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TBR Tracker Update: October

I was planning to get my TBR down to zero books in October; it is perhaps no surprise that this did not happen.  I was doing so well until the very end of the month, and had read four of five titles, leaving just one large tome (The Magic Mountain) on my to-read pile.

However, a shopping trip with family necessitated a trip to The Works, and before I knew it, I had come out with three history titles.  In my defence, I had intended to borrow a few history books from my library a few days before this trip, but they are having a change around, and had temporarily stashed the books I was looking for away.  I also ended up purchasing a much-hyped book when it was part of a Kindle daily deal, and read this during the month.

I am determined to get through my entire TBR during November.  I have two history books which I am very keen to get to, and I am also going on a long haul holiday for two weeks, during which time I plan to finally tackle The Magic Mountain.  Wish me luck!

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during October, as well as an updated to-read list, below.

 

9781408867990Sweet Caress by William Boyd *** (Kindle)
I really enjoy William Boyd’s writing, and was intrigued by the storyline of Sweet Caress, a novel which follows its heroine, Amory Clay, through her entire life, which spans much of the twentieth-century. I was pulled into the novel immediately, and at first, I found the first person perspective to be believable. However, Boyd focuses throughout upon what feel like very jarring and out-of-character details. I found myself questioning Amory’s motives from time to time as the novel went on.

Whilst Sweet Caress is certainly readable, it became quite drawn out after a while, and it was filled with some quite irritating clichéd elements, which seemed redundant in terms of the larger plot. The novel is well written, but also problematic in that I did not always find it wholly believable.

 

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence *** 9780226469355
I have not read a great deal of Margaret Laurence’s work, but love her prose style, and the intricate, intimate portraits of Canadian women which she presents. The Diviners, considered to be the final book in Laurence’s Manawaka series, sounded exactly like my cup of tea. However, I found myself enjoying it nowhere near as much as The Stone Angel, which is an exquisite novel. This is certainly a readable book, but due to the way it is structured, it felt a little disjointed, and I was less interested in the protagonist than I anticipated I would be at the outset.

 

9780141198927North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell ***
I have read quite a few of Gaskell’s works before, and have enjoyed them well enough. However, I seem to come up with a similar problem each time I reach for one of her books. Whilst I find her prose beautiful, there is often little to push the story along, and it becomes a little saturated. I must admit that, in this vein, I was not pulled in by the storyline or characters of North and South; indeed, some of the secondary characters, like Margaret’s father for instance, felt like caricatures, or full-blown stereotypes. I tend to prefer Gaskell’s short stories and novellas, which I find a lot more atmospheric, and less drawn out.

 

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman ** (Kindle) 9781786495259
I have long been aware of the hype surrounding Andre Aciman’s LGBTQ+ novel, Call Me By Your Name. Contrary to popular opinion, I found the novel very difficult to get into. The prose felt a little clumsy and stilted – almost to the extent that it felt like a translated book – and somewhat overwritten, and I did not believe in either of the quite vague protagonists. I felt distanced from the story, and felt that some of the scenes had been input purely for dramatic effect, as they added very little to the storyline. It goes without saying that I will not be reading the sequel.

 

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba was a five-star read for me.  A full-length review is forthcoming.  I also read the copy of Unbelievable by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong which I picked up in The Works; a review will be posted at some point in the next few months.

 

My current TBR stands as follows:

  1. 9780099572282The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  2. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
  3. When the Germans Came: True Stories of Life Under Occupation in the Channel Islands by Duncan Barrett

 

Current total: 3
Goal for the end of November: 0

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TBR Tracker Update: September

I made great strides with condensing my TBR further in September, and am hoping that by the end of October, I will have zero books on my to-read pile.  I am aiming to get down to zero so that any books which I acquire can be read immediately.

At present, the tomes which are on my TBR pile have been languishing there for around two to three years, which seems ridiculous to me.  I know that a lot of readers have huge TBRs, filled with books which they acquired ten years ago and haven’t yet got to, but I’m keen to rekindle the fizzy feelings which I get upon acquiring a new book and reading it immediately, whilst I’m still incredibly interested in it.

During September, I added no books to my TBR, and I am very proud of myself for this.  There are a few new releases which I am keen to get to, but I’m going to either request them from the library, or add them to my Christmas list and hope for the best.

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during September, as well as an updated to-read list, below.

 

Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin hardy1
I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, this tome.  I started it before going on a long weekend to Pisa, and have decided that dipping in and out of it whilst I have another book on the go is probably the best way to read it.

 

9781444707762Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth ***
I have read a lot of Jenn Ashworth’s work in the past, and have really enjoyed it. I was thus keen to get to her debut novel, Cold Light. Although the story held my interest throughout, I never felt entirely gripped by it. I guessed what were supposed to be the major plot points very early on, and found that the novel sadly did not meet my expectations.

 

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean 9780008165703Voyagers by Adam Nicolson *****
I received Adam Nicolson’s The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers for Christmas, and although it took me some months to read, I was keen to get to it. I adore nature writing, and have wanted to read Nicolson’s work for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect introduction to it. I found The Seabird’s Cry utterly fascinating, and learnt so much from it. Beautifully descriptive, and with a wealth of wonderful research, this is a must-read for any nature lover.

 

9780099594024Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood ****
I had wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, her interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for such a long time. I decided not to write a full-length review of the novel as there are so many around, but wanted to record a few thoughts, at least.  I imagined that a retelling written by Atwood would be very clever, and it is. She retains enough of the original story for it to be recognisable, but certainly puts her own spin onto the plot. Its protagonist is believable, as are, indeed, its secondary characters. The prose throughout is engaging, and the elements of witty humour augment the more maudlin parts of the story. There are some great ideas within Hag-Seed, and the whole thing comes together splendidly.

