It doesn’t seem that long since I was making plans for 2023. And now here we are half way through the year already. I say “plans” but in fact I deliberately chose not to set specific goals for this year. Instead I came up with four general “directions”.
I’d love to say that these worked out brilliantly, but I’d be kidding myself. Here’s where things stand as of end June 2023.
Read What I Own: The idea here was to put more focus on reading what I already own. I’m reasonably pleased with the progress here having read 11 books that I owned before Jan 2023.
Explore the World: Hmm. Though I’ve read authors from Iceland, Japan, South Korea and Trinidad so far this year, none of these are “new countries” in my quest to read more widely around the world. My Wanderlust Bingo card has also stalled. I don’t anticipate that situation changing before the summer is out because there are no new countries on my #20booksofsummer reading list. Maybe things will change in autumn and winter .
Get Those Reviews Done: Back in January I said “I’m going to make a conscious effort to write them [reviews] in a more timely fashion — while they are still fresh in my mind and I don’t have to rely on my notes. Ideally I’d like to have them written within a month of finishing the book.” Well that has worked brilliantly I don’t think. I still have nine reviews outstanding from this year and eight from last year.
If this were my end of term school report, it would clearly be marked “could do better”. But I’m not going to get downhearted about this — there are worse things happening around the world for me to worry about than my lack of reading progress.
Let’s see if there is brighter news elsewhere from my reading year so far……
Reasons to be Cheerful?
Total Books Read: 24
Way down on previous years because taking me so long to read each book. I get to bed with great intentions of becoming absorbed in my latest book, only to find the eyes drooping after 15 minutes. I could read more quickly if I found time during the day but it isn’t easy to carve out space between gym, gardening, walking, voluntary work, meeting friends and — my latest interest — making patchwork quilts for children in distress.
State of The TBR: 268
Eleven less than at the start of the year. Progress may be slow but at least it’s progress so I’m happy.
I’ve tried really hard not to add to my collection and managed to stay away from Net Galley for about four months and resist the lure of second hand book outlets. But in the end I succumbed to temptation. Good thing that I chose to let some unread books go to new homes via a charity shop.
Best Book I’ve Read so Far
I’m torn between Fox Fires by Wyn Menmuir and If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. Reviews might be forthcoming on both of these soon but don’t hold your breath.
The atmosphere in Fox Fires is just as extraordinary as that encountered Menmuir’s first novel, The Many (see my review here). The setting this time is the mysterious city of O, an ancient settlement constructed as a labyrinth to protect it from invaders. Through its unnamed streets the 19-year-old daughter of a world-famous concert pianist tries to find the father she never knew. There’s a Kafkaesque quality to this fictitious world, blended with references to Greek mythology.
McGregor’s debut novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, focuses on the histories and lives of the inhabitants of one street in a London suburb. They all witness or experience a remarkable event one summer day but we don’t get to discover the nature of that event until the final pages. This isn’t a suspense novel at all but McGregor’s ability to keep us engaged in his characters’ lives until the revelation is astonishing.
Biggest Disappointment So Far
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Richard Flanagan previously so had expectations that The Unknown Terrorist would be just as enjoyable. The premise was interesting — a pole dancer gets caught up in the hunt for a terrorist in Sydney — but the messaging about media manipulation and political shenanigans was too obvious and heavy handed.
I’ve had Arnold Bennett on my radar for many, many years but was discouraged by descriptions of him as a verbose, ultra-detailed realist author. The Classic Club spin in Spring, got me over the hurdle when it landed on The Old Wives‘ Tale Yes it was detailed but once I got beyond the opening pages it was wonderful. This is a tale about the lives of sisters Constance and Sophia Baines, tracing them from their teenage years as daughters of a draper in a northern England industrial town, to their separate lives in adulthood and through to their reunion in old age. It’s a terrific character study but also shows how the world around them changes.
Favourite New Author
I’m keen to read more by Arnold Bennett. Fortunately there are six more novels set in the same fictionalised community depicted in The Old Wives’ Tale.
This year marked my first venture into the Strangers and Brothers series written by C P Snow. Published between 1940 and 1970, his novels dealt with – among other things – questions of political and personal integrity, and the mechanics of exercising power. I bought the whole set as Penguin editions about twenty years and did begin reading one of them but gave it up after only a few pages. The 1940 Club reading week organised by Karen and Simon, spurred me into giving Snow a second go. George Passant, the first in the series to be published, was a much better experience; a story of a solicitor brought down by his idealism and naivety.
How has 2023 been for you so far? Let me know whether it’s turned out the way you planned or if there have been surprises along the way.