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Willoyd's Reading 2022


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On 25/02/2022 at 4:57 PM, France said:

 

I'm with you totally about Harold Fry though.

 

12 hours ago, Madeleine said:

I haven't read Harold Fry but read one of her other books "The Music Shop" and felt the same way about that as you do about Harold Fry.

 

I've found it interesting that, whilst there are hordes of high rating reviews, there is only a very small proportion of low rater ones. Yet, when I start talking to people, literally or virtually, there seems to be a lot of people who aren't exactly fans!  Sort of relieved I'm not alone on this (although that's never stopped me before!).

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March reviews

5 books this month - a bit of a slowdown compared to previous months, but bolstered by some other incomplete reading which will get listed next month probably.  2 more books towards my Read Around the World too.

 

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith  *

A book group read - I wouldn't read a McCall Smith book otherwise after previous goes, and this proved exactly why.  Described as quirkly and pleasantly off-beat by one of the other members of my group, it's an attempt to gently spoof Scandi-noir, being described in the blurb as 'Scandi-blanc'.  I found it trivial, bland, tedious, with the most fragile of plots - more a series of episodes - and shallowest of characters.  I don't think I'll bother again, even if selected for a book group again - there's surely more to life than this. 

 

 His Excellency Eugene Rougon by Emile Zola ****

Not as engaging as other Zolas I've read, but still engaging, with some interesting insight into the politics and social machinations of Second Empire France.  Everybody's on the make and take! A relief, at least, to read this after the previous book.

 

In The United States of America by Abdourahman Waberi ****

My second book for my Reading Around the World challenge, this for Djibouti, and the second book translated from French this month - two heavily contrasting novels!  An interesting concept, where Africa is the first world continent, and the USA and Europe make up the 'third world', one which I would have liked the author to more fully develop, although there were some nicely humorous touches (the Arafat rather than Nobel prize for instance!).   The narrative centres on a white girl, renamed Malaika, adopted into a black African family, who is in search of her own sense of identity, culminating in a visit to the slum city of Paris in search of her birth-mother.  Written in a strongly poetic style, occasionally rather overblown for my taste although that may have just been the translation, it required careful reading to keep a hold of the sense.  I suspect it needs a reread to get the most out of it, but it certainly provided the variety to my usual reading that I started this challenge to find!

 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin ****

A book group choice that took a good hundred pages to really get my head into, being well out of my usual reading comfort zone, and one where I really started to ask myself why it was regarded as a classic of its type - and which a suprising number of sci-fi fans said that they found less than gripping too.  However, once I learned to just let it al wash over me, even if I didn't fully understand what was being described or said, it really grew on me, and by the end I was really glad to have read it - and pretty much all of what I'd been unclear about was sorted out! The last hundred or so pages, effectively a study of the relationship between the two main characters as they traverse the planet's ice cap completely isolated, was both fascinating and evocative of place.  Very thought provoking, and right on the topical nail even given its age, particularly in the issues of gender fluidity that it raises, although I think I enjoyed it most for that relationship study (which the gender question strongly affected).  

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison *****

Another book group choice, and another classic of its type where I started to wonder a bit why it was regarded as such, but which grew on me to the extent that by the end I was distinctly wowed!  Interestingly, I was the only member of this particular group to feel that way, and almost a third of the group failed to finish it.  I do have to acknowledge that I needed to start again more than once, and found the opening pages both more understandable and involving when I returned to reread them having finished the book, but for me it turned out to be a powerful, challenging read, that opened my eyes to aspects of slavery that I'd never really taken on board before - a slow burner that truly came to the boil!  It rewarded careful reading, ensuring I didn't skip or skim!  Morrison does not pull any punches.  This was also my choice for the USA book in my Read Around the World, and by the end this. at least in my book, certainly warranted its place. 

