#20BooksofSummer: Sicilian Lions, Single Mums and Lots of Books

It’s been a very busy, tiring and emotionally draining start to June, so I eased myself into the #20booksofsummer with some lighter reads.

Mario Giordano: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, transl. John Brownjohn

Not perhaps the most exciting or coherent of investigations, a lot of the detective work relies on coincidence or sheer nosiness, and there is something rather implausible and artificial about the whole story within a story set-up (narrated by the Auntie’s nephew, but as it is told to him by the woman herself). Nevertheless, this is a charming cosy crime caper set on the beautiful island of Sicily, stuffed to the gills with comic characters, some of them loud and obnoxious ones, others more than a little shady. And Auntie Poldi bridges the gap between Italian and German culture beautifully: an independent, candid woman with a passion for uniform and a lust for life that I can only hope I will have when I get to her age.

Janet Hoggarth: The Single Mums’ Mansion

This was not quite the fun read I was expecting and when I heard about the origin of the book as a blog about a difficult divorce, it made perfect sense. There is a lot of bitterness and genuine sadness mixed in amongst the obligatory chick lit references: drinking and taking some recreational drugs, lusting after men, supportive female friends and some silly mistakes as they finally move on from the broken wreckage. There were at least two things that annoyed me about this book: the unrealistic way in which these women didn’t seem to have to worry about money, feeding and clothing their children or losing their houses (OK, one of them moves in with the main character for a while, but few of my friends have houses big enough to take anyone else in). And yet they all seemed to have freelance jobs that don’t pay that well: photographer, writer, yoga instructor…

Secondly, none of them seemed to have any other interests other than getting drunk or laid.  Granted, it’s not easy to go out when you have three small children – so why not make the going out count? Or am I the only one who’d far rather have gone to a show or exhibition or a salsa class instead of drowning my sorrows in some expensive bar? Or is that the age difference talking?

Lucy Mangan: Bookworm

Not a systematic discussion of children’s literature, but simply an idiosyncratic and very personal memoir of the books she grew up with. I seem to be of a similar generation to her, as there is a considerable overlap of our books. Lucy Mangan is witty and charming, but you can’t help but notice quite a gap in her reading culture (probably not through any fault of her own, but simply a reflection of how little else was available in English at the time). She mentions Struwelpeter (giving her nightmares) and the colonial excesses of Babar, but no Moomins, no Asterix and Obelix, no Little Prince, no Pippi Longstocking, no Robber Hotzenplotz… It makes me realise how lucky I was to grow up with 3-4 languages and cultures all around me (and many more influences). She admits she was not a very adventurous reader, that she liked her world to be contained and safe, but there was something just ever so slightly too nostalgic about Enid Blyton and P. G. Wodehouse which didn’t sit comfortably with me. And yet there was so much about her account of growing up bookish that I could relate to…

I think for the next batch of #20books I might need to turn my attention to those that have been on my Netgalley shelf for a long, long time.


12 thoughts on “#20BooksofSummer: Sicilian Lions, Single Mums and Lots of Books”

  1. The Hogarth would probably have annoyed me too much (the same things would irritate me as they did you) to make me want to read to the end. Seems to have been written for the same kind of reader who enjoyed Bridget Jones Diary.

  2. I hope the rest of June is easier for you, Marina Sofia. As to your reads…..I’ve been wondering what Bookworm was like. I keep hearing good things about it, and just haven’t made up my mind whether to read it or not. The Giordano sounds like fun, if one’s looking for a light read.

    1. Bookworm is really geared towards the reader who grew up in Britain (or on a very British diet of books). Although she does mention a few American writers (Eric Carle, Dr Seuss, Sendak, Judy Blume), the selection is a bit skewed to this side of the pond.

  3. Sorry life has been so stressy – let’s hope you’re in for a calmer time. As for the Mangan, I’m interested though wary. It does sound as if the focus is a little narrow, and although I grew up on Blyton, I was happy to move outside that genre as soon as possible. I might find myself a bit grumpy, I suspect…

    1. She certainly does recognise Blyton’s limitations, but in a way we are as children at the mercy of publishers, translators, librarians, booksellers, parents, teachers even more…

  4. You raise, as always, interesting points MarinaSofia, about the only one I have read, and the only one likely to have drawn me, if I hadn’t read it – the Mangan. I absolutely adored it – and DID NOT NOTICE its insularity. You are right. I suspect looking outwards to other cultures is not a general tendency of our island race. Maybe those of us who are loving it so much are also loving it because it mirrors our own early readings. Although my own parentage is half European, and once I got into my teens, I was away into European classics, mainly French, German, Russian, the children’s books were all English. My vintage is a little older than yours, so even America hadn’t penetrated….translated children’s books from elsewhere….not a hope. School reading was only ever English literature, not ‘literature’ The subject was called English, not Literature.

  5. I loved Auntie Poldi. Such a character, the second book is just as mad! I must make room for the Bookworm – although I’m older from Mangan, so I hope it isn’t too 1980s based.

    1. Well, Blyton, C. S. Lewis and Little Women all get mentioned, so I think it is a personal record of reading rather than a faithful reflection of the decade in which she spent most of her childhood.

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