I’ve had a month free of reading events so am feeling more relaxed than I was when I wrote one of my “What I’m Reading” episodes at the start of April. By the time this month is over, i’ll be ready to step into the reading event arena again. Perfect timing since June marks the start of 20 Books of Summer 2021 hosted once more by Cathy at 746books.
This is now a well-established event on the reading calendar but for anyone not familiar with it, 20 Books Of Summer runs from June 1 until August 31. The idea is to pick 20 books that you aim to read during those three months. If 20 books seems too much of a stretch, there are options for 10 and 15 books.
I’ve yet to manage 20 books – last year’s summer reading was my best ever, with 15 books completed. The chances of getting to 20 are very low, particularly since this year my reading seems to have slowed right down. So I’ll aim for 15 again and we’ll see what happens.
You all know by now that I hate reading from a pre-defined list of books, much preferring the free and easy approach to deciding what to read next. But in the spirit of 20booksofsummer I had to come up with some kind of a list. I loved the idea Annabel of Annabookbel came up to get around her similar dislike of reading lists. She’s just going to read whatever takes her fancy from her bedside bookcase.
I’ve tweaked that idea a little since I don’t have a bedside bookcase. I went along my main bookcase (recently re-organised in alphabetical order) and picked one author from each letter of the alphabet. I deliberately didn’t spend much time debating what to include and what to leave out. I just pulled out a few books from each letter, looked at the synopsis and went with the book that called most strongly to me.
Since I didn’t have physical copies of books by authors to match every letter of the alphabet, I expanded my selection with a few e-books in an attempt to clear a backlog of titles acquired via Net Galley. And I’ve allowed for two selections from my book club.
Which gives me a grand total of 30 titles from which to choose for my summer reading.
Although I didn’t plan it this way. I’ve ended up with a pleasing mix of genres: a couple of classics, two non-fiction and a few crime/thrillers. There are two Virago Modern Classics (perfect for the Virago in August event) and two novels that will fit the bill for Women In Translation month. I’m delighted too with the geographic spread of authors, from France, Catalonia, Ireland and Wales (of course) to South Africa, Canada and India.
So let’s see what we have.
First Group of 10
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam: set in the midst of an immigrant Pakistani community in a northern English town where a pair of lovers disappear and are believed murdered.
Stone in A Landslide by Muriel Barbal: Translated from Catalan, this novella is the life story of Conxa, who is sent away from home as a child to live with and work for her aunt and uncle. The love she finds is thwarted by the Spanish civil war.
The Litten Path by James Clarke: This is a debut work set in a mining community and is described by Salt as “Grimly honest and tender, tough and lyrical, comic and painful, it is about class friction, the clash between the urban and the rural.”
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor: A 2004 Booker-prize shortlisted novel set in a post-apartheid South Africa presided over by Nelson Mandela.
The Lifted Veil by George Eliot: A dark fantasy woven that picks up on Eliot’s interest in science. it’s a tale of an egoccentric, morbid young clairvoyant and his fascination for a woman.
The Hill Station by J. G Farrell: I wish there were more novels by Farrell but his sudden death in a fishing accident means there are just seven novels and one unfinished work. The Hill Station is the is the novel on which he was working at the time of his death.
The Spire by William Golding: I think I’ve read this before but can’t remember much about it other than it’s about a Dean who believes God has chosen him to erect a great spire on his cathedral. He perseveres with the plan despite objections that the cathedral was built on marshland and can’t support added weight. It’s loosely based on Salisbury cathedral which was just around the corner from where Golding worked as a schoolteacher.
Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hossain: This story is set around the time of the Indian partition (1930s and 40s) and features Laila, the daughter of a wealthy Muslim man, who is being brought up in purdah. As the political climate changes so do the opportunities for Laila and she seizes the chance to live an independent life.
A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa: I have non fiction November to thank for this book’s presence on my shelves. Ishikawa was born in Japan to a Korean father but repatriated as a boy to the “paradise” of North Korea. This is his account of his life and experiences in this most secretive nation.
The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena by Elsa Joubert : Bought during a holiday in South Africa (remember holidays??), this novel has been voted as one of the hundred most important books published in Africa during the last millennium. Although it is a work of fiction, the novel is based on a true South African story about a woman’s experience of the apartheid era during which she is forcibly resettled in townships hundreds of miles from her home.
Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf: The second novel by a Catalan author to feature in my list, Kopf’s debut work reflects her deep interest in polar explorers.
Family Album by Penelope Lively: I’ve not read much of her work but on the basis of the two books I have read, I’m hungry for more by Lively. This novel gives us a series of snapshots from the lives of a large upper-middle class family growing up in their somewhat ramshackle home
Tangerine by Christine Mangan: It wasn’t the description of this as “a gripping psychological literary thriller” that caught my eye, but the setting of Tangiers in the 1950s.
The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu : One of the books I bought during my last visit to a real bookshop before Covid intervened and such palaces of joy were denied to us.
In The Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje: The central character in this novel is shown interacting with some of the characters who featured in Ondaatje’s The English Patient, one of my favourite Booker Prize winners. This novel takes place in Toronto in the 1920s amid the dispossessed immigrants who labour to build the city’s infrastructure.
Breach by Olumide Popoola: Commissioned by Pereine in August 2016, this book was based on interviews conducted at the Calais refugee camp in France. with refugees, the volunteers who support them, and the local people who want the camp closed.
Callum by E Arnot Robertson: a 1926 novel of a young woman’s first doomed love affair
The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott: This was recommended to me by a fellow book club member who named it as one of her favourite reads of 2019. It focuses on Harry who takes photographs of the graves of the dead soldiers from World War 1 to send to families, so that they can see where their loved ones lie.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: A domestic saga in the sense it covers several generations of the Whitshank family of Baltimore. That description doesn’t make it sound all that interesting but Tyler is a great storyteller so I suspect there will be many more layers to this novel.
The Way of the Women by Marlene Van Niekerk: We’re back in South Africa for a novel that was originally published under the title of Agaat. An old woman, confined to her bed by a deadly paralysing illness, confined to her bed, struggles to make herself heard by her maidservant and now nurse, Agaat. As death draws near, she looks back on good intentions and soured dreams, on a brutal marriage and a longed-for only son scarred by his parents’ battles, and on a lifetime’s tug-of-war with Agaat.
The Final 10
This group includes two place holders for books that will be chosen by the book club in June and July and five e-books.
Educated by Tara Westover: The second of my non-fiction choices, Westover’s memoirs were became a New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for a number of awards. She gives a startling account of her upbringing within a fundamentalist Mormon family and her decision to break away from that life.
Frog by Mo Yan: A complex novel about China’s one-child policy by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012
Pot Luck by Emile Zola: I’m long overdue an encounter with Zola and though this isn’t the next in the sequence of his Rougon Macquet cycle, it appealed to me more than some of the others I have on the shelves. Zola recounts the activities of the residents of a Parisian apartment building, a relatively new housing arrangement in the 1880s. The book’s title (roughly translating as stew pot) reflects the disparate and sometimes unpleasant elements that lurk behind the building’s new façade.
And the ebooks
Dangerous Women by Hope Adams: a work of historical fiction based on the real-life experience of 180 female convicts sentenced in 1841 to transportation to Van Diemen’s Island (now called Tasmania). One of them is murdered during the voyage. More of interest however, are the portraits of the individual women and the circumstances that put them on the road to a criminal record.
The Vanishing Sky by L Annette Binder: A World War II novel as seen through a German lens, a story of the irreparable damage of war on the home front, and one family’s involvement in a dangerous regime.
The Mission House by Carys Davies: I couldn’t possibly have a reading list that ignores Welsh authors and they don’t come much better than Carys Davies. Her novel takes place at a hill station in South India where a British librarian arrives seeking an escape from his life in south-east London. But religious tensions are brewing and the mission house may not be the safe haven it seems.
The Happy Family by Jackie Kapler: Due for publication in the UK on 4 June, this is a psychological thriller of a girl abandoned by her mother at the age of 10. One day her mother turns up on the doorstep. The two begin to rebuild their relationship but some strange things begin to happen.
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny: I can’t resist the opportunity to meet up again with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the magical Canadian community of Three Pines. This is book 17 in the series, due for publication in UK on August 24.