Looking over my reading journal for October and November [my reading journal is basically a list of what I read when, a prompt to memory and an excuse to buy a nice notebook], I realized that I’ve been enjoying reading more lately. And then, flipping back further in my journal and looking at months where I’d mostly read books that were at least OK, but that I remembered more as blah reading droughts, I wondered if my recent enjoyment is partly because I haven’t had as much time to blog, and I haven’t been thinking as much about what I read, just . . . reading for fun. Does blogging make me more critical in the negative sense as well as in the thoughtful/analytical sense? And then my head exploded because my whole life is about reading critically and how that is a pleasure of its own kind and not the destruction of pleasure so how could I be thinking this?! Possibly I’ve just been busy and tired and have needed a break from thinking too deeply. I’m not going to question my vocation just yet. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been having fun with: Continue reading
*the title of this post is a tribute to Vassiliki Veros’ Shallowreader’s Blog. Much as I love deep/close reading, I also admire her insistence that people should read whatever they want, however they want. This week I didn’t want to think much about my reading.
I blasted through Hilary Mantel’s new short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, in a few days. I loved Wolf Hall, but the only contemporary Mantel novel I’ve read, Beyond Black, was too freaking weird for me. This has everything to do with my inveterate taste for literary realism, nothing to do with the novel’s quality. Even when I choose speculative fiction, I prefer a world built through the literary techniques and narrative strategies of realism.
But every once in a while I like to stretch myself, and I found that in short form, Mantel’s weirdness worked for me–or I was up to its challenge. Take the title story. The premise is far-fetched but nothing that couldn’t happen: a woman opens her door for the plumber, and finds instead that she’s admitted a would-be assassin who plans to take aim at the Prime Minister from her bedroom window. While they wait for Thatcher to present herself as a target, they chat and the narrator makes the killer cups of tea. And then suddenly there’s a passage where the story takes off (literally? figuratively? it’s not clear) into another dimension. The narrator shows her guest a door he might use to escape once his task is done (though he’s resigned to being killed by police) and then she imagines him stepping through it into somewhere else–preventing his crime. Continue reading
I didn’t get much reading done in October, but I ended with a bang: waiting up for my teenager to get home from a Halloween party, I had a few solid hours of reading time and finished both the books I’d been reading for the past couple of weeks. And I enjoyed them! I have a feeling that in November I’ll still be too tired and busy to read as much as I want to, but my enthusiasm for reading and my desire to read have been renewed.
Here’s what I read/listened to in October:
Standout Book of the Month
Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake I read this because of Rosario’s review, and I could just leave my response at “what she said.” But of course I won’t. There was a point, about halfway through, when I started to feel that a book about the aftermath of the Norman invasion of England written in an accessible reimagination Old English was a stunt, and that 150 pages of stunt were enough. But then I got hooked again, not by a plot twist exactly, but by the recognition that something other than what I expected had been slowly unfolding all along.
This is, as Rosario says, a kind of post-apocalyptic novel, for Buccmaster’s world has been destroyed and he gathers a small band of men to resist the enemy. But unlike popular YA dystopias, it would not lend itself to a big-budget action movie trilogy. The action that matters, really, is in Buccmaster’s head. And in the end, this book reminded me most of the book on the Congo I read this summer, because it depicts a post-conquest land in which people’s homes, lives, and society are destroyed. People around Buccmaster want a leader, and he wants to be one, but . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it. But there are plenty of places in the world today that show us what can happen when people are unmoored from society and human connections.
I imagine most people reading this are aware of #HaleNo and the decision of some book bloggers (especially in YA and romance) not to run reviews of new books for a short period of time. (If not, here’s Sunita’s post on it, with links to more). Since reviews of new books are pretty much non-existent on my blog, my participation isn’t very meaningful, but this post is my expression of solidarity with their action.
I’m horrified by the incident and the way Ms. Hale has been supported by some people eager to cast amateur reviewers/bloggers as bullies and trolls, but I’m deeply grateful to bloggers for the way they have responded. Some blogger have decided, during the blackout, to focus on what brought them to blogging in the first place: a love of books and reading and a desire to discuss them with others. I’ve enjoyed Dear Author‘s posts on topics like who’s in your book-recommending trust circle, favorite book-to-film adaptations, and authors you miss, for instance.
Perhaps my favorite post has been Miss Bates’s, because so much of what she says expresses my reasons for and attitudes to blogging, too:
primarily, Miss Bates reads romance, she doesn’t review romance. She hopes to inspire fellow-readers to share in her thoughts about romance fiction. . . . She wants her blog to be an account of what she’s reading and how she responded to it and less about whether you, her reader, should, or shouldn’t read a book. She wants to, once again, engage with her reading emotionally and intellectually without worrying about spoilers and ratings and release dates.
My disaffection with bookish social media has made me want to refocus on reflecting on individual books as well. I’m tired of kerfuffles. Continue reading
This has been a really busy fall so far, and I haven’t had much time to read, let alone blog. So now I am going to make some tenuous connections between things I’ve been reading and thinking and call it a post.
Recently I picked up some mysteries from my favorite bricks-and-mortar bookstore. They have a small but nicely-curated mystery section and I usually like what I find there. A. D. Scott’s A Double Death on the Black Isle, the first book I tried from my stash, sounded like just my thing: the series is set in Scotland in the late 1950s, and features Joanne Ross, a newly single mother who has left her abusive husband and taken a job at the local newpaper–both frowned upon in her religious small town. (It’s actually the second in a series). Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its promise, and if I hadn’t paid $15 for a trade paperback, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it. Why didn’t it work for me?