What I’m Reading : Episode 34, May 2021 – from Brit Bennett to William Golding
It’s the final Wednesday in the month so time for another episode of What I’m Reading. An opportunity to share what I’m reading now, what I just finished reading and what’s next on my reading horizons.
What I just finished reading
Last night I reached the final pages of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It was supposed to have been finished three days ago in time for the book club discussion but I ran out of time and was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to rush the last half of the book.
It’s been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, deservedly so because Bennett’s novel is a fluid and engrossing tale that tackles issues of identity, family bonds and racial “purity”. It’s narrative focuses on identical twin sisters who grow up in a small town populated by light-skinned African Americans “who would never be white but refused to be treated like Negroes”. Though the sisters become physically separated, their fates remain intertwined.
It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
What I’m reading now
I’m slowly making my way through The War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line by David Nott. It’s a quite extraordinary account of decades spent as a volunteer medic in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Sarajevo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria: there’s barely been a war in the last 25 years in which he hasn’t been involved. You have to ask why someone would volunteer to put themselves in such a position of risk. “It is a kind of addiction,” he says in the prologue, “a pull I find hard to resist.”
Tonight I’m planning to make a start on the books I’ve chosen for 20booksofsummer (in my case it’s more likely to be 15 books). Two books from my ‘shortlist’ of 30 titles have been calling to me:
The Spire by William Golding: a shortish novel 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.
Stone in A Landslide by Muriel Barbal: a 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. I’ve not had a great success with Spanish literature to date but maybe this one, being by a Catalan author, will work out better.
On balance it’s likely I’ll be settling down in the company of Mr Golding tonight.
What I’ll read next
You all know by now that I prefer freewheeling to having a firm reading plan so the books I mention here as being on my reading horizon are at most just possibilities.
Somewhere in the next few weeks I will be reading the next book club choice – it’s out for a vote among the members right now. The options are:
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
The Mission House – Carys Davies
Actress – Ann Enright
The Woman In The Purple Skirt – Natsuko Imamura
Mermaid of Black Conch – Monique Roffey
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
What’s Left Of Me Is Yours – Stephanie Scott
Animals Of Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey
When The Stars Go Dark – Paula McLain
Jack – Marilyn Robinson
Beyond that it’s going to be back to the 20booksofsummer list. I might choose The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. It’s book 17 in her crime fiction series set in Canada and I have a review copy. Though it’s not due for publication in UK until August i have a yearning to be re-acquainted with the delightful world of Three Pines in which many of the books are set. I’m also feeling the pull of 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).
What are your reading plans for the next few weeks? I know many people tend to change their reading habits depending on the season – do you consciously read different genres during summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere right now)?
25 thoughts on “What I’m Reading : Episode 34, May 2021 – from Brit Bennett to William Golding”
It looks like I need to read Vanishing Half. How many ‘best book I’ve read all year’ are there?
HaHa – the answer is ‘not many’. Probably no more than half a dozen a year rise to the level of knock out books
I’m a freewheeler, too. I have plenty of books on hand but lately have seen a few that I definitely want to buy. The Gamache books are always on my preorder list. They’ve gotten better and better.
Not on the whole a range of books I’m likely to pick up but I’m willing to be persuaded after you’ve critiqued them! I do know I’ve been wanting to read some Golding for some time but could never settle to a title.
As you may know from one of my posts I’m going to be relaxed about what I read this summer — less prescriptive (even though I’ve selected a few possible novels) and less obsessive about posting (I’ve been managing one every two days for several months now). We’ll see what we see!
I think you know that I am working my way through re-reading Charles Dickens novels, illustrated by Charles Keeping. Some 40 or so years ago The Folio Society asked members for suggestions of pairings between authors and illustrators. This was mine.
Sorry for the slow response Derek, the spam filter blocked your comment for some strange reason. You said this was your suggestion for a pairing but I didn’t see what you actually suggested. some text missing I think?
Some 40 or so years ago The Folio Society asked members for suggestions of pairings between authors and illustrators. This was mine.
Have now cut and pasted from the original comment
I like the idea of The Spire. Seems very interesting. I don’t read based on the season. Where I live, the weather is pretty much the same throughout the year. I am currently reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith – which is going quite nicely so far.
I’m on the fence as far as Zadie Smith is concerned. I sort of like her work but not enraptured by it
I have read some great reviews for The Vanishing Half, so I think it is time to add it to my TBR. I am also going to start on my 20 Books of Summer in a few days.
I’ll be interested to see what book you start your summer reading with Carla
I enjoyed The Vanishing Half very much too and also liked Stone in a Landslide.
I have Roffey’s Mermaid book to read and Hamnet, they seem like good choices for summer reads. Happy Reading.
Hamnet is wonderful – hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Nearly all our book club members seem to have read and enjoyed the Roffey but I’m afraid mermaids are not my thing at all
So glad you have a copy of The Madness of Crowds! It reminded me to go put it on hold at my library, we can do this as soon as it’s on order. Already 9 people ahead of me, but they are probably goin to buy many copies, so hopefully, I won’t have to wait too much.
I recently posted my list of 20 books of summer.
We can put a reservation on a book that is on order too. For the really popular ones you have to get in fairly quickly or you’ll be a long way down the list
Your book club has quite a range to choose from. I enjoyed The Mission House. Glad to hear that The Vanishing Half lives up to all the hype.
The voting is now done so June will be Hamnet and then July it will be Mission House.
II read/reviewed Less by Andrew Sean Greer. I am counting the moments until Robert Bathurst begins reading Madness of Crowds to me. I have finally adjusted to him plummy voice reading the series (the first man who read it, and do so beautifully, died)
I’ve listened to only one book in the series (the Beautiful Mystery) – all the rest were in book form. The narration was so good and the descriptions of the Gregorian chants so evocative I went and bought a CD of chants ….
That was my first book in the series–my Mom all but forced me to read it because I love chant. I went back and started at the beginning and LOVE the whole series–heck his wife is even a librarian!
By an astonishing coincidence it was my first book in the series too
I enjoyed Less very much. I thought it was funy and very moving.
I’d not heard of it until it was suggested by one of the club members