Reading Challenge 6/12
This month has felt like a bit of a slog to be honest. Since I reached the 150 books mark, I've lost my reading mojo a little bit. I suspect that part of this is because I've effectively completed this year's challenge. However, I think a large part of it is because yet again I've managed to put myself under pressure with the books. It's utterly ridiculous and I should know better by now, but it's about reminding myself that this is meant to be something I do for pleasure and it's ok to take my time with it!
Essentially, having decided that my next challenge would be to read the remaining books on the BBC's list, I looked on the library website to see what was available and just took out the first five that were available. Big mistake! They were all huge and looked a bit scary, even for me! What I also hadn't taken into account was that I was going to spend an entire day trying to source a car for my eldest's Prom, only for it to be postponed 24 hours later, be busy with Makarelle submissions and putting the Summer Issue together. I also didn't know that we were going to exchange and complete on our holiday flat within three days and that we'd somehow managed to book up every weekend between now and the summer holidays, meaning I'm having to do lots of mid-week trips down to Cornwall on my own to make sure it's ready for when we go down as a family! It's all lovely things I have to do, but that doesn't stop them being simultaneously lovely and very stressful! I'm not really complaining - they are VERY much first world problems and I'm privileged that these are currently the biggest worries I have - however, it's all making me very tired. It doesn't help that I haven't really 'enjoyed' two of the most recent books I've read - both of which took me 5 days (each) to read. This may not seem like a lot, but for me it's a really long time! I think the last one that took me more than 2-3 days to read was Edward Rutherford's 'Sarum' which is 913 pages. These were 468 and 657 pages respectively.
To try to combat the feeling of 'what on earth have I got myself into' I decided to chill out a little bit about it all and rather than try to finish the whole list by the end of December, I'd just take it a bit easier and read them as and when I could. That plan was ever so slightly scuppered when someone else reserved one of the books I hadn't read so I had to try and read it before it was due back. However, what I also found useful was to divide the books up by length into short (up to 300 pages), medium (300-600 pages) and long (600+ pages) so I could see that they weren't all monsters. This showed me that of the 38 books I had to read, 13 were long, 16 were medium and 9 were short. Most of the ones I'd got from the library were in the 'long' section so it's no wonder I felt a bit daunted! Next time, I'll make sure I mix it up a bit more, I think!
After consulting with other knowledgable people, I decided that listening to an unabridged audio book wasn't cheating and so I decided to allow myself to use that medium to read some of the books on the list. I've started listening to Richard Armitage read Dickens' 'David Copperfield' on my drives to and from Cornwall and I have to say, I'm enjoying Dickens much more when it's in his voice instead of mine! I am however, going to identify which books have been audios when I write the reviews. Already listened to are: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Wyrd Sisters, High Rise and The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed!
Anyway, on to this month's reviews.
June Book Total:22
Overall Challenge Total: 161/150 (167 incl audiobooks) and 66/100 on BBC 100 list
Audio books (month/year): 1/6
June Book Reviews
The Midnight Palace – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Genuinely eerie. Cross that I didn’t pick up on the twist as it was a simple explanation. Had to keep reminding myself it was a YA novel so wouldn’t get much scarier, but even with the reminders, much of it was still unsettling.)
Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid (This was another recommended book. It examines some of the issues surrounding inter-race relationships (both romantic and platonic) as well as some of the issues non-white people face that white people find impossible to understand the gravity of. All of this is done through the lens of the relationships between the three key characters and their situation. Excellent book, well worth a read.)
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Complete Illustrated Poems – William Shakespeare (thought I’d know more of them than I did. Quite a few were encouraging women to have children or risk being forgotten when they die. Not sure what Queen Elizabeth I would have thought of them!)
Macbeth – William Shakespeare (no one comes out of this covered in glory. The main characters are pretty much all evil, weak or hopelessly naïve. Who thinks, ‘I know, I don’t rust the king, so I’ll run away to England and encourage the English to fight him, but I’ll leave my family behind because they will definitely be safe without me there to protect them’? Lots of the events seem to hinge on the words of the witches. Why is Macbeth so convinced by their prophecies? Did he have ambitions for the throne before they suggested it? If not, why is he so easy to convince? Also – why does he believe he can’t be killed? I know it’s a prophecy but surely common sense would tell you it’s either wrong or designed to trick him into a false sense of security. Everyone can be killed. It’s utterly illogical!
The Two Gentlemen of Verona – William Shakespeare (Has everything a Shakespeare Comedy should have: girls disguised as boys, unfaithful men, a friendship disrupted by the love of the same woman. Felt like a precursor to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I much preferred.)
The Merry Wives of Windsor – William Shakespeare (I wasn’t a huge fan of Falstaff in Henry IV so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this particularly, but I thought it was brilliant. The women are so much cleverer than any of the men and their subversiveness made me chuckle.)
Measure For Measure – William Shakespeare (not my favourite of his plays. Considered a comedy, but I didn’t find the idea of a brother demanding his sister sleep with someone to save his life particularly funny.)
A Comedy of Errors – William Shakespeare (The Bard’s twist on the twins and mistaken identity scenario, but being Shakespeare, why have one set of twins when you can have two? I found it difficult to keep up or care in places. For me, the characters are not as well developed as in many of his other plays.)
Love’s Labours Lost – William Shakespeare (I quite like this one, although I freely admit it’s because I was picturing the Kenneth Branagh film version as I read it. Again, a slightly bizarre ending and definitely a low note considering it’s a comedy, but I like the portrayal of the women in this one.)
