September Reading Summary

Once again, I am jumping the gun a little with my September reading summary, as I don’t think I’ll have time to squeeze anything more in that isn’t intended for next month.

My reading got a little aimless and desultory during September, after a few really good months with very high-quality books. I struggled to really immerse myself in these books, which might explain why I’ve judged them more harshly than usual. There were two that really stood out for me, however, and for very different reasons. Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year was stark, gripping and revelatory, while Alison Anderson’s The Summer Guest was wistful, dreamy and transported me to a better time and place.

On paper, I have read ten books, but two of those were very short indeed: a children’s book (Little Old Mrs Pepperpot, which I’m reading for the #1956Club) and a book of cartoons about the challenges of wearing a hijab in a Western country Yes, I’m Hot in This by Huda Fahmy. So, in reality, I have read eight books, of which two in translation. The Englightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar was interesting in its ‘stories within stories’ structure and truly beautifully written in parts, but rather hard reading in terms of subject matter. Also, I’ve never been a huge fan of magical realism, but I can certainly see the point of it to describe – and make bearable – the atrocities perpetuated here. Book burning, rape, torture, death and ghosts everywhere you look.

I was searching for comfort reads this month above all, but in truth found even the tried and tested categories of crime/suspense fiction a bit hard to click with. Stina Jackson’s The Silver Road seemed to howl with dreary loneliness and isolation. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters had far too many pages about that boring English class system to make up for the few genuine moments of ghostly frisson. Even Doug Johnstone, who’s proved a reliable writer for me in the past, did not quite win me over with A Dark Matter – probably because I was expecting it to be black comedy in the style of Antti Tuomainen. While I enjoyed Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land probably far more than Jonathan Coe’s Middle England as a depiction of current English society (it was stuffed to the gills with sharp, witty observations of gender relations and family tensions), it did all go unnecessarily bonkers towards the end with the murder mystery part of it.

So that leaves Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession, which so many assured me was the perfect sweet, gentle book for these troubled times. I have to admit I was reading it the weekend Barney died, and it was probably the only book I could possibly have read during that time. It was indeed a placid, even-tempered book with decent characters and touching interactions, people being kind and helpful, or at the very least apologising when they get things wrong. A little too sweet for my taste, perhaps, as I was constantly expecting someone to go amok, commit fraud or murder someone, but I liked its humour and the non-judgemental relationship between the two friends. It almost makes you believe in a nicer world – and don’t we all need a hope like that?

So I apologise for my general grumpiness this month. It’s been a very busy one at work, an emotionally gruelling one, an anxious one with the boys going back to school and no seeming respite from grim news worldwide. Next month, with Penelope Fitzgerald and Romain Gary to steady my ship, I hope to have a more pleasant tale to tell.



September Round-Up of Reading

September didn’t bring the much-awaited additional reading time, since my older son did not start school until the 19th, while other real-life items grated annoyingly on my little reading bubble. Still, it’s been a far better month than August and I’ve even managed to write some reviews. But most of the reading has been rather dark…

The beautiful and intense artwork from A Monster Calls by Jim Kay.
The beautiful and intense artwork from A Monster Calls by Jim Kay.

Crimeish fiction has made me travel to modern France, Imperial India, Yorkshire, war-torn Germany, post-war rubble of Japan, remote valleys in Basque country, the school gates in Australia and… Culver Valley in England.

  1. Pascal Garnier: The Eskimo Solution
  2. Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone
  3. Hans Fallada: Alone in Berlin (as part of the Literary Classics Which Are Also Crime Stories on CFL)
  4. David Peace: Tokyo Year Zero
  5. Dolores Redondo: The Legacy of the Bones (review to come)
  6. Liane Moriarty: Big Little Lies
  7. Sophie Hannah: The Narrow Bed

I also started Joanne Jodelka’s Polychrome, set in Poland, and enjoyed it very much for the first two thirds but then lost interest towards the end. So one DNF.

#ReadingRhys meant rereading Smile Please, her unfinished memoirs, and the short story collection Sleep It Off, Lady.

Heartbreakers or books which made me cry, without being mawkish or sentimental, and which I reviewed all together here:

  1. Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls
  2. Louise Beech: A Mountain in My Shoe
  3. Romain Gary: La promesse de l’aube (Promise at Dawn)
  4. Tessa Hadley: Clever Girl

Finally, a book about my personal musical (and creative) hero:

Simon Critchley: On Bowie

So 15 books, of which 1 DNF, half of the remaining ones crime fiction, equal measures of male/female authors, 5 in translation. However, pretty much all of them were quite sad. Maybe I need to cheer myself up with some lighter reading?

Plans for October include: reading more from my Netgalley backlog, which means Gilly Macmillan’s A Perfect Girl, Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes and Nicotine by Nell Zink. Have the feeling they are not going to be all sunshine and butterflies though…











May Reading Round-Up

A lot got read this past month, thanks to almost non-existent internet and inability to do my work, admin or writing properly. But not much got reviewed. I’m still optimistic I’ll get around to reviewing most of them, in bunches if necessary!

  1. Patricia Highsmith: The Two Faces of January
  2. Margot Kinberg: B Very Flat
  3. Elena Ferrante: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (transl. Ann Goldstein)
  4. Tim Weaver: What Remains
  5. Olja Savičević Ivančević: Adios, Cowboy (transl. Celia Hawkesworth) – to be reviewed on for Necessary Fiction
  6. Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow (transl. Margaret Jull Costa)
  7. Elif Shafak: Black Milk – On Motherhood and Writing (transl. Hande Zapsu)
  8. Frédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage (transl. David Bellos)
  9. Catherine Ryan Howard: Distress Signals
  10. Michael Grothaus: Epiphany Jones – to be reviewed for CFL
  11. Michael Stanley: Deadly Harvest – I love this series set in Botswana; no review, but I did a lovely interview with the author duo on CFL
  12. Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child (transl. Ann Goldstein)
  13. Elizabeth Smart: The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals
  14. Peter May: The Fire Maker – to be reviewed for CFL
  15. Jo Nesbo: Blood on the Snow (transl. Neil Smith)
  16. Isabel Huggan: Belonging
  17. Olivier Norek: Code 93
  18. Augusto De Angelis: The Hotel of the Three Roses (transl. Jill Foulston)

9 translated or foreign language fiction, 9 by women writers, no BAME writers. (Although it’s interesting to think that Ferrante,  Ivančević, Elif Shafak, Catherine Ryan Howard, Augusto De Angelis and perhaps Javier Marias would all have been considered ‘the wrong kind of immigrants’ at some point in time –  but hopefully not again in the future.)