The Reading Year So Far

It’s been a mixed year so far on the reading front. On the one hand, I’ve read ten books so far which is good. On the other, there have been some disappointing reads. The start of the year saw me in lockdown again so I was able to get a lot of reading done. Now I’m back at work, I’m not so sure that I’ll get through some of the very big titles on my list. We’ll see.

The main achievement so far is having finished Middlemarch. I’m not really one for the classics so reading such a long book was a big ask. My main motivation was it is one of my father in law’s favourite books and he doesn’t really approve of a lot of the things I read (Terry Pratchett, David Mitchell, anything with a hint of fantasy or magic realism, in fact) so I don’t think he really believed I’d manage it. It was a slog for most of it. It was only the last two hundred pages where I felt compelled to find out what would happen. Now it’s finished, I’m glad I read it but mostly just because I can now say I’ve read it.

I’ve been trying to read more widely. My default option is male, white authors such as Julian Barnes, Chuck Palahniuk, Ian Rankin and Markus Zusak. Okay so often they have interesting things to say about masculinity but I’m trying to get out of this comfort zone. So I’m trying to read more women, LGBT writers and writers of colour. So far this year, this has brought me some of my favourite reads – Take Nothing With You by the fabulous Patrick Gale, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – all of which are much recommended.

The other thing I set myself to do this year was to read more current fiction. I read a lot of contemporary fiction but not usually things that were out in the last couple of years. This hasn’t panned out quite so well. I found Where the Crawdads Sing tedious (as I so often do with things that have been really popular) and David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue was just disappointing. One thing with reading things from twenty+ years ago – it’s easier to know what is good because they have stood the test of time.

Another thing I’ve wanted to do is expand the genres I read in. I try as much as possible to read a variety of genres. It’s at least partly responsible for some of my less good reads. A lot of the people I’m friends with on Goodreads seem to read only one genre and they post a lot of five star reviews but I know that I would be bored with that. I view it as basically reading the same book over and over. My favourite genres are probably dystopia (I’ve already read two this year) and detective fiction and I fall back on them a lot but I try to make sure I step outside them as much as possible. So I’m currently reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre – spy fiction being very much unchartered territory for me – and I’m really enjoying it. I’m not sure how much of this genre I will read in the future but I think I will explore some of Le Carre’s back catalogue.

As it’s nearly the Easter holidays, and once I’ve finished Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I’m going to embark on another of the large classics on my list – probably Moby Dick. And then it will be on to some non-fiction as I’ve not read any of that yet this year. Although often when I make proclamations about what I am going to read, I completely abandon them. One thing is for sure, it will be an interesting reading year.

TBR Challenge 2015

2015tbrbuttonI really enjoyed doing the TBR challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader this year. It is good for a number of reasons. First of all, it draws attention to books that have been on your shelf for a while and reminds you that at some stage you did want to read these books. For the most part, I wondered why I had left it so long to read them. Even better, I managed to remove three to the charity shop. Actually creating space on  my bookshelves is a new experience and makes doing the challenge again worthwhile. For next year’s challenge I’ve focused a bit more on classics as this is an area I feel I need to read more in.

For more information see Roof Beam Reader’s site.

Here is my list:

1. Jane Austen – Persuasion (1818) – November

2. Ann Cleeves – Raven Black (2006)  – July

3. R. J. Ellory – The Anniversary Man (2009) -February

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald – Tender is the Night (1933) August

5. My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin (1901) – March

6. Graham Greene – Brighton Rock (1938) – April

7. Radcliffe Hall – The Well of Loneliness (1928) – June

8. Nick Hornby – A Long Way Down (2005) – May

9. Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns (2006) September

10. Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) January

11. Walter Scott – Rob Roy (1817) – December

12. Zadie Smith – The Autograph Man (2002) – October

Alternatives:

13. Maggie O’Farrell – The Hand That First Held Mine (2009)

14. The Reader – Bernard Schlink (1995)

My kindle book collection is bigger than your kindle book collection

As a supply teacher, on my lunch, I usually read my kindle because I don’t know anyone and because I’m rubbish at small talk with strangers. I’d always rather read than have a banal conversation about the weather or whatever. Usually people are polite enough to leave me to it but occasionally the kindle itself becomes the focus of conversation. This happened recently when the guy sat opposite me – also a supply teacher and also with kindle – started to cough in that deliberate way that lets you know they want your attention. Okay, I thought, maybe he’ll ask what I’m reading and we can talk about books. It could be worse.

In fact, the first words out of his mouth were, “how many books have you got on it? Have you got lots? I’ve got..” Well, I’ve forgotten his exact number but it was a lot and a lot more than me. I had to say that I didn’t know. He seemed surprised. He went on to detail all the book collections that he had, the complete works of Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and many others that I’ve forgotten. The bigger and bulkier the better as if the knowledge that you should be reading a weighty tome somehow added to the pleasure of reading on the kindle.

I hadn’t really thought of my kindle as a possible repository for every book I have ever wanted to read so that you could be carrying around your very own version of the British Library. Needless to say, he hadn’t read that many of them but that didn’t seem to be the point. The collecting was everything.

This is the very opposite of my attitude to my kindle. Until very recently, I didn’t have any books other than the one I was reading and the ones I had read. I would read a book and then when it was getting near the end, buy another. I didn’t want to be faced with making a decision about what to read next when I am out and about, I suppose. Now, I have two or three unread ones, thanks mostly to the daily kindle deals which seem to good to be missed. Still, I don’t want the kindle to turn into the main repository for my books. I still buy physical books and standing in front of my bookshelves trying to decide what to read next is a pleasure in a way that flicking through titles on the screen just isn’t.