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April Reviews

A little while coming, but this covers the books read in April, a month dominated by the two chunky reads from David Fairer

 

Chocolate House Treason and The Devil's Cathedral by David Fairer ******

The first two books in what is intended to be a trilogy, the third coming out in the autumn.  The author is an ex-professor of 18th century English lit, and his knowledge of and enthusiasm for this period shines through these books.  They are chunky reads, both over 600 pages, but that's as much down to the generous typesetting, making for easy reading, as for these being 'big' books.  In fact they both read very easily, and the second slipeed down in 3, maybe 4, sittings.  Set in the early years of the 1700s, they are centred round a 'chocolate house' in Covent Garden, the residents/regulars of which find themselves embroiled firstly in a highly political murder mystery, and secondly in one centred more on the theatrical world (Drury Lane Theatre being literally just around the corner).  i found it very easy to immerse myself in this world, and was gripped trhroughougt, as much by the atmosphere of time and place as by the plots themselves.  I find it a mystery why the author had to effectively self-publish - these are far better than so many of the so-called thrillers/mysteries that get churned out, but it was interesting to get some insight into this when the author did a session on the second of the two books with my book group (all of whom rated this highly).  I'm really looking forward to number 3 coming out, and have already bought the first as a birthday present for various readers I know!

 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett ****

Read as a 'jubilee choice', this is classic Alan Bennett: a superficially light and easy read that burrows inside the human skin and provoked so much discussion on a variety of topics in the group.  This was a reread, and I actually enjoyed it more second time around.

 

Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham ***

A combined memoir, told through a series of accounts of field expeditions, and introduction to aspects of glacial geology.  Theoretically this should have been right up my street (I have a background in geography-geology), but I actually found this all too ordinary.  It was easy enough to get through - it's fairly slim and the writing was readable enough - but it never grabbed me, and I could have put it down at any time and walked away without regrets.  Good enough to be rated 'OK', but actually rather disappointed.

 

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan ****

A novella which has received rave reviews on so many fronts.  It was certainly eminently readable and there was much to appreciate in the writing and the treatment of such a 'tricky' subject as the Magdalene laundries in Ireland,  Bill Furlong makes a thoroughly credible and interesting protagonist. However, unlike for others, this never really hit the high spots for me - a vey good read, but not enough to be 'great'. I think it's simply because there really isn't enough: it's too short for me, being over almost before it's really begun. It's why I've never really been a short story fan, almost always coming away feeling I want so much more. But what there is, is very good!

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Three months of reading!

It's a very long while since I posted here, so a big one to catch up on three months of reading!  It's been a busy year, and I've not got as much reading done as I usually do, but three months worth is still a fair pile of books, so here goes. With so many to get through, will keep it short and snappy!  (Star ratings out of 6).

 

The Horseman by Tim Pears *****

Read for one of my book groups.  Beautifully written, and very evocative of pre-war rural England - very much in the mould of Thomas Hardy (for Wessex, read Somerset!). For some reason, this took me completely by surprise  Loved this, and intend to read the rest of the trilogy.

 

The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark ****

Another book group read, and in style couldn't be more of a contrast. Classic Spark - very sharp, strong satire, shifting the Watergate affair into a convent, with devastating results.  Not exactly laugh out loud, but darkly very funny.  Her books are almost all very slimline, but she packs a lot into those pages, with some of the leanest writing I know. 

 

The Odyssey by Homer *****

A book I've long intended to read.  As I said on the book activity thread, this took a week or two to read, as it was not one to be rushed.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Macfarlane translation, which had a wonderful rhythm to it.  Took me rather by surprise, as I expected it to be dominated by Odysseus's travels, whilst in fact most of it was set on Ithaca itself, the early chapters well before he even gets there, and with his peregrinations mostly in flashback.  The tempo did seem to flag a bit around two-thirds of the way through, but overall this was a superb read.

 

No Nettles Required by Ken Thompson ***

An interesting, pretty matter of fact, slim volume on a research project investigating garden wildlife, and the effectiveness of different methods of gardening.  Basically, the outcome is that most gardening will have a positive impact, with some of the more 'fancy' techniques perhaps not as productive as one might think - very much the 80-20 rule applying here I think.  Key really is to avoid artificial pesticides, herbicides etc.  A touch repetitive at times, but some interesting insights and myth-busting.

