This is a post to wrap up not only my reading for May, but also a half year’s worth of reading. I am happy to report that I’m just over halfway through my Goodreads reading challenge of 150 books for 2014, so this might be a good point to take stock of which books have really astounded or delighted me thus far.
First, the May summary. It’s been a month of very diverse reading and 6 out of 15 have been foreign books.
The brilliant ‘Far from the Tree‘ by Andrew Solomon, the puzzling ‘The Fly Trap‘ by Fredrik Sjoberg and the riotous memoir of the 70s and feminism by Michele Roberts ‘Paper Houses’. I have really found a kindred spirit in Michele Roberts and hugely admire her courage and sacrifices in order to focus so single-mindedly on her writing.
1 Poetry Collection:
‘Father Dirt‘ by Mihaela Moscaliuc – Hard-hitting and heart-breaking
5 Crime Fiction or Thriller:
Spy thriller by Stella Rimington ‘The Geneva Trap‘, the short story anthology ‘In a Word, Murder’, ‘Cold Steal‘ by Quentin Bates, the domestic psychological drama of ‘All the Things You Are’ by Declan Hughes and the unputdownable ‘Cry Baby’ by David Jackson.
6 Other Genres:
Frothy satire of writing courses ‘Writing Is Easy‘ by Gert Loveday
Long-winded and ominous, but not as illuminating as a real Greek tragedy ‘The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt
Satire that seems even more apt and sinister in the wake of the European elections ‘Er ist wieder da’ (Look Who’s Back) by Timur Vermes
Painful depiction of the breakdown of a toxic marriage ‘Une affaire conjugale‘ by Eliette Abecassis
A family saga of post-war Japan – a reinterpretation of Wuthering Heights for the modern world ‘A True Novel‘ by Minae Mizumura
A graphic novel with a rather similar theme of family secrets and growing up in post-war Japan ‘A Distant Neighbourhood’ by Jiro Taniguchi
My favourites this month? ‘Cry Baby’ in crime fiction, because I found it impossible to stop myself from reading it all the way to the end. A rarer quality than one might suppose, even in thrillers. This links to the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme hosted at Mysteries in Paradise.
And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the stately pace and melancholy of ‘A True Novel’. [I am not including the non-fiction or poetry here, but they deserve a special mention, for they were all outstanding.]
Now for the half-year round-up. I’ve read 79 books this year (yeah, it’s been a slow couple of months at work, so I’ve had more time for reading). If I’ve added up all the numbers correctly, here is the balance of the year so far (some books fit in more than one category, so the totals won’t make sense).
8 books in French, 3 in German and 19 translations – so 38% of my reading has been foreign. Surprising result, I expected it to be much more! Curious to see if this changes by the end of the year. I’m very pleased I managed to stick to my plan of reading at least one book per month in French, though (since I am living in France and need to improve my French).
43 books have been of the crime fiction and thriller persuasion, so about 54% of my reading. This is less than last year, although I have continued reviewing crime for Crime Fiction Lover website. I have also read 5 poetry books, so about one a month, which is essential (and the absolute minimum) for a working poet. I have also read 9 non-fiction books (11%) – one of the highest proportions in a long while. So it would be fair to say that my reading has broadened this year, quite deliberately.
And which books have truly captured my imagination thus far? I have liked, even loved quite a few of them. I was struck by the almost visceral power of ‘Mother Mother’ by Koren Zailckas and Claire Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’, fell under the spell of William McIlvanney’s prose and Mahmoud Darwish’s or Brenda Shaughnessy’s poetry. But the five books that really stayed with me are:
Jung-Myung Lee: The Investigation – neither crime nor prison saga, but a tale of the triumph of beauty over despair
Pierre Lemaitre: Au revoir la-haut – moving portrayal of the harshness of post-war society
Minae Mizumura: A True Novel – perhaps because this book encapsulates my love affair with Japan
Mihaela Moscaliuc’s debut poetry collection: Father Dirt – because it’s part of me and gives me power to explore more in my own poems
Andrew Solomon: Far from the Tree – a book that had me thinking and talking about it for days and weeks afterwards, which forever changed certain of my ideas