I love reading and sharing book-notes with like-minded friends, but I've found the summer to be a particularly fallow patch in my reading capacity. I live in Scotland so I can't blame the weather as a distraction...so if not the weather, then what?
I have been catching up on magazines, and of course, editing my own novel, so perhaps those things are to blame. And time speeds up with each passing year. Everyone knows that, right?
At the start of 2016 I set myself a reading challenge to imbibe *at least* 20 books over the course of the year, and I'm kind of on schedule but I'd like to have read more. Much more. These are on my 'to-read' list, along with a whole bookshelf of reading inspiration:
Then of course, there's the library.
It's like I'm 'saving up' books for a special occasion, the perfect time, their perfect time for me and me for them?
I don't for a second pretend to be on-trend, current, following the 'Top 10', bestseller lists or aligned with any particular genre. I go with what's on my shelf, what piques my interest in the moment.
Here's my reading challenge progress so far (check out my list from the same time last year):
Harley Loco by Rayya Elias
Wow, this was a punch in the face of a book. I read this as a precursor to my first trip to NYC and it set me up for searching out 'the alphabets' and imagining the changes that have incrementally altered the fêted New York landscape that has spawned a thousand super-stars of music, fashion, design, photography, celebrity. Such a powerful story of identity, reinvention, success and addiction - to everything - but mainly to life.
The Siege, Helen Dunmore
The mountains of snow, the desperate cold, the short Russian winter days, the deprivation. I was gripped from the first page and even now, remembering it, I'm transported right back to the simple allotment that helped keep Anna and her family alive. And the honey. The precious jars of honey. There's a sequel on my list: The Betrayal.
The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
This was disturbing and unsettling from the start, and in places infuriating. I wanted to give up half-way through the second part, but I carried on and was quietly impressed by the thread that ran through each of the three parts. Which led me on to...
Winter Journal, Paul Auster
I was intrigued from the start (still in the bookshop), by the descriptions of a life lived through various events, physically experienced through the sense of the body. It was an illuminating insight to Auster's career as a writer and I particularly loved the long stream-of-consciousness sentences filled with emotion and description. I loved the link with New York too, which I could appreciate from having by then visited myself. I've kept it on my shelf because I might just read it again. And I wrote down extracts I'd bookmarked along the way; always a good sign.
…the boredom of waiting for your flight to be announced in airports, the deadly tedium of standing around the luggage carousel as you wait for your bag to tumble down the chute, but nothing is more disconcerting to you than the ride in the plane itself, the strange sense of being nowhere that engulfs you each time you step into the cabin, the unreality of being propelled through space at five hundred miles an hour, so far off the ground that you begin to lose a sense of your own reality, as if the fact of your own existence were slowly being drained out of you, but such is the price you pay for leaving home, and as long as you continue to travel, the nowhere that lies between the here of home and the there of somewhere else will continue to be one of the places where you live.
White Oleander, Janet Fitch
This book was a birthday gift from my mother and I'd heard of it but never sought it out myself. The descriptions were so beautiful to be almost painful, and I had to read some passages twice, sometimes three times so I didn't miss the elegance of each word. I was helplessly captivated by the scent of the title, by the descriptions of each new setting Astrid inhabits, and as soon as I'd devoured the last page, I immediately watched the film and was utterly disappointed in the casting and the ending. How many times do I need to learn this lesson? The film will always spoil the book.
The Italian Girl, Iris Murdoch
This is the first book I've read by Iris Murdoch, despite frequent, fervent recommendations of 'The Sea, the Sea'. I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow, Voltaire & Rousseau on Otago Lane, and the cover appealed to me, as did the title. I raced through it in two nights and can't wait to pass it on to a friend. (The same friend who recommended 'The Sea, the Sea'.)
Artful, Ali Smith
This was gifted to me and I found it intense, a bit awkward, but ultimately a literary education. I bookmarked a million pages to return to and note down the references or the phrases. The premise of the book was clever and haunting and I wish I was as clever as Ali Smith.
