2021 Reading List

As mentioned in my last blog, I am not doing an online reading challenge this year. The main reason is I really want to clear my TBR pile and most challenges seem to require me to buy at least one or two new books. I usually buy any such books on my Kindle because at least they don’t take up physical space but I have a ridiculous amount of unread books on there now so I really need to reign it in a bit.

Last year, I attempted an alphabetical challenge and while I didn’t quite manage it (I missed Y) I did enjoy it and was tempted to do it again. However, that would require me buying a book for Q, X and Y and I don’t want to have to do that. While I was bemoaning the fact that I like to have a list of what I will read for the year but I couldn’t find challenge I wanted to do – and probably to shut me up – my husband suggested that I let him choose a list of possible books to read this year – from our shelves and my kindle. I agreed. Possibly foolishly as he seemed to get a lot of glee out of putting things on the list that he knows I’ve been avoiding.

Anyway, here is my list. Although there are no requirements, I’m going to try to write a review for each one. I want to blog more this year anyway so it will help with that as well. There are a lot more classics here then I would normally read so we’ll have to see how it goes.

  1. The Girl in a Swing – Richard Adams
  2. The Testaments – Margaret Atwood Finished 8/1/21
  3. Emma – Jane Austen
  4. The Coral Island – R. M. Ballantyne
  5. Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie
  6. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. Kindred – Octavia E. Butler
  9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John le Carre
  10. My Antonia – Willa Cather
  11. The Long Call – Anne Cleeves
  12. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  13. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
  14. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  15. Lake of Dreams – Kim Edwards
  16. Middlemarch – George Eliot – Currently reading.
  17. Charlotte Gray – Sebastian Faulks
  18. A Passage to India – E. M. Forster
  19. The Collector – John Fowles
  20. Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale
  21. Pincher Martin – William Golding
  22. England Made Me – Graham Greene
  23. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  24. Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim
  25. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  26. The Aspern Papers / Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  27. The Institute – Stephen King
  28. The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureishi
  29. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence
  30. Tishomingo Blues – Elmore Leonard
  31. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  32. No one Writes to the Colonel – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  33. Machines Like Me – Ian McEwan
  34. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  35. Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell
  36. Dr Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  37. Bleeding Hearts – Ian Rankin
  38. The Plot Against America – Philip Roth Finished 17/1/21
  39. Austerlitz – W. G. Sebald
  40. Autumn – Ali Smith – Currently Reading
  41. On Beauty – Zadie Smith
  42. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  43. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
  44. Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  45. Bech at Bay – John Updike
  46. Candide – Voltaire
  47. The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
  48. A Streetcar named Desire – Tennessee Williams
  49. Green River Rising – Tim Willocks
  50. The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham

2020 Reading Catch Up 2021 Reading Plans

One of the good things that 2020 has been is a good reading year for me. I met my target of reading 40 books on Goodreads. While this might sound like very many, some of them were quite difficult – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, for example or John Updike’s Rabbit Run. However, I didn’t quite manage to read an author for every letter of the alphabet for my reading challenge, having mistaken Shakey as a Neil Young autobiography rather than a biography. Having no unread Y authors in the house and this being mid december, I decided that I didn’t have time to try and procure another Y and read The Book of Evidence by John Banville as my last book of 2020 instead.

Top Five Reads of 2020

  1. Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak – This was one of the first books I read last year and I could not put it down. I was worried it might not live up to The Book Thief but, in fact, I enjoyed it more. It was the story of Clay and his brothers, their relationship with each other and with their father. It was emotional without being sentimental. The storyline was non-chronological and needed some unpicking but I like to have to work a bit and not have the answers handed to me on a plate. Definitely recommended.
  2. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah – I’ve always admired Noah. He has a reasonable and sensible view on things that always just seems to cut through the bullshit. This memoir about his South African childhood is both tragic and comic and never less than enthralling. Noah was a naughty child and he starts by telling about his mother chasing him and how he learned to run so fast. Pretty quickly we are into more serious territory, given that Noah’s very existence was considered a crime. Noah’s mother came across as a fantastically strong woman who has clearly been a huge influence on him and seems to be responsible for his attitude to life.
  3. The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell – There are two main storylines in this novel – Ted and his wife, Elina, in the present day, and the story of Lexi Sinclair set some time in the past. I admit I did manage to work out some of the twists to this one but it was beautifully written and I still felt compelled to read on.
  4. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this or not. I’d read Ishiguro before and I hadn’t been massively impressed but this was so different to the other two, I was quickly taken with it. The story of Stephens, the butler at Darlington Hall and his unrealised love for Miss Kenton, the housekeeper is a subtle and clever joy from start to finish.
  5. No is not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need – Naomi Klein – This is a call to arms. Klein’s political observations were on the money as were her solutions to the current political situation in the US. Klein argues that Trump is not an aberration but the logical conclusion of recent policies on both the left and the right. She then suggests ways of working together in order to make sure it never happens again. Even with Biden now about to take over the white house, we shouldn’t be complacent and allow the same issues that caused it to happen before to resurface so it happens again.

