READING DOWN THE HOUSE Report # 9

Snoopy was created by Charles Schultz

Snoopy was created by Charles Schultz

This year I’ve been reading at least one book each month from a stack that I bought ages ago and neglected. I call it my Reading Down the House challenge. I started with 17 unread books from my own collection, and in the past 8 months, I’ve read 12. My goal is to read them all within a year, which ends in October. It’s getting more difficult because I now have to choose from titles that I put off reading again and again! But I did try to leave some appealing ones for the end. The remaining titles are:

London Triptych

London Triptych

This month I read London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp. All I knew in advance was that it was the story of three gay men in London. It turned out to be the story, in turns, of sex work in three in different eras: the 1880s, the 1950s, and the 1990s. Jack, in the 1880s, can make more money in a brothel than as a telegram messenger. Colin, an artist in the 1950s, has repressed his sexuality but daydreams about his life drawing model – whose main gig is hustling. David, in the 1980s, is a nihilistic young man who got into “whoring” for the hell of it, and writes from prison a decade later, where he was sentenced for an “unrelated” crime.

I was impatient throughout the first half of the book because it focused on the fetishes of the men’s clients and described their encounters in graphic detail. I wondered if the whole book consisted of such tales and if it was intended as gay erotica. But there was an undercurrent of revulsion for the old and unattractive clients.

Thankfully, the book came into its own in the second half, as the characters tired of sex work and their lives and relationships became more nuanced. It took me a long time to care about them, but it did come together. Jack has a crucial decision to make about his client Oscar Wilde, Colin has an opportunity to act on his desires, and David is blindsided by love. The book’s additional main character was the city of London through the ages.

Overall, the book reminded me of other stories of adventurous urban youth, like The Basketball Diaries. I’d give it three out of five stars. But I have a feeling it’s going to be memorable, because everything about it was vivid.

I had another great month for reading. I’ve been cutting back on screen time and setting aside blocks of 2 or 3 hours at a time for reading books. I read 7 more books, 3 of which were wonderful:

  • 84, Charing Cross Road – by Helene Hanff
  • Americanah – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – by Mark Haddon
84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road

I’d never heard of this one but stumbled across it at the library. It’s the (real) correspondence over 20 years between a bold, young New York editor/screenwriter, and an antiquarian bookseller in London. The book combined several of my favourite things: books and book stores, vibrant tales of life in NYC, and the contrast between life in North America and the UK. Plus it is novella-length and can easily be read in one sitting. Highly recommended!

Americanah

Americanah

My book club reads international fiction and our monthly reads have been unrelentingly bleak. Finally, one to break the mold! This is the story of Ifemelu, a successful American blogger, writer and scholar, and her complicated relationships with her two countries: the United States, where she feels pushed into becoming an African-American despite having little in common with them; and Nigeria, which she had the opportunity to escape, but is still grounded in values she doesn’t want to leave behind. I loved the discussion of race in this book, largely told through her blog entries. Ifemelu’s life is complex and it takes some time to unfold. It is neither sugar-coated nor hopeless. A love story about a childhood sweetheart forms part of the narrative. I loved it!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

I had read a few books with characters who aren’t neuro-typical, like Come, Thou Tortoise, The Rosie Project, and The Good Luck of Right Now. I’m probably the only person who hasn’t read this book, so I thought I would add it. Published in 2004, this is the book that started the trend of narrators with autism (except for Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures, of course).

I was wary that the author might be exploiting autism for comedic purposes, and reinforcing stereotypes. Instead, I found it told of the idiosyncrasies of that one person, and didn’t generalize about autism. We learned about Christopher from his actions, his affect on others, and what he says about himself. His depiction of the struggles faced by his parents and teachers on his account is quite touching, especially given his lack of empathy.

What really makes this book a stand-out is the plotting. It isn’t just a slice of life. There is a propulsive story which links the grisly murder of a neighbour’s dog, a dead parent, and a head-swimmingly scary trip to London to find out the truth. The book deserved its status as a literary sensation. Five out of five stars!

The Examined Life

The Examined Life

To top it off, I read another book which might not have so much literary merit, but had personal meaning to me. The Examined Life consisted of tales from a psychiatrist’s couch. The author wrote up some case studies of patients he treated, and interspersed them with brief personal stories. The themes were classic ones: love and loss, regression, grief, envy, and re-enacting the past. Some of the stories were predictable and summed up oh-so-tidily. But you know, life is like that. Sometimes you really are messed up because of what your parents did to you! This book spoke to me, especially the chapters about parents loosening their grip on their children and letting them live their own lives.

I read three more books which were not compelling, but I have no regrets about having read them:

Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

I enjoyed her earlier memoirs, but not this one – her son’s and grandson’s story are not hers to tell (although the over-attached parent theme did ring a bell!)

The Property

The Property

The Property is a graphic novel about a young woman who visits Poland with her cranky, secretive grandmother, and finds out a family secret.

and finally

Doomed to Repeat

Doomed to Repeat

Doomed to Repeat was about lessons we should have learned from history, and mostly didn’t. There were a few good chapters, which gave me background info on wars and conflicts I previously didn’t understand. However, half of the book is devoted to the American 2008 financial crisis, and it is unfocused and repetitive. Doomed to repeat, indeed! On the plus side, books like this generate interest in history, and made me want to learn more.

