Read)

With well over 100 posts, you all have already smashed last year’s totals for Novellas in November, and there’s still a week and a half to go! We’re grateful for your participation and hope some of you have been enjoying the buddy reads.


For literature in translation week, our readalong book has been Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima. As much a linked short story collection as a novella, it first appeared in monthly instalments in the Japanese literary magazine Gunzō in 1978–9 but wasn’t translated into English (by Geraldine Harcourt) until 2018, two years after Tsushima’s death. The translation was critically acclaimed, earning nominations for the 2019 Kirkus Prize and the 2020 BTBA Best Translated Book Award for Fiction.

The apartment had windows on all sides. I spent a year there, with my little daughter, on the top floor of an old four-storey office building.

Dark and carefully chiselled, the chapters are like tiny diamonds that you have to hold up to the light to see the glitter. Newly separated from her husband, the unnamed narrator, who works at a music library, entrusts us with vignettes from her first year of single parenthood. She is honest about her bad behaviour – the nights she got falling down drunk and invited men back to the apartment; the mornings she missed the daycare dropoff deadline and let her two-year-old fend for herself while she stayed in bed. Alongside the custody battle with her ex are smaller feuds, like with her neighbour, who’s had enough of the little girl dropping things onto his roof from the windows above and gets the landlord to do something about it.

Her daughter is a typical toddler, stubborn and impetuous, yet there are moments of intimacy between them that make your breath catch. Sometimes their roles even become reversed: the daughter nurses her mother through a bout of fever, and after the neighbour incident comforts her with words she’s received: “Mommy…are you all right? Don’t cry, there’s a good girl.”

The narrator describes her dreams, employing the imagery of fire and flight to capture her occasional hopelessness and longing for escape. Cherry trees are blossoming as they move into the apartment, and by the time they’re ready to move on again the spring is coming back. Details of sound and light make her observations zing. The clean, precise style – no frills, no tricks – reminds me of other autofiction in translation I’ve read. Others mention Elena Ferrante as a readalike, but what came to mind for me was Tove Ditlevsen’s trilogy, especially Dependency with its addiction theme. No doubt Harcourt should also be thanked for her crystal-clear rendition. It’s such a beautiful book, though perhaps already slipping from my grasp; I’m glad Cathy suggested it as our buddy read. (New purchase)

[122 pages]

 

Other reviews:

Annabel

Cathy

Jacqui

Laura

Rachel

 

Keep in touch via Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books). We’ll add any of your review links in to our master posts. Feel free to use the terrific feature image Cathy made and don’t forget the hashtag #NovNov.

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (#NovNov Nonfiction Buddy Read)

For nonfiction week of Novellas in November, our buddy read is The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903). You can download the book for free from Project Gutenberg here if you’d still like to join in.

Keller’s story is culturally familiar to us, perhaps from the William Gibson play The Miracle Worker, but I’d never read her own words. She was born in Alabama in 1880; her father had been a captain in the Confederate Army. An illness (presumed to be scarlet fever) left her blind and deaf at the age of 19 months, and she describes herself in those early years as mischievous and hot-tempered, always frustrated at her inability to express herself. The arrival of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, when Helen was six years old transformed her “silent, aimless, dayless life.”

I was fascinated by the glimpses into child development and education. Especially after she learned Braille, Keller loved books, but she believed she learned just as much from nature: “everything that could hum or buzz, or sing, or bloom, had a part in my education.” She loved to sit in the family orchard and would hold insects or fossils and track plant and tadpole growth. Her first trip to the ocean (Chapter 10) was a revelation, and rowing and sailing became two of her chief hobbies, along with cycling and going to the theatre and museums.

Helen Keller with Annie Sullivan. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

At age 10 Keller relearned to speak – a more efficient way to communicate than her usual finger-spelling. She spent winters in Boston and eventually attended the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in preparation for starting college at Radcliffe. Her achievements are all the more remarkable when you consider that smell and touch – senses we tend to overlook – were her primary ones. While she used a typewriter to produce schoolwork, a teacher spelling into her hand was still her main way to intake knowledge. Specialist textbooks for mathematics and multiple languages were generally not available in Braille. Digesting a lesson and completing homework thus took her much longer than it did her classmates, but still she felt “impelled … to try my strength by the standards of those who see and hear.”

It was surprising to find, at the center of the book, a detailed account of a case of unwitting plagiarism (Chapter 14). Eleven-year-old Keller wrote a story called “The Frost King” for a beloved teacher at the Perkins Institution for the Blind. He was so pleased that he printed it in one of their publications, but it soon came to his attention that the plot was very similar to “The Frost Fairies” in Birdie and His Friends by Margaret T. Canby. The tale must have been read to Keller long ago but become so deeply buried in the compost of a mind’s memories that she couldn’t recall its source. Some accused Keller and Sullivan of conspiring, and this mistrust more than the incident itself cast a shadow over her life for years to come. I was impressed by Keller discussing in depth something that it would surely have been more comfortable to bury. (I’ve sometimes had the passing thought that if I wrote a memoir I would structure it around my regrets or most embarrassing moments. Would that be penance or masochism?)