At one level reflection means we see ourselves. At another, it's another word for the thought process. We can choose to use it to look into the light of our own eyes , or we can be light sensitive, we can allow all things to move over and through us; we can hold them and release them, in thought. Broken things become patterns in reflection. The way a kaleidoscope works is to allow fragmentary or disconnected things to become their own harmony.
Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou
An autobiographical work of her early family life, this again was the first book I've read by Angelou, a deeply interesting woman who I see and hear quoted all the time. The words were big on the page and big in meaning and I read this quickly (that appears to be the trick). I'm sure I took quotes from this too but I can't find any of them. I remember the fierce passion and love between Maya and her mother, Vivian; it leapt from the latter pages.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
OMG don't get me started on this! I was so late to the party on this and it made me feel like I had to save it up for a rainy day. Then I dived in. I have to admit that I didn't like the style of writing at first, not the diary entry format - I loved that - but there was something about the prose that jarred somehow? I can't put my finger on it and I'm sure people will say that about my writing one day, but then, then (and I hope they say this too), I couldn't put it down.
I was obsessed and had to keep myself 'pepped up' with hits of more 'reveal', squeezing in intense drip-feeds when I was supposed to be doing other things. There was a lot of the 'c' word, and I don't mean Christmas. I couldn't stop saying it after reading this (thankfully, I'm over that now...).
I knew there was a film with Rosamund Pike and so I imagined her as 'Amy' right from the start, and again, as soon I finished reading I watched the film. And I wasn't half as disappointed as I was with the film of White Oleander. In fact I wasn't disappointed at all, #griplit.
Buddha Da, Anne Donovan
A change of pace and I felt I really wanted to read this as the setting is very similar to that of my own novel. I'm not a native Glaswegian so reading in dialect slowed me a little, but I loved this spiritual journey that led me down familiar streets in a new and delicate way. I loved the Buddhist connection as a sporadic meditator who would like to do more, and I loved the ending.
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
After Gone Girl, I felt I had to get on-board with TGOTT. It was compelling in a different way and gripping, yes, but less psychological (for me) than Gillian Flynn's masterpiece. I can't wait for the film starring Emily Blunt as Rachel. I won't be able to resist.
The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami
I got this out of the library in fact, and read it in a night. The illustrations were almost better than the story, which was indeed very strange. Murakami is one of my favourite authors though and I love his fearlessness for delving into his imagination and marrying fantastical concepts and plot lines with seemingly normal occurrences. What could really go awry at the library?
Read it and find out.
This is the bit where I add in another five or ten books because I'm sure I've read more this year but now can't remember and so I'm left with a blank. Why haven't I been writing it down? What is wrong with me? What kind of reader am I; a passive doe caught in the headlights of my own bookcase? Actually, my books were boxed up for a while as I spent five weeks doing DIY in May/June. Maybe that's why I haven't read much? The truth finally reveals itself.
Sane New World: Taming the Mind, Ruby Wax
I was interested in this one as it focuses on mindfulness to unlock the secret of a 'tame' mind. I've never thought of myself as 'normal' and often struggle with an over-excited and unfocused mind, so taming it somehow, by whatever means necessary, is always appealing. I enjoyed this book in that there was a lot of science about the brain and neuroplasticity and the different areas and how they link together. I didn't agree with everything that was said but finished reading with plans to redouble my efforts in the areas of mindfulness and meditation.
And I think the last choice says it all. I've bogged myself down with lots of things and often struggle to plough through non-fiction, even when I'm interested in the topic, as it's not exactly in the category of #griplit is it? Or maybe it is for some people, but sadly, not for me.
I shared a reading-round-up last year, A Blogger's Year in Books exactly a year to the day, today. There's loads of non-fiction in that so maybe I'm just making up excuses?
In other news, I've started a newsletter celebrating words. I've called it 'THE WORD'. Original aren't I?
Sign up in the side-bar or click here.
It's a fortnightly email and the second mail-out goes out this Thursday (because Thursday's words have far to go...)
Thanks for err, reading. Let me know what you're reading right now, and also: what's your favourite word?