Welcome to another installment of Reading Down the House! Way, way back in October 2018 I pulled together this set of 30 books from my own shelves at home and vowed to read them all. The last time I reported, In January, I had 6 to go. I was very happy to read the last page of the last book on the list!
At the outset, I gave a bit of info on the books, which you can see here.
Most people I know have found it difficult to spend time reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. They’re working from home, juggling work and childcare, their routines are disrupted, or they’re stressed and out-of-sorts. Fortunately I am unaffected and I have been reading merrily along. Although it is ironic that I have finished my own books and the libraries are still closed – apart from having access to e-books, maybe I need to start a new cache of books for the next emergency! Or start reading Rom’s books – aagh! (You can’t imagine how many coding books he has. Coding and philosophy.)
Reviews of the last 6 in brief – plus a bonus book:
The One Who Wrote Destiny – A promising idea (a woman who figures out her biological destiny and then has to deal with the reality of it) but the idea is essentially dropped in favour of a family history. I wanted Neha to be the central character.
The Tale of Genji (abridged) – A slow read. We hear about young Genji’s unsatisfying marriage and many affairs. Horrific events – Genji raises a little girl then forcibly “marries” (i.e. rapes) her. It was upsetting to read. Fascinating details about the culture (Japan court life in the 1100s). I did like how people spoke to each other quoting fragments of poems and sent each other beautiful notes on carefully chosen paper…but it was hard to get over the sexual violence and the sexualization of children. Even if that was closer to the norm at the time.
Country Girls is one of my favourite novels of girlhood. I picked up the trilogy because I hadn’t read the two sequels. Edna O’Brien is known for laying bare the trials and tribulations of women and girls in Ireland from the 1950s to the 70s. We follow best friends Kate (Caithleen) and Baba (Bridget) as they escape their tiny hometown for Dublin and find out city life is not all roses. Sadly, they pin their hopes on older married men, and deal with the fallout. Strikingly ahead of their time, the books are really about how men (fathers, priests, boyfriends, husbands) owned women’s bodies and property. Not cheerful reading, but Kate and Baba are high spirited and give it their best.
The Brides of Rollrock Island was a welcome break. Told like a fairy tale, a local seaside woman develops the ability to draw beautiful, docile women from coastal seals. Changing the village forever – because what man wants a human woman when he can have a gorgeous, obedient helpmate and plaything? I loved how it turned into something hopeful.
Four Sisters of Hofei was a social history of 20th Century China told through the stories of 4 girls from a large, wealthy family. It was a good education for me (I learned a lot) but the sisters’ stories were unresolved – full of energy when they were young, but few details of their later lives.
Forced Entries was a sequel to Jim Carroll’s heroin-chic memoir The Basketball Diaries. In it, he takes steps toward becoming a writer, but he tramples everyone in his life. I wanted to find out what happened, but his eventual music career speaks louder than this book does.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – I bought this for a book club in 2001! The beginning is post-modern, self-conscious babble and I set it aside. It returns to that style in several places. But it does have a strong (mostly autobiographical) story of a 21-year-old whose parents both die of cancer within a year and he ends up raising his 7-year-old brother. The love and protective feelings he develops as a new parent are very relatable. He is also a young man and the language in the book gives a vivid feeling of how indestructible he felt – when he wasn’t absolutely floored by memories of his mother’s decline. The average reader won’t like the writing style, but I’m glad I hung in there.
As you see, I inadvertently left some heavy reading to the end, and this was not a happy assortment. I’ll be looking for some more upbeat novels next, or some nonfiction. My favourite book lately was Sally Rooney’s Normal People – I am 4 episodes into the TV series which is being released gradually on CBC GEM in Canada – I am hooked! And it is the furthest thing from cheerful, ha! Maybe in these odd times it works to be a little miserable 🙂 On a more serious note, sometimes it does help me to read or view sad things because they make me feel things and process them which I wouldn’t force myself to do otherwise.
Other good books I’ve read lately are: Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid, Love Lives Here – Amanda Jette Knox, Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams, Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson, and In Five Years by Rebecca Searle.
Have you felt like reading lately? If you have books to recommend, I’m all ears!
I WANT to read as that’s my default happy place but it’s so hard to focus after a fractured day of juggling All The Things that I rarely do well tackling new things. I am reading Marsha Wells’ Murderbot series out of order (accidentally) and that’s been a bit of a delight, but I also accidentally read some really heavy books (in my May update) that were so well written. But so heavy.
I looked up Murderbot and have put All Systems Red on my to-read list. I didn’t take up the amount and types of reading I do now until Link was at least 13!
I read The Brides of Rollrock Island. Had a different name when it was released earlier in Australia. Sea Hearts. Sad and beautiful. Reading a non-fiction by Ruby Wax about the brain and mental illness. She makes neurology understandable. Almost a neurology for dummies.
Sounds good. I am in the mood for some nonfiction now.
And well done for Reading Down your House. I have not been successful.