Of course, there were also less good reads although none warranted a one star on Goodreads. The three I liked the least, I expected to like better – No Surrender by Constance Maud was recommended by a BBC program on women’s fiction and I thought it sounded interesting, being about the fight for suffrage but it was tediously dogmatic. P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley was also tedious. James never managed to quite pull off her imitation of Austen and the style spoiled the story for me. Finally, Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain was not the first world war memoir I was expecting and I felt that it talked too much of things outside of her nursing career and I did not find that particularly interesting. (I just realised that all of these were by women. I’m not sure whether that is important but I do often find it hard to bond with female authors.)

And for next year, well, I’m not yet sure what my reading list will look like. I’m not following a online challenge because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. My husband has volunteered to give me a list of books and I have agreed to this although I admit that I’m feeling a little worried. There are certain books on our shelves that he feels I should have read and I think there is a good reason why I haven’t. The Lord of the Rings is one, anything by Hemingway is another. So we shall see. I’ve started reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood just to ensure that I’ve at least one good read over the next twelve months.

Alphabet Soup Author Edition – Rabbit, Run – John Updike.

Genre: American, Anti-heroes,

Narrative Style: Chronological, third person from various points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1960

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’s best days are behind him. He was the star basketball player when he was at school. Since then, he has married and has a child. His wife is pregnant again. But he doesn’t love his wife and he hates his job demonstrating a gadget in a store. He is dissatisfied and fed up so, on impulse, he deserts his wife and son and embarks on a journey to find something more satisfying.

Writing Challenges: Alphabet Soup – Author Challenge.

This was a hard book to read. Not because of the prose. Updike’s style is easy enough to read. It was the characters. I expected that I would probably have difficulty with Rabbit Angstrom. And he was unpleasantly sure of himself, always convinced he was on the right path simply because he had chosen it. But I had expected that there would have been some way of empathising with him. This was not the case. Nor was it any easier to empathise with his wife who was also an unpleasant drunk. I have no doubt that this is an accurate representation of a certain type of American masculinity and the havoc it can wreak but I didn’t feel drawn into the story. I was like an observer watching the decay of society from a distance.

At first, Rabbit just drives off, wanting to be far away from his wife and son. He gets lost and ends up driving back to his hometown. He doesn’t want to go home and admit defeat so he goes to see his old basketball coach who is full of Rabbit’s past glories – perhaps the only person to still see Harry as if he was a sporting hero. They go to dinner and Rabbit meets Ruth, a part time prostitute.

Rabbit forces himself into her life. He has soon set up a alternative domestic arrangement for himself. Out of everyone, Ruth is perhaps the easiest to have some sympathy for. She tries not to let Rabbit into her life but he just doesn’t give up. He is unable to see her as anything other than a means to sex. Rabbit is obsessed with sex perhpas because he thinks he is good at it and so it gives him the same sense of worth that BAsketball used to. Indeed, his sexual obsession is a facet of his relationship with his wife also. When he returns to her, after their second child is born, he is unable to leave her alone even though she has so recently given birth. When she refuses him, he walks out the door again.

This is also a book about religion. Rabbit is unable to completely escape his marriage as he meets priest, Jack Eccles who sees it as his duty to bring Rabbit and his wife back together. Rabbit’s conversations with Jack prove how far he is from God. Like his marriage, Rabbit finds the current framework of religious beliefs unsatisfactory. He is looking for something more, something spiritual but he doesn’t have the intelligence to really understand what it is.

This novel has a tragic ending. When Rabbit deserts his wife for the second time, she gets drunk and accidentally drowns their baby while trying to clean her up in the bath. This was the only time I felt any real emotions during the reading of this book. I couldn’t quite believe Updike was going to let it happen. It was heartbreaking, both for the reader and for Rabbit and his wife. However, any sympathy for Rabbit quickly disappears as he is soon back to his old tricks and is off out the door again.

I’m in two minds as to whether I will read anymore of this series. I’m not really sure that there could be anything new to say really. A part of me is curious to see where Updike will take the narrative but perhaps that isn’t enough to carry on with a series that will undoubtedly be a bit of a slog.

Strange Days Indeed

It seems like the world as we know it has ground to a halt. It is strange to think of everyone, all in their houses, streets empty (largely) and shops and pubs closed. It is three weeks now since I have been into the middle of Sheffield. Normally, I’d pass through most days.

I was on long term cover before but that is not continuing. So I’m at home with everyone else, trying to work out what being furloughed really means. My husband is also not working. No pubs means no beer needs to be brewed. Luckily, our house is big enough that if we get sick of each other or just want some quiet time then we can sit at opposite ends and not see each other for hours.

