October was a month of reading ups and downs. Fortunately there were more ups than there were downs.
Let’s get the downs out of the way first.
My plan to join Karen and Simon for the #1962club reading week took a nosedive because I couldn’t find the book I had earmarked for that week. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson has been on the shelves waiting to be read for at least twenty years. But do you think I could find it? I looked everywhere but to no avail. I did try to get a copy from the library but it would take too long to transfer it from another branch. Since I operate on the basis that once you stop looking for something, it will suddenly re-appear, I didn’t want to buy another copy. It still hasn’t materialised however…… Very odd that since I was sure I saw it only a month or so ago.
Also on the down side, I had multiple DNFs including three of the Booker prize contenders. This year’s longlist didn’t excite me hugely but I was curious why the Booker judges thought these the best books of 2023. So I ordered a few from the library. I’m still waiting for The House of Doors by Tan Twang Eng to arrive but the other four I requested —Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein, How To Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney and A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ — were all returned with barely 50 pages read from each. Was I just unlucky in choosing titles that were not the strongest novels on the list or is this a reflection of a significant discrepancy between my views and those of the judges about what constitutes a really good book.
There were three other books that I abandoned.
- The Ardent Swarm by Lara Vergnaud: This was my third attempt to read this book (do I get brownie points for perseverance?). It’s an allegory about a North African country whose transition from dictatorship to democracy is being de-stabilised by hostile forces. The parallel between fundamentalists who try to skewer the elections and a killer strain of hornets that besiege and destroy the hives tended lovingly by Sidi, is just too obvious.
- Katherine of Arragon by Alison Weir: My reading habits have clearly changed since the years when I lapped up every novel about the Tudors that I could lay my hands on. I suspect it’s because Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy set the bar so high, that everything else, pales by comparison. This — the first in Weir’s six wives of Henry VIII series — is clearly well researched but it just failed to engage my attention.
- White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Doyle: Normally I enjoy books about people who love buying and reading books but this didn’t hit the mark for me at all. It’s a memoir about Doyle’s passion for Picador titles published in the 1970s through to the 1990’s. He’s such an enthusiast that he travels across the UK, always on the hunt for those treasured white-colour spines. Some sections were enjoyable — when he talks about the ephemera he often finds secreted between the pages — but there wasn’t enough in the book to keep me reading
Enough of the downs, let’s talk about all the positives in my October reading journey.
I’m reading far fewer books each month than I have in years gone by, partly because I’m too busy during the day at too tired at night. I could get through more books if I moved the reading speed up a gear but I see little point in doing that. I’d only forget what I was reading. So I’m not going to get stressed about how many/how few books I read each month/year. I prefer to just enjoy what I do manage to read.
Books read in October
- The Snow Hare by Paula Lichtarowicz: Set in southern Poland Lichtarowicz focuses on a young girl whose ambitions to become a doctor are thwarted by an accident. She’s pushed into a marriage with an army officer she doesn’t love and then into motherhood. As world war 2 breaks out she and her family are forcibly moved to a labour camp where, in this most unlikely of places, she discovers true love. It’s a reasonably interesting novel but takes too long to fully get underway.
- The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi: You don’t have to be a big consumer of crime novels to know they follow certain general “rules”. In Pavesi’s novel a mathematics professor identified all the permutations of the genre — the number of suspects, victims, killers etc. And then wrote a series of detective stories each based on one of his permutations. But suspicions about these stories are aroused when an editor with a London publishing house visits the author in his island retreat. if you’re looking for an enjoyable book that isn’t too taxing (maybe after that large Thanksgiving turkey or Xmas pudding), this would be a good choice
- The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley: I am fast becoming a dedicated fan of Elizabeth Jolley’s fiction. This is the third novel by her that I’ve read and it’s a gem. Despite the title, it’s not about a newspaper or even a news reporter in the accepted sense of the word. Instead “we meet “The Newspaper” is the name given to an old cleaning lady by her clients in Claremont Street. They also call her “Weekly” because of her habit of spreading gossip and “news” from all the houses she visits. It’s funny but just like in Jolley’s other novels, there is an unsettling side to this humour. Highly recommended!
- Nada by Carmen Laforet: Apparently, this story of an orphaned young woman and her experience of life with relatives in a squalid house in Barcelona, is loosely based on the author’s own life. It’s bleak yet also has touches of humour mainly because the atmosphere of the house and the antics of the inhabitants are so brilliantly drawn . Absolutely wonderful book.
If I had to pick a favourite from this group it would be the Elizabeth Jolley, closely followed by Nada.
Explore the World
Reading Nada means I can tick off another square (the one for Europe) on my Wanderlust Bingo card. I’ve been reading another which will count for the Polar Regions square (The Land of Snow And Ashes by Petra Rautiainen is set in the Lapland region of Finland) but since I didn’t finish it during October, I’ll include it in my November update. I may even finish the card by the end of this year…….
That’s it for October. November is a busy reading month with both Novellas in November and Non Fiction November. I have two novellas by Hubert Mingarelli, lined up for the first and some reviews of memoirs to write for the second. And there’s the non inconsiderable task of reading the 700 pages of Armadale by Wilkie Collins which is my Classic Club spin. It’s going to be a busy month…..