As You Like It - William Shakespeare (Enjoyed this one. Can't remember if I've read if before or just read the junior version to one of the kids. Resourceful, intelligent women and a happy ending. What's not to like?)
The House In The Clouds – Victoria Connelly (full review already done on 13th June - found here)
The Haunting of Henry Twist – Rebecca F. John (an interesting concept that looks at the idea of whether souls can migrate. I felt the sexuality issues were glossed over until pretty much the end of the book. Not a flawless book by any means, but definitely worth a read.)
The Secret Notebook - Julia Wild (not saying too much about this yet, as I'll be doing a full review on 12th July, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.)
The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction Of The Classical World – Catherine Nixey (a different perspective on the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. A contradictory description to the one I was taught as a child, but one which makes perfect logical sense. Some of the ‘conversions’ were horrific in nature and it wasn’t always a comfortable read. Utterly compelling though and well worth a read if you are interested in that period of history.)
The Mistresses of Cliveden – Natalie Livingstone (AUDIO - thoroughly enjoyed this inside peek into the lives of the women who have ruled over Cliveden since its construction. I love books like this that talk about the women who are often excluded from the pages of the history books. What I also enjoyed was that the Profumo Affair was set within the context of the story as a whole, not sensationalised and the impact on the innocent parties in this was considered. Well worth a read if you’re interested in either the house itself or the role of women in society through the years.)
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (Book group read. Being an entrepreneur can be a cut-throat business. In this case, quite literally. Strangely, in spite of his self-confessed crime and lack of remorse, we empathise with the narrator. It’s a look at the underbelly of Indian society and politics and it’s uncomfortable reading at times to realise this background is not wholly fictional. However, I do wonder how much it plays into the stereotype of the poorer parts of Indian society. One criticism I read said that the author was ‘that type of Indian Lord Macaulay wanted to create: Indian only by birth but English in spirit.’ I don’t really understand why the book is in the form of letters the Chinese Prime Minister [I think a different, more realistic structure would have worked just as well] and I don’t know how fair the criticism of the author is, or how accurate his portrayal of India is, but this is certainly a compelling read.)
Being Netta Wilde – Hazel Ward (I loved this book. Full review was published earlier today and is here.)
Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Trigger warning: miscarriage, domestic abuse) I think this is possibly my favourite of hers that I’ve read so far. It’s uncomfortable and upsetting reading but it’s so beautifully written that you almost don’t mind. The innocence of the main character was heart-breaking and I just wanted to bring her and her family to live with me. Even her mother, who I would usually have felt needed to be stronger, invoked my sympathies far more than other similar characters have done and I can only put it down to Adichie’s writing. Horrible story beautifully told and well worth reading.)
Hidden Lives – Judith Lennox (Cannot for the life of me remember how I heard of this book, but I’m glad I did because I absolutely loved it. I’d worked out what had happened partway through but that didn’t matter because in many ways that was the least important part of the book. Far more important was the way the characters got to that point. It was also nice that although there was an element of romance in both parts of the story, it wasn’t the main point of either. There was far more to both women than their love lives and neither of them were defined by the men in their lives. Both were unconventional for their time and that felt incredibly important.)
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (Had I not been reading this for my challenge, I’d probably have given up within a hundred pages. I found it slow and difficult to read because of the dialect. By the end of it I still didn’t much care about any of the characters and the ending was quite frankly, bizarre. I’m sure it was making a great point about society and its treatment of ‘the little man’ but I just wasn’t interested in it. Would be a great book to analyse properly but not a pleasurable read.)
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (a new author for me. Started this book very optimistically as I loved some of the descriptive prose. However, it very quickly became wordy and although the whole book is told from one perspective, the constant switching between time periods is sometimes difficult to keep up with. I can see why it’s an award-winner but I found it quite hard to engage with the main character – although I did with some of the minor ones – and it meant I couldn’t read much of it in one go. It’s a book I admired rather than one I enjoyed.)
A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving (This restored my faith that I’m not going to struggle with all the books on the BBC list. I absolutely adored it. I loved Owen himself right from the word go and I ‘needed’ to know what happened to him. It was one of those books where the reader knows the basic outcome from the beginning of the book, but obviously the characters don’t and it captured my attention within the first few pages. Owen is a quirky boy with some unusual ideas and he’s the sort of child I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed teaching. A beautiful book.)
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons (Not sure it deserves the Times’ accolade of ‘very probably the funniest book ever written’ but it was definitely amusing in places and Flora is quite a character. It works very well as a parody but I’m not sure it would have me rushing to read the kind of stories it parodies. The second half is where the story really gets going and I enjoyed the latter half far more than the first. I wasn't sure about Flora at the beginning, but by the end I loved her!)
Favourite Book Of This Month?
Even though it's been quite a mixed bag this month in terms of enjoying books, I've still found it difficult to pick an out and out favourite. However, I'm actually going to cheat a little this month because I'm going to pick joint winners. My first choice is the book I'd originally decided was my book of the month - Hazel Ward's Being Netta Wilde. My second choice is John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany and I found I couldn't miss this one off. When you review a book (especially when the author is still alive) you're always conscious of the desire to be positive if you possibly can and to acknowledge that even if it 'wasn't for you' there are things about it that are very good. However, occasionally there will be a book that you really connect with and in those cases it sometimes harder to write the review because you desperately want people to understand quite how much you were drawn to it. This was the case with both of these books. When I was waiting for Hazel to answer the questions I'd sent her, I was really keen to read her answers and get more insight into her characters. When I finished Owen Meany I was raving about the character to everyone. Both of these books were ones I loved, for very different reasons. Read them both!!