I’ve been trying to keep to a routine. To be honest, at the moment it just feels like an extended school holiday. As my husband isn’t a teacher, I would spend most of that time entertaining myself and keeping busy. I’m very much a creature of habit, even down to eating when I’d normally have my lunch at school so at the moment, I’m relatively content.

I have a lot of things to do. Editing, writing, reading are all being caught up on. It’s nice to have an unlimited time to read instead of the rushed 15 minutes or so I’d have while eating my breakfast. Having said that, I’d normally read on my kindle on my commute and I am kind of missing that. (Fancy missing being able to get on the bus – not something I ever thought I’d say.) Catching up with a lot of watching as well – Good Omens at the minute which is really enjoyable. If only the apocalypse was really so much fun.

Not to mention all the household jobs that need to be done and now we have the time to do them. I’m trying to vary my days so I do a little bit of everything each day so I don’t get bored and all the jobs aren’t done immediately.

The worst thing is the unknowable elements but at the minute I am able to ignore them quite successfully. I’m imagining it will be at least June before this is over. Worrying about further into the future will have to wait until then.

No more neglecting my blog: A reflection on where it went wrong this year.

I feel a bit sorry for my blog. It must have been wondering what it had done to cause such neglect. The last time I blogged was in October. I’ve never had such a large gaps between blogs before. The main reason is that wage paying work has been incredibly busy. I haven’t even had time to edit Choose Yr Future. Exam work, steady teaching work and the run up to Christmas conspired to make it impossible for me to get anything that wasn’t strictly (financially) necessary done.

Of course, I used to be able to write whenever I had a minute. These days whenever I have a minute I fall asleep. That is one of the most annoying things about getting older; I just can’t burn the midnight oil anymore.

I failed once again to finish this years Full House Reading Challenge. My error was to ask my husband to help me pick a book at random. His throwing a paper ball at the bookshelves resulted in me having to read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Which I started in September and have not yet finished. (Although only about 10 pages left!) I might have abandoned it if he had not watched me very closely to see if I stuck with it. I am very much looking forward to reading a different book.

I’m not sure about doing any reading challenges this year. It might be time for a year off. A year of reading what I want to read sounds appealing but I will probably get sucked into something. I usually do.

Now the worst of the busyness over. Exams are done with until the summer. Supply work is back to day to day and no responsibilities. So hopefully back to blogging regularly and editing every day. It’s exciting. One thing to be said for this prolonged absence, I’m raring to get going again.

The Red Pen Treatment

So currently, I am looking over the proofs for Choose Yr Future. In between being back at school and writing new things that is. Theoretically, it should have been finished over the summer. But of course, it isn’t just reading through. It’s more like a massacre with the slashing of the red pen taking out all that annoys it.

I’m not sure if it is the fact that it now looks like a book which makes it easier spot what needs to go but I definitely feel I’m reading it in a different way. As if I were a reader rather than a writer and that is definitely making me ruthless. I’ve been slashing out words like I’m lost in the forest and they are branches stopping me from returning to the sunlight.

If all this sounds like a miserable job, strangely it’s not. Maybe it is the closeness to  completion. Maybe it is satisfying to be able to look at your own work and go ‘yeah, that stinks’. I trust my judgement. There are no qualms. Not at this stage.

The big question is when will this be finished. Well, hopefully soon. There should be a cover soon too. There should be an end to all this slashing. But by the time that Shattered Reflections was published, I nearly knew it by heart, I had read it so many times. I’m not there yet. Nowhere near.

Happy Sixth Birthday to me.

So it has been six years since I started this blog. It doesn’t seem that long. A lot has happened but mostly what it made me think is how rubbish I have become at blogging recently. I have neglected my blog lately and not because of the usual workload excuses either – or not just because of those. Mostly out of writer’s block.

For the last year or so, I have found it increasingly hard to think of things to write about. Not just blog-wise but in my fiction writing as well. I have been working hard at editing Choose Yr Future but new projects have not been forthcoming. I seem to have started dozens of things. Starting is not so much the problem but continuing once I have started.

Over the last six years, a lot has happened. I published Shattered Reflections which was an interesting experience rather than an out and out success. Don’t get me wrong, people said good things about it. It garnered a couple of good reviews on Goodreads but I found it hard to promote myself. On top of this, life events (such as my mam’s illness and then death) made it difficult for me to entirely concentrate on my writing career.

Still, I think I learned some valuable lessons. I think I’ll be better at it this time. And even if little more than my close circle of friends read it then I will be happy enough. I never aimed to make a fortune. Writing has never been about that for me.

I’m not going to promise that I will blog more. I know that those sort of promises can fall flat easily. But I do enjoy it and I quite often it helps me get my thoughts together. And as for finding the next project that is going to take off, perhaps I just need to be a bit more patient.

