Reading Summary March 2021

The picture below shows a tremedously impressive pile of books read, but that’s because it is more like 5 weeks rather than a month’s worth of reading (I wrote my February round-up rather too early), plus I was also doing a lot of ‘professional reading’ for Corylus Books. Plus, a few of them were DNF – and of course, my reviewing has not kept pace with my reading. Nor will I force it to!

The themed reading this month was ‘Plays in March‘ and I managed to read five plays, a couple of which I had even seen performed. Penelope Skinner’s Linda is the only recent one, the others are all from the 1920s and 30s: I compared Arthur Schnitzler to Noel Coward (somewhat improbably) and have still to review Horvath’s Don Juan Returns from War (which I thought was his weakest effort) and Figaro Gets Divorced (which I really liked) – which fit into the #1936Club that I intend to pursue throughout April.

I read five Romanian crime novels for possible further translation and publication purposes: one I really liked but the author is dead (a bit of an issue for panels at crime festivals), two are part of a series so I had to decide which one to translate first, and one is a sort of ‘And Then There Were None’ – where someone seems to be killing off authors at a crime festival set in a beautiful mountain fortress location. I’m quite partial to that last one myself, but keep hearing that no one likes reading about writers as characters… except other writers.

I reviewed two translated books I had been sent by publishers, even though I didn’t expect to have time for them, because I really enjoyed them and think they won’t get as much signal noise as bigger bestsellers: The Field by Robert Seethaler and Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada.

You are probably wondering which books I didn’t finish. Well, I abandoned both Graham Norton’s A Keeper and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. The former was just so ploddingly mediocre, I couldn’t summon up interest. The latter I really, really wanted to love, because I like experimental fiction generally and so many readers whose opinions I respect did love it. However, I found it a real slog. I kept skipping pages to see if it improved at all, but it just felt wilfully obscure and somewhat pretentious. I have to admit I didn’t get very far with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell either, so perhaps Susanna Clarke is just not the author for me. We all have our blind spots.

Of the remaining books, I have reviewed Swiss Summer and Asylum Road, both of which impressed me in different ways. I thought The Other Black Girl was a cracking read, although there were some frankly unnecessary sci-fi concepts sneaked in towards the end to make it more ‘suspenseful’. I read The Manningtree Witches because someone in our writing group is writing about witch accusations and executions in the Windsor area. Although there is something inevitable about any story of this nature (we all know how this is going to end, don’t we?), there was a bit of an element of surprise, an ambiguity about characters and their motivations, and an earthiness to the women accused of witchcraft which I really enjoyed. Plus, the author AK Blakemore is a poet, and this shows in the way she selects and places each word so carefully.

However, my favourite book this month is by that writer who seems to have cast a witchy spell on me (oh, how she’d enjoy hearing me say that!): Shirley Jackson ‘s Hangsaman. A strange tale of bad parenting, bad relationships, going away to college and failing to find friends, loneliness and despair. One that certainly deserves a detailed review.

18 books, 12 by women authors, 9 originating in a language other than English, 5 new releases.

April will immerse me even more into the world of the 1930s, namely 1936, and the works of von Horvath, Max Blecher, and Karel Capek’s War of the Newts. Also, two different works by Liviu Rebreanu on passion, lust and jealousy (neither written in 1936, unfortunately, although 1934 is close enough).

For May I am planning to take a look at Arabic literature – with an emphasis on Egypt and Lebanon.

28 thoughts on “Reading Summary March 2021”

  1. Very pleased to see that you liked Hangsaman so much. I read Jackson’s first novel, Road Through the Wall, fairly recently and enjoyed it very much. While not as polished as her later work, it’s still a very effective little book – a peek at the horrors lurking in suburbia .

    1. Yes, I hadn’t read her early work either (mostly because it was so hard to find before the reprints, but I think she was already a very good and very interesting writer even back then.

  2. What a great month of reading, Marina. Very interested in your response to Piranesi, as I have been circling this. However, I too struggled with Strange and Norris, and eventually gave up, so maybe this is a blind spot for me too.

    Glad you’ll be joining us for 1936 – looking forward to it!!