This short memoir was first serialized in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Keller was only 23 and partway through her college degree at the time of publication. An initial chronological structure later turns more thematic and the topics are perhaps a little scattershot. I would attribute this, at least in part, to the method of composition: it would be difficult to make large-scale edits on a manuscript because everything she typed had to be spelled back to her for approval. Minor line edits would be easy enough, but not big structural changes. (I wonder if it’s similar with work that’s been dictated, like May Sarton’s later journals.)

Helen Keller in graduation cap and gown. (PPOC, Library of Congress. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Keller went on to write 12 more books. It would be interesting to follow up with another one to learn about her travels and philanthropic work. For insight into a different aspect of her life – bearing in mind that it’s fiction – I recommend Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan. In a couple of places Keller mentions Laura Bridgman, her less famous predecessor in the deaf–blind community; Kimberly Elkins’ 2014 What Is Visible is a stunning novel about Bridgman.

For such a concise book – running to just 75 pages in my Dover Thrift Editions paperback – this packs in so much. Indeed, I’ve found more to talk about in this review than I might have expected. The elements that most intrigued me were her early learning about abstractions like love and thought, and her enthusiastic rundown of her favorite books: “In a word, literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends.”

It’s possible some readers will find her writing style old-fashioned. It would be hard to forget you’re reading a work from nearly 120 years ago, given the sentimentality and religious metaphors. But the book moves briskly between anecdotes, with no filler. I remained absorbed in Keller’s story throughout, and so admired her determination to obtain a quality education. I know we’re not supposed to refer to disabled authors’ work as “inspirational,” so instead I’ll call it both humbling and invigorating – a reminder of my privilege and of the force of the human will. (Secondhand purchase, Barter Books)

 

Also reviewed by:

Cathy

Keep in touch via Twitter (@bookishbeck / @cathy746books) and Instagram (@bookishbeck / @cathy_746books). We’ll add any of your review links in to our master posts. Feel free to use the terrific feature image Cathy made and don’t forget the hashtag #NovNov.

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)

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali (reviewed by Imogen at Reading and Watching the World)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Davida at TCL Book Reviews)

Clara’s Daughter by Meike Ziervogel (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: from Novella to Screen (reviewed by Diana at Ripple Effects)

Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Three Contemporary Novellas: Moss, Brown and Gaitskill (reviewed by Cathy at 746 Books)

Seven Final Novellas: Crumley, Morris, Rapp Black; Hunter, Johnson, Josipovici, Otsuka

In Pious Memory by Margery Sharp (reviewed by HeavenAli)

Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood, The Story of Stanley Brent by Elizabeth Berridge, Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda (reviewed by HeavenAli)

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (reviewed by She Reads Novels)

Caravan Story by Wayne Macauley (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

I Am God, a Novel by Giacomo Sartori (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (reviewed by Erdeaka at The Bookly Purple)

Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (reviewed by Emma at Words and Peace)

The Fell by Sarah Moss (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

Women & Power by Mary Beard and Come Closer by Sara Gran (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler and I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (reviewed by Madame Bibi Lophile)

Things I Don’t Want to Know and The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (reviewed by Madame Bibi Lophile)

Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

The Woman in the Blue Cloak by Deon Meyer (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

The White Woman by Liam Davison (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett (reviewed by Kim at Reading Matters)

Fludd by Hilary Mantel (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

In Translation by Annamarie Jagose (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

The Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson, The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe, Tower by Frances Boyle, Winter Wren by Theresa Kishkan, and The Santa Rosa Trilogy by Wendy McGrath (reviewed by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)

An essay on Kate Jennings’ Snake (reviewed by Whispering Gums)

Life in Translation by Anthony Ferner and Friend Indeed by Katharine d’Souza (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Every Day Is Gertie Day by Helen Meany (reviewed by Whispering Gums)

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au (reviewed by Brona’s Books at This Reading Life)

A Dream Life by Claire Messud (reviewed by Brona’s Books at This Reading Life)

Why Do I Like Novellas? Barnes, Brown, Jones, Ravn (reviewed by Stargazer)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Callum McLaughlin)

Foster by Claire Keegan (reviewed by Smithereens)

The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

King City by Stephen Pennell (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

Missus by Ruth Park (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers)

Inseparable by Simone de Beauvoir (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World)

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven (reviewed by Robin at A Fondness for Reading)

Maigret Defends Himself by Georges Simenon (reviewed by Chris at Calmgrove)

My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark (reviewed by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Margaret at BooksPlease)

Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul (reviewed by Liz at Adventures in reading, running and working from home)

The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey, Naturally Supernatural by Wendy Mann, The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark, Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham (reviewed by Simon at Stuck in a Book)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reviewed by Laura at Reading in Bed)

Assembly by Natasha Brown, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, All the Devils Are Here by David Seabrook, Space Exploration by Dhara Patel (reviewed by Annabel at Annabookbel)

Bellow, Powell, Wolkers, Bomans, al-Saadawi, de Jong, Buck, Simenon, Boschwitz (reviewed by Sarah at Market Garden Reader)

October Reading Plans and Books to Catch Up On

My plans for this month’s reading include:

 

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

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

 

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

 

An alarming number of doorstoppers:

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

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

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

 

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