New Year – Reading and Writing Plans

Hello there, blog. It’s been a while. Towards the end of last year, I was really not in the blog writing zone. I had a bad dose of writer’s block so everything was suffering. The whole year, really was a struggle writing wise. There were a number of reasons for this that I’m not going to go into, largely because they are too personal but also because they are not especially interesting or special.

Anyway, this year I am going to try harder. I am picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Choose Your Future is ready to be sent out to publishers. I am also investigating the new and exciting online places for self-publishing. I’m looking through the myriad odds and ends of writing I have done for the bones of a story, as well as some of the longer pieces I have previously abandoned.

Of course, now I am writing again, I feel better. Even if I never become particularly successful, I enjoy the escapism of creating another world. I enjoy blogging as well which brings me on to the topic of what to read this year.

One of the things that was affected by last year’s apathy was the reading challenge that I started and didn’t finish. I was four books from finishing the Full House Reading Challenge. It’s not as if I didn’t read more than 24 books last year, they just didn’t all fit in with the challenge. In fact, by the end of the year I was deliberately avoiding reading books that I had picked out for it because I wanted to be free to choose what I read. It may be that some of the books I picked to read for it – such as War and Peace and Catch 22 – were less enthralling than I might have hoped. This year, I am undecided as to whether to do any challenges or just read what I want to read. I’m currently enjoying researching the possibilities so I will probably end up doing something.

Anyway, I hope to be writing this blog a bit more frequently this year – and not just about books I have read either.

Full House Reading Challenge – Breath – Tim Winton

Genre: Bildungsroman, Australian Fiction,

Narrative Style: first person, flashback framed by present day.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2008

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Bruce Pike is a paramedic. When he attends what appears to be a suicide by hanging, it takes him back to his thrill-seeking adolscence with his friend Loonie. They meet Sando, an older man who is keen to take their daring to new levels. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Australian Fiction.

The story starts when Bruce Pike is called to what seems to be a suicide by hanging. A teenage boy has been found hanged by his parents. It is a horrific and emotional opening. There is something not quite right about the scene and Bruce knows straightaway that it is not a suicide. Much to the chagrin of his paramedic partner, he refuses to spill the beans as to how he knows.

The incident takes Bruce back to his childhood when he hung around with Loonie, the town’s wild boy when they spent their hours surfing. Not longer after, they meet Sando, an older man who lives a hippie lifestyle and seems to have no cares in the world.

The novel goes on to explore masculinity and the need for adrenalin. There is a stark contrast between the daring and exciting Sando and Bruce’s parents who are decsribed as dull and everyday. As the friendship between the three deepens, so the waves they take on get bigger and Bruce gets more and more nervous. A rivalry develops between Loonie and Bruce, and Bruce knows he has no hope of winning. He just isn’t brave enough.

When Sando goes away, taking Loonie with him, to explore foreign waves, Bruce is bereft. He begins to visit Sando’s wife and becomes involved in her erotic thrillseeking, something that both repulses and attracts him.

Bruce’s voice is very much an Australian one. Winton captures the speech patterns of his native country successfully while also putting Australian masculinity under the microscope. I enjoyed it immensely. My only criticism is that the end of the novel seemed a little rushed as Bruce moves to talking about his adult life. Apart from that, a very good read.

 

 

 

Reading and Writing Goals 2017

Reading Goals 2017

Last year, I read 60 books and although I didn’t meet my Goodreads target, I was still pleased as some of them were very long and some of them were very bad. Some of them were both of these things (The Power of Beauty by Nancy Friday for example).  So this year I have set my goal a bit lower at 50 books. There a couple of reasons for this. I plan to read War and Peace this year. This will undoubtedly take a while. Also, I am going to be starting a new job which will see me traveling less so I will be reading less on my Kindle.

I’m taking on one reading challenge this year. The Full House Reading Challenge has 25 categories which should be manageable. The categories are an interesting mix – some are genres (Western, Cozy Mystery), some are author based (European author, North American author) and some are circumstance based (borrowed, attractive cover) so it should make for a good mix of books over the year.  I am just starting the first of these books So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson which I got for my birthday last year.

Writing Goals 2017

Obviously, the main goal is to get Choose Yr Future published. I’m currently re-working it based on feedback I have been given and am hoping that process won’t take too long to finish. I should have more free time now that I have a new job so here’s hoping. I’m also working on my next novel which is currently called The Meaning of Sickness but this may very well change.

I also want to blog more this year. I was very neglectful of my blog last year. I was very lazy. I could have made the time but I didn’t. This year, I am going to make myself write more. It used to be second nature to blog at least once a week but I have lost the habit. I need to get back into it.

As a sidebar to this, I am also resolving to tweet and post to my Facebook page more often. These two things have also been woefully neglected. I’m really looking forward to all the new connections I will make.