Thanks. You have been reading a lot!
Lots of digital library books and books lent by friends. Must get back to decluttering my own books.
Congratulations! You finished! That’s a fantastic accomplishment!
I am reading through my book piles, slowly but surely. I typically read multiple books at once, so – as usual – I have several I’m working on at the moment. The one that is (surprisingly) the most intriguing to me at the moment is Andrew Lycett’s biography of the author, Ian Fleming.
I think I sped through all my “fast and fun” reads in April, so my book consumption rate has slowed considerably since the beginning of May. My job is emotionally taxing; reading ‘heavy’ stuff is hard for me, especially in these current times, because at the end of a work day I don’t have the bandwidth to process the sad and disillusioning content that much of my current TBR pile contains.
It’s still likely a month or more away, but I am looking forward to my local book stores opening again. 🙂
Thanks! One local independent book store near me is offering curbside pickup. I bought an expensive cook book…gotta support local business 😉 The library system I work for is slowly rolling out curbside pickup of holds. I am looking forward to it myself since I had two holds stuck “in transit” when we closed!
The Tale of Genji is a slog. I’ve read it twice, both times for classes I took in college. I agree with you about the sex, but I kept reminding myself as I read, “different times, different culture.” It doesn’t make it right, but I tried not to judge. I found an antique print of Genji in an antique shop in the early 80s; it hangs on my wall these days as a reminder of those my efforts in reading it twice.
A much more interesting book from the same time period, if you’re interested is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. She was a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, but her book has better stood the test of time, in my opinion. She makes lists and observations, and many of the things in the book could have come right from today.
Congrats on all your reading!
Yes, to help put things in context, Genji was married off at age 12 to the 18-year-old daughter of a political ally, who had no interest whatsoever in her child husband. I will look for The Pillow Book online – surely it is out of copyright and available free somewhere 🙂
I’m one of those who’ve so far struggled to read anything much. But I’ve just embarked on re-reading the first 2 of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, as a prelude to reading the final book, and so far I’m lapping it up. I enjoyed them first time around, and just as much this time. Oddly in a way, because there are strong resonances with what’s going on in our times (intrigue, corruption in high places, plague), but she writes such clear and wonderful prose, with such delicious turns of phrase at times. A must-read in my opinion.
And congratulations on your achievement! I have a long way to go, and with some books bought with enthusiasm and good intentions I wonder if I’ll ever find / make the intellectual effort to sit and read them.
I haven’t taken on that challenge, but now would be a good time to read Hilary Mantel! Last year I visited Hampton Court Palace, and I thought like you did (of Henry VIII), “Wow, this guy was like Harvey Weinstein” only even more despicable re: the beheadings. I have another very lengthy book I want to finish first!
Well done! My book reading has noticeably slowed during the pandemic (and I have no children to blame!), but there are happier changes too. My husband I have almost completely stopped watching tv in the last month. Maybe the reading shall return in these free times I suddenly found myself with 🙂
I am not a good TV watcher (I am always the last to hear about good shows). Maybe you will have a summer of reading?
Congratulations Dar! I last read The Sisters Brothers, Angela’s Ashes, and Dear Life. May was Short Story month so I started reading the 73 Canadian short stories available for free online just to change up my reading routine. Tomorrow (June 8) the public library here starts curbside book pickups by appointment. I’m keen to book the earliest appointment that I can get and pick up my holds.
Our library is doing curbside holds pickup now too. I am waiting for my own holds to come in! I love short stories. Hope to find more soon.
The House Has Been Read! That’s a triumph! 🙂 I feel like there should be a small marker ceremony; at least a victory dinner! So glad you read Rollrock! You had some heavy reading in there. I keep hearing about this “Normal People”. I haven’t dipped into it yet, but might have a look if it’s on Netflix.
I’m in the “lockdown was hectic” group, just from flipping school online & having everyone home non-stop. So sadly…limited reading. But they’re all back now, though I’m not yet. Have been glued to CNN instead of reading!
I don’t know how you manage CNN; it stresses me out to watch breaking news. I like it pre-digested for me! But it is important to know what is happening in the US right now. What are the chances of a fair election in November?
Would be interested to hear when your school expects to re-start. I can see why families would not want to be apart from their kids during Covid. Or you apart from yours. Although all families in isolation have had a LOT of together time 🙂
Hi Dar – remembered about your blog after you checked in on my revived attempts at blogging. Lots of interesting posts here! I’m interested in your reading list as there are quite a few I haven’t read here. Loved Normal People too and I think the TV series is even better, which is rare. I’ve been trying to get my daughter to read Country Girls, another Irish favourite of mine. Meanwhile I have a book by a Canadian writer on my list (at least I think she is) Carol Shields Unless.
Hi Doris, I agree the TV series of Normal People really brings it alive. I am still watching the 2 episodes a week that are being released here! Yes, Carol Shields is Canadian. I haven’t read any of her books since The Stone Diaries. Unless sounds good.