In the end, I asked him what he was reading and it was one of those Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter type books which he gushed about for a bit but he still didn’t ask me what I was reading. His parting shot, I’ve lots more books on my memory stick if you want some. I’ll show you, if you like but I had to decline the offer of a visit to his virtual library as the bell rang for lessons to start again. Just as well, really.

Books Read in 2014 – 6. The Doll’s House – Neil Gaiman

Sandman_Dolls_HouseGenre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Narrative Style: Mix of viewpoints. Generally linear.

Rating 4/5

Format: paperback

Published: 1989

Synopsis: Due to the absence of Dream from his realm, some of the dreams and nightmares have escaped. This leads to all sorts of bloody mayhem. Add in the presence of a Vortex that could wreck the dream world forever and you have the makings of an exciting story.

As I mentioned in my last post I was going straight on to read the next Sandman book The Doll’s House. I was glad to have been loaned the second one as well as otherwise I would have felt a little bereft. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

Having said that, this is much less a story about Dream – obviously he appears in it but he isn’t the centre as much as he was in the first book. Instead, Rose, granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid (a character from the first book) is the focus and her search for her younger brother supplies most of the narrative momentum.

One the way she meets a whole host of wacky and wicked characters. There seems to be no limits to Gaiman’s imagination in this respect. And while they are strange, they are never less than convincing. Such is the level of his talent.

There is plenty of gore, as well and the illustrations are just as impressive and vivid – in fact more so, as the story allows for an unleashing of the artists twisted imagination much more than in the first book.

I felt this book was more compact and self-contained than the first and I don’t feel such a compulsion to read on immediately. Having said that I am much more interested in reading the rest of them now.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten new to me books.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and is a weekly top ten.

toptentuesday2

I’ve read a lot of new (to me) authors this year. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most. 

1. Josh Lanyon – Come Unto These Yellow Sands, Snowball in Hell. It’s not often I read two books by the same author back to back. An excellent combination of LGBT issues and detective fiction.

2. Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides. As with a number of authors on this list, I can’t believe I didn’t read this earlier. Difficult reading at times but definitely worth it.

3. Simon Lelic – Rupture. A detective novel that explores the idea of responsibility.

4. Ben Goldacre – Bad Science – A must read for anyone who is sceptical about alternative medicine.

5. Ira Levin – Rosemary’s Baby. One that has been on my to read list for a long time. Superbly creepy.

6. Patrick McCabe – The Butcher Boy. Disturbing first person narrative of madness and neglect.

7. Iain Pears = An Instance of the Fingerpost. Interesting historical fiction with four different narrative voices adding clues to the mystery.

8. Peter Lefcourt – The Dreyfuss Affair. Funny and touching story of the romance between two baseball players.

9. Suzanna Kaysen – Girl Interrupted. An interesting contrast wit The Bell Jar.

10. Michael Moorcock – An Alien Heat. Amusing and well observed science fiction.

My Reading Year

It’s been a good year for reading. I’ve read almost twice as many books as last year (60 compared to 31). I’m not entirely sure why this is but I know I have not felt as enthusiastic about reading for an awful long time. There are a number of reasons for this.

The biggest reason is probably the kindle. I’ve got used to using it now and I have found that you can get some excellent books at a very low price. As well as some free classics. It has made it so much easier for me to read on the go.

I made a decision quite early on with the kindle that I wasn’t ever going to pay full price for a book on it. There were two reasons for this: one, I felt that if I was paying 6.99 for a book, I wanted to have the flesh and blood thing in my hands and two, it was pointless to pay full price when you could get very good books for 2.99 or less. This has changed the way I buy books for the kindle and it may seem a little odd. (Certainly, it is not the way I would think in an actual book shop.) But it has meant that I have experimented more and found some excellent authors into the bargain. (Josh Lanyon, Simon Lelic and Patrick McCabe spring to mind.)

The other main reason is I started to use the recommendations on Goodreads to help me choose. This has led me to many new authors – in fact more than 50% of the authors i have read this year have been new to me. I feel like I have climbed out of a reading rut and am very excited by the thought of what I will read next year.

I’d also like to thank the Eclectic Reader Challenge for helping to fire my enthusiasm. This led me to read genres I wouldn’t normally think of and helped me to broaden my reading horizons. I managed to do the challenge twice which was pleasing and I am already thinking about what I might read for next year’s challenge.

As for the best books I’ve read this year, I’d have to say The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a favourite. A devastatingly bleak version of the future that seemed all too possible. The bleakly sarcastic world view of Charlie Brooker was another excellent read – I can Make You Hate is a collection of his columns and articles from over the last few years. And very entertaining it was too. Food for thought, definitely.

I’ve included a list of all the books that I’ve read this year along with their ratings from Goodreads. I’ve included links to the ones that I’ve reviewed.

Adventure

Detective Fiction

Dystopia (By which I mean, a story set in a world of the future which is similar to ours but with certain details changed or exaggerated.)

Erotica

Family Drama

  • Empty Mansion Empty Heart – Everett Beich 1/5
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread – E. M. Forster 3/5
  • The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf 3/5
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill 3/5

Historical Fiction

Horror

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury 4/5
  • Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis 4/5
  • Under the Skin – Michael Faber 3/5
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin 4/5
  • The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe 4/5
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells 3/5

LGBT

Literary Criticism

  • Margaret Atwood – In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination -currently reading

Memoir

Satire

Science

Science Fiction (By which I mean a story set on a different planet or universe with great advances in technology.)

  • The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks 3/5
  • An Alien Heat – Michael Moorcock 4/5
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 4/5

Short Stories

  • How it Ended – Jay McInerney 4/5

Supernatural

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 4/5
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson 3/5

Travel

Young Adult