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!