Reading plans

Sample Sunday: Bleak and Wintry

Sample Sunday is when I dig into my virtual and physical TBR, trying to decide which books to keep and which to let go. The idea is to help make sure I am giving shelf space to books I’m genuinely interested in reading. I’m now onto books whose titles begin withe letter W. i know we still have a few days of summer remaining but the shelves tell me it’s winter…..

World’s End by Upton Sinclair

When I bought this back in 2020 I didn’t realise it was the first part of a series which Goodreads describes as a “monumental series that brings the first half of the twentieth century to vivid life. A thrilling mix of history, adventure, and romance,” By monumental they weren’t just thinking about scope (it deals with the political history of the Western world, particularly Europe and America from the early 1910s to 1947). There’s also the question of the number of pages.

There are 11 books in all — mostly now out of print — featuring the character of Lanny Budd, a suave art dealer who finds himself in the middle of dramatic events. World’s End alone is 900 + pages in my e-book edition and if they’re all about the same length that’s an awful lot of pages.

Some reviews on Goodreads mention that it’s a well-researched insight into American history in the twentieth century. I’m woefully ignorant on that front so maybe this could be a way to fill in some gaps. . 

The Verdict:  Keep for now. I’ll try a few chapters to decide if I like the style. If not, it can be released.

Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold

Another historical fiction novel set against the background of the 1940s. Published in danish in 1972, the English edition didn’t materialise until 2016. The “men” of the title are brothers who are haunted by guilt over their involvement in the Nazi regime. One was a soldier, the other was coerced into informing for the Gestapo.

The Verdict: Do I need another book about the atrocities of World War 2? Part of me thinks no. But I also realise I’ve read very little on this topic as seen from German eyes. So I might be interesting. It’s a maybe though because it will come down to the writing style.

Winter by Ali Smith

I held off reading Smith’s season-related novels until all four had been published. Now I’m not sure i want to read any of them! I did try Autumn but it didn’t grab me so I laid it aside . As time has progressed I haven’t felt an urge to pick it up again which makes me question if there is any point in keeping Winter? Can the books be read independently or are they connected in some way?

The Verdict: I’m unsure what. to do about this one. I’ve read two previous novels by Ali Smith with mixed views. How to Be Both was excellent but I didn’t much care for NW. Is Winter going to be the book that turns me into an Ali Smith fan?

What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? I could do with some insight from people who have read any of these books. So please help me out by leaving a comment


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

9 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Bleak and Wintry

  • Not sure I can help, except to say I agree with all three of your verdicts, even though I haven’t read the books. Regarding the Upton Sinclair, it will be a major commitment and one needs to be up for it. Also, I too now question whether or not I need to read yet another WWII book. I’ve read so many. The few I’ve read from the German perspective have been fascinating, so perhaps that’s a notable qualifier. And Ali Smith? I can’t get myself to read her. Can’t explain it!

  • I can’t help much here. Ali Smith is the only author here I’ve read, and like you, I’m very ambivalent. I’m not sure about reading ANY books about winter yet, I’m still waiting for summer.

  • I can’t really help with Upton Sinclair except that I read The Jungle a long time ago and was very impressed. Even now, there are scenes that are vivid in my memory. But whether I’d be up for an entire series like that, I don’t know. (Wikipedia describes him as a muckraker author, which means I think that whoever wrote that didn’t like his politics.)
    We are on the same page with Autumn. Ok, but not great, and I bought Winter when it was remaindered, but I’ve never got round to reading it either.

    • I just looked at a summary of The Jungle which does sound good. According to Wikipedia, proceeds from that book were used by him to set up a colony which was meant to be a utopian society. But you could belong only if you were non-Jewish and white – not a man I would want to spend any time with

      • Oh, the perils of finding out more about an author! What I meant by my allusion to his politics was his socialist politics which were and are still anathema in the US. I didn’t know anything else about him, only what could be gleaned from reading the book. I’ve always admired The Jungle for the way it exposed the awful working conditions of new migrants in Chicago, even down to the way they preyed on each other. It was a book that sprang from the same anger about exploitation and cruelty as Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. (Orwell, I’m sorry to say, was antisemitic, and racist too, by today’s standards though progressive for his own day. )

  • I haven’t read any of these, although I have read Smith’s Autumn. I enjoyed it but not enough to read the other three. I have Winter Men, an Amazon First choice in 2016, but haven’t read it yet. I’ll be interested to see whether you decide to read it.

    • Thanks for the insight about Autumn, Margaret. It clearly wasn’t striking enough because otherwise you’d have been itching to get to the next one

  • Teresa Chatterton

    Isn’t NW Zadie Smith?

    • Oops! yes you’re right. I always muddle up my Smiths!!!


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