  3. Very happy to hear that you liked the Jackson so much, Marina Sofia. She does have a way of drawing the reader in, doesn’t she? I’ve often wondered what sort of person she must have been; she certainly created some memorably eerie and compelling stories! As for your DNF list, I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed. I admit, the older I get, the less time I have for books that don’t draw me in. Life is too short…

    1. I may have been in a grumpy mood, admittedly, and at some other time these books might have suited me, but I have too may others competing for attention.
      As for Shirley Jackson, I don’t think she was a very easy person to get on with, I’d probably have been terrified to say anything in her presence.

  4. Always impressed by your wide reading, I’m much more timid. I don’t hold it against you for not persevering with Piranesi, after all we can’t all have precisely the same tastes in fiction! And I’m also impressed you’re able to name and shame books you’re constrained to not finish, as I either pass over them in silence blogwise or else they sit in a forlorn pile guilt-tripping me, until I bite the bullet and give them to the charity shop.

    1. These were borrowed from the library, so at least I don’t feel guilty about casting them adrift unread. I used to feel terribly guilty about not finishing books, but have decided I don’t have to be accountable to anybody about my reading.

  5. Oh, hooray, somebody else who couldn’t quite cope with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell . Having said that, I spotted Piranesi in the library this morning and brought it home with me, so I’m going to give it a fair chance, Though I have to admit it’s with a slight air of ‘Do I have to??’

    1. I spotted some interesting passages and I think I get what she is trying to do, but it felt like such a slog! I just don’t have the patience for that at the moment.

  6. Oh I’m so bummed you didn’t like Piranesi – I had dreams about it after I finished! Sometimes a book or an author just isn’t quite right for us, though, and there’s no telling why. (I do think it’s a very different piece of work from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in terms of theme and content and even style, but that’s no guarantee of liking it more!)

    1. I’m sure it’s got its merits, and I really tried for quite a few pages and in different parts of the book. I think I understand what she is trying to do there, but it felt like too much work for my little, overworked brain at the moment.

      1. Totally understand – of course, everyone’s just trying to figure out what they have bandwidth for at the moment, and that seems to change all the time too. No one has to like anything, anyway!

  7. I have yet to read anything by Shirley Jackson but must put her on my list, your May reading sounds very interesting – looking forward to it!

  8. I’m obviously looking forward to April with Rebreanu, but also curious about your little trip to Egypt or Lebanon in May. Hopefully by then the Suez canal will be free (not that you need to use it, obviously). Happy continued reading!

    1. I read far too few books translated from Arabic – despite having very good friends from both Egypt and Lebanon, so I thought it was high time I travelled there… Quite a few Romanian authors coming up in April.

  9. A great month of reading, despite those dnfs. I would like to read more Shirley Jackson, so good to hear you rated Hangsman. I must say Piranesi doesn’t appeal to me, but then I haven’t read anything else by her.

    1. In the end, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading it for a book report for school, and that allowed me to finally close the Piranesi book. I feel like a dunce for not appreciating it (especially since I rather like the imaginary architectural drawings by the historical Piranesi).

    1. Mind you, I had the same reaction with Richard Osman. I mean, it was perfectly fine – but average? Are we so stunned that celebrities can write, that we forgive them for writing rather mediocre fiction?

  10. I enjoyed Jonathan Strange but for some reason Piranesi hasn’t sounded very appealing to me and I’m not in any hurry to read it. Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been very positive, so it’s interesting to hear a different opinion. I’m glad you liked The Manningtree Witches – I’ve read one or two other books about witchcraft recently and thought it might be too similar, but I’m tempted to give it a try anyway.

    1. I haven’t read that many books about witches lately (although it is a subject I am interested in), so it made a change. I think the fact that the author is a poet was particularly appealing to me – it’s not purple prose or anything like that, but the vocabulary feels well-chosen and there is a rhythm to the sentences.

  11. I wouldn’t want to read about what happened to women dubbed “witches” as we know the history. It’s too brutal. But always interesting posts here. I know I can’t read everything I want to or am tempted to read, but I can read about the books, and this blog is always fascinating. And, no, you don’t have to read anything unless it’s for your job or your children.

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