New Year Resolutions and Summer Reading

A Fresh Start

I’ve been going back to school almost every September of my life, so this is a much more natural resolution-making time for me than January 1. There are all kinds of things I plan to start up/get back on track (far too many, as always), and one of them is blogging.

I thought of this summer as a fallow period. I checked in regularly on work email and managed some ongoing tasks there, but I didn’t really think about work or plan for the tweaking of my course that I scrambled to do in the last two weeks of August.

I went for walks, ran errands, puttered in the garden, and sat on my back deck looking into the trees and reading. I vaguely thought about blogging, but the part of my brain that could dig into ideas about books and reading was vacant. I miss thinking, though, and it’s time to start doing it again. Fingers crossed! (I mean sometimes I wonder if I still can think . . .).

Reading Goals?

I have 13 prompts left for the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge (out of 50), so I may actually finish it–especially now I’ve remembered there are four months left in 2018, not three! I’m not sure I want the rest of my reading year to be so heavily shaped by those prompts, but we’ll see.

In my semester-prep frenzy, I ordered a bunch of books on teaching composition and suggested to a colleague that we start a reading group of some kind. We can dream big before the reality of the midterm workload sets in! I’m up in the self-evaluation rotation this year: it’s a formative project, and I want to do something on incorporating more reflection on the writing process and how that might help students transfer their skills to other courses. Some of my work reading relates to these topics. So I may post some on that too.

Summer Reading

You can see mini reviews of books I read this summer on Goodreads. There weren’t any 5-star standouts, but a lot of solid 4-star reading. I feel nostalgic for last summer when I took on the Booker longlist and discovered some books I absolutely adored. This year I didn’t try Booker reading, partly because I was on vacation later in the summer. My library has very few of the books longlisted. I’ve requested a handful that appealed to me, but they’re still on order–which means they will probably all arrive at once during the first week of school.

Highlights of summer reading:

  • Last summer vacation, I started Dorothy Dunnett’s Queen’s Play, but set it aside for the Booker longlist and never went back. This year I picked it up again, made good headway while away on vacation, and finished it on my return. I had mixed feelings: I think I would have adored Lymond had I read these when I was younger, but now I find him kind of exhausting and annoying. He’s a little too perfectly perfect. However, the end of Queen’s Play suggested that some of the book’s characters felt the same way, and that a reckoning with human fallibility might be coming for him. I have already bought The Disorderly Knights, so my quest to read the Lymond Chronicles continues.
  • I read The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively while staying with my parents, and as a result it really resonated with me. They downsized from their 18th-century house this spring, and while their new place is just right for them, the visit involved some nostalgia and mourning. It also meant finding familiar things in new places–furniture and art that had been in my childhood home, my grandparents’ homes–and lots of discussion of their origins. (Who was Aunt Ditty of Aunt Ditty’s Table, anyway?) What does that have to do with Lively’s novel, you ask? It’s about Anne, a history teacher who travels back and forth one summer to visit her dying father and begin sorting through his house–in the course of which she discovers things that make her reconsider her view of her family. There’s lots of reflection on what we value from the past, on memory and loss, on how or whether the past influences us. It was a case of book meeting reader at just the right moment, and I loved it. Years ago I read Lively’s City of the Mind, and now I wonder why I haven’t read more of her.
  • I read more romance! Not a ton, but more than I have for a while. It was a mixed bag, but I hope I am finding my way back to enjoying the genre. The standout here was Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords, a debut that falters some in the second half, but has many of the strengths of her later work.

What was your favorite book of the summer? (Or for my Southern hemisphere friends, your winter?)



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5 Responses to New Year Resolutions and Summer Reading

  1. Sunita says:

    You blogged! How wonderful. I’ve been reading a lot and posting my reactions on Goodreads but that’s it, I haven’t blogged in months either. I did manage to read a ton over the summer. My summer was very broken up and I substituted reading for writing, which was not good for my research productivity but probably good for my brain. I’ve been reading a lot of lit fic, although I also read and enjoyed the occasional romance and novel with romantic elements. In the latter category I also came very late to Butterfly Swords and loved it; Nicola Cornick’s latest, The Phantom Tree, an audio reread of The Quiet Gentleman, and Sarah Morgan’s latest, How to Keep A Secret. Oh, and when I was in Amsterdam in late spring I reread a handful of early Neels romances.

    Lately the Booker longlist has been keeping me busy. There are some wonderful books I never would have found without it and also some underwhelming books that are getting lots of hype but I’m not entirely sure why, at least not in terms of their literary merit. They feel very topical but also a bit half-baked. Janine remarked that my Booker experience this year wasn’t that great, and at first I disagreed, but I think she’s right.

  2. Good to see you here again!
    Re: Lymond–I did read the series in the early 1970s, when I was in my mid-20s. However, even at that age I did want to smack him one upside the head on numerous occasions. I do remember getting swept up into the series and being frantic to get my hands on ‘Checkmate’ when it came out in 1975. Dunnett puts Lymond and the reader through the wringer in the later books. She played fair, though, and gave the series a very satisfactory ending. Now, when I feel like slipping back into that world I re-read the last two books.
    I have read one really fantastic book this summer–‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller. I just loved it. Miss Bates convinced me to try Barbara O’Neal’s ‘The Art of Inheriting Secrets’ and I really enjoyed that. I’m about a third of the way into Nicola Cornick’s ‘The Phantom Tree’, which I’m also enjoying (Thanks, Sunita!). Otherwise, I have borrowed and returned a ton of library books, almost all of them went unread and many went unopened, as I found I just wasn’t in the mood once I got them home. I will blame the heat for making me feel like my brain was fried.
    I had already put the Penelope Lively book on my TBR list, thanks to your short Gooreads write-up. I have never read her before and this one sounds intriguing.

  3. Kathryn says:

    I did try out quite a few new-to-me romance authors (e.g., Alyssa Cole, Jenny Holiday, Lucy Parker, Sarah Kuhn). Overall I had more hits than misses and now have some new authors whose next books I’m anticipating with pleasure.

    My favorite summer read, however, was not a romance, it was Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s study of Laura Ingalls Wilder (and Rose Wilder Lane). It’s not just a biography, Fraser incorporates work on the effects of the 19th-century settler patterns had on the Great Plains and Midwestern lands and American Indian communities; she discusses demographic changes as settlers, lured by false advertising from land speculators and railroad companies, rushed into stake land claims in the dry prairie landscapes and then, often, as the Ingalls themselves did, abandoned their claims to try again somewhere else.

    She also discusses how farm families even then depended heavily on off-farm jobs (often held by the wives and daughters) to keep the farm going. Laura was constantly working through her life taking in sewing, teaching, doing clerical work, writing farm journal articles and books. Her income was critical to both natal family and her life with Almanzo and Rose. Money worries are constant theme in her correspondence and Rose’s. Fraser argues that while Charles Ingalls was a failure in many ways as financial provider, he was the emotional centre of his family and loved and respected by them all. In the debate over who “really” wrote the little house series Laura or her daughter Rose — Fraser argues for Laura. I had known that Rose was invested in Libertarian ideals, but I hadn’t realized how deeply she involved in the Libertarian movement.

  4. Yayyy! Tell us more about your romance reading! I really want to help you find romance novels that work for you!

  5. KeiraSoleore says:

    Great to see you blogging again! The Lively sounds like something I would love to read. Does it also deal with her parents’ marriage?

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