Reading challenge 2016 (+ book reviews) by daintydora

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 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:

Reading Challenge 2016

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.
Moving on...

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?

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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?

A Blogger's Year in Books (So far) by daintydora

I love to read, and I love to share my thoughts on the books that I've devoured; especially those with beautiful covers and end papers. In a new literary-link-up devised by Laura Fisher of The Lovely Jumble, myself and a host of bookworm-bloggers will be sharing our Blogger's Year in Books - the journey so far - and celebrating what it is to get lost in a good book - or not...

The Baroness - Inside Cover

Here's my list in roughly chronological order, from January to now (17 in total):

The Mammoth Book of Shark Attacks - Alex MacCormick

OK, I'm a little obsessed by sharks - my Nana was a lifeguard on the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa - and I've been working stop-start-stop-start on my 'family story' of her life and my mother's early life. I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight about sharks, whilst also feeding my fascination for them (see what I did there?)

The book was very interesting, if gruesome in parts. I had a lot of shark-related nightmares while I was reading it.

War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry - Lindy Woodhead

This was a rich and detailed insight into the lives of two famous, female pioneers in the beauty field. It was quite hard-going in places and took me a long time to read, despite it being such an interesting story of innovation and rivalry.

I don't think it was the fault of the book per se, it's just hard sometimes to absorb so much detail in non-fiction form; remembering all the dates and names of those involved. Ultimately it was a huge insight into the lives of these two women and all that they gave us: it was Helena Rubinstein who first came up with the mantra of 'Cleanse, Tone, Moisturise'. Amazing!

The Amateur Marriage - Anne Tyler

It took ages to read this book too (maybe a month) because I wasn't prioritising my reading at this time. I enjoyed it but I kept having to re-read pages because I'd lost the thread of the story. The characters felt real and true though and I loved being immersed in the wartime nostalgia of Polish 'Polka' dances and that first heady sense of falling in love, the backdrop of war, the sense of community. Moving and tragic.

The Good Communist - Doris Lessing

Based around a group of squatters who come together to 'join the revolution' in the early eighties, Alice is a conscientious home-maker who cooks and cleans for her comrades, all in the name of 'the cause'. I was fascinated by the details of life as a squatter and the careful force of Alice's character. I was left at the end with a sense of wanting more (always a good sign), and the story still lingers dark in my mind.

Second Hand Books (by Doris Lessing & Violette Leduc)

In the Prison of her Skin (L'Asphyxie) - Violette Leduc

I'd seen a film of her life and been inspired to read this, though at first I struggled to get into it. She writes in a clever and spare manner using metaphor to convey meaning on subjects that are shocking and revelatory. The story lingered on in my mind after I closed the last page; haunting and sad.

Office Girl - Joe Meno

Crazy, mad, wonderful - I read this in a few days and soaked up the adventurous exploits of the protagonist Odile with delight. Find out what I did, as inspired by her 'guerrilla acts'.

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki

Loved this book - beautiful and mesmerising and once I'd read the first few chapters I couldn't put it down. Read my detailed review.

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir - Cyndi Lauper

An interesting insight into her early life and struggles. I kept having to look up all her music videos as I went along - she has passion and she's never been scared to show it.

Shop Girl - Mary Portas

Little snippets of her early life connected through memories of music, fashion, food and drink, as well as the devastating premature death of her mother which left her bearing the brunt of familial responsibilities. I find this kind of book very inspiring as it proves that so many people experience hard times, setbacks, heartache and are shown 'tough love'. It's what you do next that counts.

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton

A page-turner, Kate Morton really knows how to tell a story. Very evocative and beautiful too, filled with atmosphere and meticulous detail and a castle that whispers with the distant hours...

Snapper - Brian Kimberling

A book about birds and life and finding your path. The second or third chapter had me a bit bored but then I rampaged through to the end in one sitting. Funny and inspiring. Here's a little quote:

On June 22 that summer between five and eleven in the morning I found twelve nests. That's more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. Two were Kentucky Warblers and one was an Ovenbird. The females of both species are deeply crafty."

The Baroness Book Cover

The Baroness: The Search for Nica the rebellious Rothschild - Hannah Rothschild

I found this book fascinating and it led me off in so many tangents, discovering the jazz compositions of Thelonious Monk and wondering about moths and butterflies. It covers a lot of ground and is peppered with sadness.

There was a parallel with Pannonica and my Nana - both set sail for faraway shores on large passenger liners, finding out upon arrival that their mothers' had passed away. That really struck me.

Pannonica lived her life to the full though and took risks and had it all - money, furs, jewels, a Bentley - and was admired. She wasa good person and did so much to help and champion those less fortunate than herself. That was the lasting take-away from this book, and is in itself so beautifully inspiring.

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

Completely hilarious, truly laugh out loud funny - I couldn't stop laughing and read this in a day.

The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion

As above. Maybe not quite as funny, but I was still laughing, a lot, out loud (and the first/only book I've read on a Kindle.)

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

By far the best book I've read this year, I read it within a week. I wrote a detailed review with some of my favourite quotes, including:

She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone."

More, Now, Again - Elizabeth Wurtzel

I've read this before and it is a pretty shocking account of being addicted to Ritalin, amongst other things, and the obsessional behaviour of someone in the grip of addiction. I kept putting it down and reading other books in between but that's probably because I had read it before.

Some of the detail is so extreme I can't believe she was able to remember - and then reflect back on this period in her life - to write the book. I also remember reading her 'Prozac Nation' as a teenager and being riveted.

Henry's Demons - Patrick & Henry Cockburn

Very interesting read. I read it primarily for research purposes but it was an engrossing story told from the point of view of both a father and son, of living with schizophrenia.

Second hand books in Leakey's bookshop, Inverness

I'm surprised by the number of memoir/non-fiction books I've read this year - 8 out of 17. Also by the number of books that I've read that I've found so sad. Am I drawn to that kind of book? Is life - and therefore the mirror that is fiction - just brimming over with sadness?

I think it's interesting to document the books you've read - and also how you felt about them/how they made you feel - to both remember and reflect but also to see how much more you could have read if you prioritised reading a bit more.

I read an article (can't remember where) from a blogger who had deliberately published a list of all the books he'd had time to read while eschewing all television and social media. I rarely spend more than an hour a day watching television, if I watch it all, and I've often said that if I lived alone I wouldn't choose to own one at all.

Food for thought?

And have you read any of these books this year?

Continue the inspiration and find out what the rest of the bookworm-bloggers have been reading:

The Lovely Jumble

Bird and Fox

Nanjing Nian

Blink Blackburn

She Who Rambles

Girl Fifteen

One Small Life

Saint Cardigan

Lisa Berson

Tread Kindly