So that was my month in books.

What have you been reading? Anything from your own house?

26 comments

  1. Every time I see you have posted about books I have a little cringe as I still haven’t started any of mine. In my defense I have been reading a lot of gardening books, not that it’s helped me as things are still dying although at least now I know what they are dying of!

    84 Charing Cross road looks like my kind of read x

    • My gardening skills are minimal. I have lots of perennials and shrubs that were here when I moved into my house 10 years ago, and I just try to keep them alive!

  2. You’ve read some interesting books this month. I thoroughly enjoyed the Charing Cross book a number of years ago. I am having a bit of a challenge reading from my TBR books – but reading lots of other books..

  3. Gam Kau

    Just finished The Attack by Yasmina Khadra and it was fantastic. Loved both The Curious Incident… and Thinking in Pictures. Recently read Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson about an autistic boy which was also really good. I find the autism spectrum really interesting.

  4. I read The Curious Incident a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read as much as usual this month because I put all my library requests on hold to prepare for travel and didn’t have any sitting around at home. Looking forward to reading more in July!

  5. Angela UK

    Just wanted to tell you that your recent recommendation about the Alphabet Murders series has been good so far. Am now on B is For Burglar.

  6. You’ve been doing well reading down your house. I’m like you – down to the books I’ve put off before. I know Wolf Hall will be my last one to go.

    84 Charing Cross is a lovely tale. It was quite popular in the UK and Australia, probably because it was made into a movie with Anthony Hopkins. I’ve read it several times.

    I found The Curious Incident one of the best novels with an autistic character. Authentic and compelling. And a book that works across young adult and adult.

    • I haven’t tackled any Hilary Mantel books yet – maybe someday! I will have to put a hold on the 84 Charing Cross Road DVD at the library. Agree about The Curious Incident – debating whether to go to the stage play version in London this Fall.

  7. Shannon D.

    I also enjoyed the Curious Incident. I really have to work on making that stack of purchased unread books. Maybe I am afraid to see how many I have!

  8. I think I mentioned I took the easy way out earlier this year when I gifted all but two of the books I’d earmarked for my RDTH challenge. I know it was the easy way out but I knew the recipient would be more inclined to read them than I would lol
    Recently have been plodding through a book by Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory. A lot of words in each chapter but one of those ‘so weird you don’t want to put it down’ books – taking it one chapter at a time.
    Promise I will finish my/your challenge by the end of this year 🙂
    Cathy

    • You had the best solution, Cathy! I have another 10 or so books I haven’t read that I didn’t even put on my list, and I expect I will be giving them away, too!

  9. I’m incredibly interested to know when you find you can etch out 2-3 hours to read – that’s impressive! I supposedly have 7 current library books on loan, reading two, with the bible. I’m not getting far fast! One is about waste, but very very UK centric, and a little too detailed at times, but still worthwhile reading. The other is by Bear Grylls, and it’s great and quick to read. But I do spend too much time with the screens, or shopping!

    One of your books was added to my slowly dwindling library list.

    • I have work or volunteer meetings one or two nights a week, but the other evenings, we often eat leftovers and I have the whole night to do as I please! It’s just a matter of staying awake…

      Right now I have 7 library books competing with my 5 remaining RDTH books, and 4 DVDs!

  10. I, too, have books I held onto and didn’t read for a very long time. And sometimes I decide that I really don’t want to read that title anymore. My interest or taste has changed from when I selected it. I don’t even give the book a go because the world is filled with so much written word that I won’t ever get to read … that I don’t spend time with something I lost interest in – even though it might be very very good.

    I also live by an 80 page rule. If the book doesn’t make me care about the story or the characters in the first 80 pages, I set the book aside and move on. Again, too many good reading opportunities just waiting their turn. I am sure I missed out on many wonderful endings but if I have to work at staying with the book, it just slows me down as I don’t really want to pick it up.

    I am into my Kindle now – something I thought I would never ever do. I was a dedicated book reader – and couldn’t understand the attraction of the electronic device. Well, I have finally made the leap and I am reading more now than I ever did before – so easy to carry with me, so many books in such a little space, no storing. I still want my reference books (cooking, knitting, non-fiction) to be paper, but fun fiction is great on the Kindle.

    Wow, I really wrote a lot on this topic. Great post. I will be checking out some of your titles.

    • Hi Elaine, I work in a public library and usually I’m really strict with books – they have to grab my attention in the first chapter (far before 80 pages) to keep me reading. But I try harder with the books I’ve bought. My lesson learned is that I shouldn’t buy so many cheap remaindered books – their prices were probably slashed for a reason! But since I read so many book reviews, sometimes I find a gem. Like you, my tastes do change and I lose interest in something I bought 2 years ago! After this challenge is done, I hope to think twice about buying books at all (there is always good stuff available at the library), and I can always give excess books away to readers who actually want them!

  11. I also read the curious incident of the dog in the night and would wholeheartedly agree with everything you write about it. Well worth five out of five – it is really very excellent!

  12. The only one of these I’ve read is the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. As you say, this book explores idiosyncrasies of Christopher, and didn’t generalize about autism. A lot of my students have autism and they are all so different like every other individual.

  13. Just came across your blog and really enjoying your mix of posts, especially liking the Reading Down the House idea. You’ve just inspire my New Year’s resolution for 2015.

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