My performance with challenges has proved less than stellar over the years but I’m doing much better with the TBR Triple Dog Dare sponsored by James at James Reads Books. The Dare asks participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. With only a couple of more weeks to go I’m feeling rather elated about how well I stuck to this plan. The magic key to why this one works and all other TBR challenges I’ve tried have not, is that I can still buy as many books as I want. I just can’t read them yet.
Of the 12 books I’ve read so far this year only two were not already on my TBR. That isn’t bad going for one who usually has the staying power of a mayfly. And there were good reasons for both misdemeanours.
The first slip from the straight and narrow path came in the form of A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which was the book club read at the start of the year. I wish I could say that my stray from the path was worth it but this was a lacklustre read. You can see why in my review.
Happily my most recent lapse was all in a good cause. I requested My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout from the library last year. Finally it came through last week and I’m the first borrower. Ideally I would have liked to hold onto it until the end of the dare on March 31 but there are now so many people waiting for it that the library service is blocking any renewal options. So I had to read it. But it was absolutely no hardship. The book is a joy to read and of you havent got to it yet, dont hang around too long.
But it’s read and returned and I am back on track with the dare, reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin as part of Reading Ireland Month. Another beautifully constructed novel which, after a similarly rewarding experience with Nora Webster, is making me want to read more of Toibin’s work. Anyone care to make a recommendation on which of his books to read next?
Emboldened by my success to date I might stretch it for another month.
My experience with Iris Murdoch’s work has not been a happy one. Maybe I just chose the wrong titles but I found her a bit impenetrable. Hence why I have procrastinated for more than three years about reading her Booker winning title The Sea The Sea. I knew I would have to tackle it at some point as part of my Booker project. But every time I picked up this fairly big book (538 pages of very closely typed text) I found an excuse not to get further than page 5.
The reactions of Andy Miller in A Year of Reading Dangerously compounded my feeling this would be a slog and one maybe I should delay getting to for as long as possible. In essence he said it was a long book with a distasteful protagonist, in which nothing much happened but there were many descriptions about meals (inedible concotions often) and the sea. None of which exactly had me racing to the shelf.
But me and Murdoch have finally squared up to each other.
And you know what? It’s nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.
What’s more – I am actually enjoying it.
Yes it does, in Charles Arrowby, have a narrator I would dread finding sat next to me on a long train journey. But Murdoch makes him deliciously awful, a wonderful satire on a totally self-satisfied, pompous and deluded man. Arrowby has left his glittering career as a theatre director to live in seclusion in a creaky, run-down house by the sea. He spends his days swimming, watching out for sea monsters and making rather disgusting meals. In between he deals with past lovers and encounters his first love, Mary Hartley Fitch. He decides she must still be in love with him. Her marriage must be an unhappy one. It must be his duty to rescue her.
As you’d expect from the title, the sea plays a major role in the book. It’s always beautifully described. As are some of the ridiculously comic scenes when Arrowby’s past loves descend on the house.
Iris, I fear I have wronged you.
Every time I enter the under-the-roof cupboard where I keep my TBR stash, there is one pile of books that looks at me rather accusingly. This is the pile of those I pulled the front intending to read before end of this year. They’re mixture of titles remaining from my TBR Challenge and books I received last Christmas that I feel guilty I still have not read.
From the TBR Challenge I have:
The Sea,The Sea by Iris Murdoch
Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
And on the Christmas gift pile I have:
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
I do want to read all of these. But most of them are big fat books. Nothing like the length of Vickram Seth’s A Suitable Boy which according to this infographic comes in at 593,000 words or Bleak House at 360,000 words. But they’re still rather sizeable. The Sea, The Sea is 560 pages and Abyssinian Chronicles 512 pages (though the type is very small and dense). And that’s causing me to procrastinate and vacillate and end up choosing shorter works.
I don’t normally have any issues with novels over 500 pages long, sometimes they are my favourite reads because I can get fully absorbed the characters in a way that isn’t always possible with short novels. But right now I don’t feel I have the energy for the effort I suspect it will take.
I could of course just take the plunge and decide to make slow but steady progress by reading just one chapter a day. Or give myself a good talking to for being such a wimp. But dear readers, you may have a better strategy to recommend? Do tell me if you have any issues with longish reads and how you overcome them.