 

The Dutch.House by Anne Patchett ****

One more for the book groups.  I really wasn't inclined to read this for some reason, but settled down late one afternoon and found myself reading it through in pretty much one sitting - it's a while since I did that with a book this size!  Compulsive and really well written, with some real insights into families and compulsive behaviour.  I really must try more of this author's books - one to add to a tottering pile of to reads! 

 

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa *****

The first European book in my Round the World challenge (and also read for a book group - my nomination for an Italian book in translation). This rather grew on me. Initially I found it a mite stodgy and it felt a bit over-written, but the lushness of the writing gradually drew me in. almost overwhelmingly so.  The emphasis not just on colour but on such rich colouration, only served to underline the intensity of the decline of the Leopard's family, and Italian nobility in general.  The ending not only took me completely by surprise, but came almost abruptly - because the book I was reading had some further writings of di Lampedusa at the end which I was unaware of, I hit the last page much earlier than expected!  The last line was an absolute classic.  A book I really need to reread.

 

The Republic of San Marino by Giuseppe Rossi ***

My second European read, this time for San Marino.  Very little is published from this country, and almost none in a language I can read, so I find myself making do with the same book that Anne Morgan did in her Year of Reading Round the World (my inspiration for this challenge).  It's a fairly straightforward short history and guide to San Marino, characterised by some distinctly florid translation, which gives the book a certain character!  Not exactly great literature, but an interesting read and insight to a country I've not had any experience of before.

 

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann *****

And the third European read on the trot, this time for Germany.  A fictional reconstruction of a relationship between two of Germany's greatest scientists: Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Gauss.  Both come over as fascinating if rather obsessive individuals (Kehlmann paints them as almost autistic in their behaviour), and I'm not sure if the relationship itself isn't fictional in itself, but I loved the characterisation and the narrative.  Compared to my previous German reading, this was a lot easier going than normal! 

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang **

This may have been a very slim volume, but I found it comfortably the hardest work of any book so far this year.  My first Asian book going round the world (South Korea), and it proved decidedly peculiar, centred as it was on a wife's total rejection of meat and descent into anorexia, as seen from three different standpoints (husband, brother-in-law, sister), with some equally obsessive behaviour from certainly the male characters, and reflective of a thoroughly patriarchal society (is South Korea really like this?).  I can't say I enjoyed this book, and found it hard to appreciate too. 

 

Walking Home by Simon Armitage ***

The author walks the Pennine Way north to south, homeward bound towards Marsden, working his way along through poetry readings.  His descriptions are as poetic as they should be from the poet laureate, and this was a very enjoyable, very easy read, although I wasn't so sure of his feelings towards others - he was rather too quickly inclined to dismiss or judge. One reading in particular, when he pretty much dismissed some younger members of his audience, was particularly toe-curling, although he did acknowledge that himself on this occasion!  I found his other book Walking Away a rather better read.

 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus *****

Elizabeth Zott is a scientist, a chemist, but this is the 1950s, and she is struggling to get a thoroughly male dominated American world to take her seriously as an academic and researcher.  She lands up hosting an afternoon TV cooking show, and subversively teaching cooking science (and a way of thinking) to her fellow women. Garmus writes with humour and so much zest, that as a reader I was carried along on a wave, almost without pause, to the end.  Not my usual read, but boy did I enjoy it!  Plenty to think about too, not least in how recent these attitudes were (and how some of them are still hanging around).

 

O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker ****

I picked this up after a recommendation on the Book Club Review podcast: both book and author completely unknown to me previously.  The writing is simply superb, the author so adept at bringing the internal life of Janet as she grows from childhood into her teens, a 'problem' at every stage.  And yet, I could never quite get away from the fact that we know from the outset that she has been murdered (it's in the blurb!), and that this is all going to end very badly. It's an interesting take, but for me it overshadowed everything just too much.  But, I can absolutely see why this is regarded by some as a classic - it thoroughly deserves to be regarded as such, and I'm glad to have read it as my Scottish (and eighth) book in reading around the world.

 

 

 

 

Edited by willoyd
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