 

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather *** 9780241338162
I ended up reading Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy out of order, but found that it did not actually matter.  The Song of the Lark is the second novel in the series, and the final one which I got to. Cather’s novel is so well written, and is filled with exquisite prose, but the story feels rather thin on the ground in places, and did not really hold my attention. Whilst I found Thea Kronborg quite intriguing at first, I became less and less interested in the protagonist as the novel went on. I love Cather’s writing style, but from my experience, feel that her novellas and short stories are far more successful than her longer books.

 

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple were both five star reads for me.  Full-length reviews of both will be published early next year.

 

My current TBR stands as follows:

  1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann 9780141198927
  2. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
  3. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  5. Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Kindle)

 

Current total: 5
Goal for the end of October: 0

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Project Twenty Update

We are only halfway through July, but I thought that I would write my first update post detailing how I am getting on with my Project Twenty challenge.  The idea behind it is to get my to-read pile down to between fifteen and twenty books, and keep it that way.

It will, I’m sure, surprise very few people who have followed such challenges of mine in the past to find out that it hasn’t quite gone to plan.  I have been keeping a list of how many books I own, both physical and those bought on my Kindle, at the outset of each month.  I have then recorded how many books have been added, splitting them again into physical and Kindle purchases.  The most important part of my challenge was to endeavour to read as many books from my own TBR as I could; I have therefore temporarily stopped borrowing books from the library, and am more selective about what I choose to read from Netgalley.

Let us begin with my progress – or lack thereof – in May.  I read 14 physical books and 4 on my Kindle.  18 in total does not sound too bad, but one must factor in that I purchased 17 physical books throughout the month.  My total TBR at the end of May consisted of 36 physical books, and 7 Kindle books, 43 in total.

During June, my TBR went from 43 total books to 78.  I celebrated my birthday during the month, and as mentioned in my original TBR Goals post, received the entire box set of all fifty of the new Penguin Moderns series.  I also purchased 8 books, 4 in physical copies, and 4 on my Kindle.  I read 19 books and 4 Kindle books during the month, but those 23 did not make much of a dent in my TBR pile.

I have been making more of a concerted effort during July not to buy much; saying that, it is only the halfway point of the month, and I have already added 2 physical books, 2 Kindle books, and 2 review copies to my collection…  Thus far, I have read 23 physical books, and no Kindle tomes.

Going forward, I think I’m going to focus less upon how many books I’m reading and adding to my TBR pile.  I will still strive to get to the fifteen to twenty book mark eventually, but I still want to have a nice varied collection to pick from.  Added to this is the fact that some of my to-read books are currently with me in Scotland, and others are at my parents’ house back in England; thus, it is rather difficult to get down to my chosen number.

I’m sure that when I do, finally, shrink my TBR, I will post about it, perhaps with some advice on how to shrink your own to-read pile.  For now, however, I will try and steer away from bookshops and online book sales, and just savour the reading material which I have.

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2017’s Yearly Challenge: Round Up

I decided to put together four lists this year – one of authors I wanted to read, another of books which had caught my eye, and projects made up of French and Scottish-set books.  I have not done anywhere near as well with my yearly challenges as I had anticipated.  I overstretched myself rather; although I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, I have neglected these lists over the last few months, and have been reading at whim instead.  I thought that I would just write a relatively concise post about how I did with my challenges in terms of numbers, and which books were particular highlights for me.  You can see my full list, with all of the titles, here.  On a brighter note, I did manage to complete my Reading the World challenge, where I scheduled a review of a piece of translated literature every Saturday.  My full list can be found here.

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George Sand

With regard to the authors, I actually did rather well.  Out of nineteen pinpointed, there were only four which I did not get to (Amelie Nothomb, Lydia Millet, Leena Krohn, and Gunter Grass).  Wonderful discoveries for me from this list were George Sand, John Wyndham, Ira Levin, and Anita Desai.  It was lovely to revisit some favourite authors too – Rebecca West and Agatha Christie, to name but two.

With regard to my book list, I fared worse.  Out of quite an extensive list of titles (thirty-four in all), I only managed to read seventeen.  There were a few books which I was disappointed with (The Shining by Stephen King, The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn), but I found some new favourites too.  Amongst those which I rated the most highly are the beautiful, quiet Welsh novel The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (review here), the gorgeous and immersive This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, the perfectly paced The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, the haunting and strange Fell by Jenn Ashworth, the hilariously funny Where Am I Now? 9780143128229by Mara Wilson (review here), the profound and beautifully poetic The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (review here), and the downright creepy The Dumb House by John Burnside.

My efforts for my French reading project were paltry; I only read nine books out of a list of thirty.  Particular standouts for me were the lovely non-fiction account by Peter Mayle of his move to France, entitled A Year in Provence, Julia Stuart‘s terribly charming The Matchmaker of Perigord, the wonderfully bookish A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, and the beautiful Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide.  Of my rereads, I very much enjoyed revisiting Irene Nemirovsky, whose books I adore, as well 9781933372822as Elizabeth McCracken‘s searingly touching An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination.

My Scottish reading project was a little better.  Out of twenty-nine books, I read eight, and gave up on four.  I was particularly charmed by Anne Donovan‘s Buddha Da, my reread of Maggie O’Farrell‘s wonderful The VanishingAct of Esme Lennox, and Jenni Fagan‘s engrossing, and awfully human, The Sunlight Pilgrims.

I have set my sights a little lower for my 2018 reading challenge, choosing only to participate in the Around the World in 80 Books group on Goodreads.  I will be reading books from, or set within, eighty different countries around the world, and could not be more excited about what I will discover.

How did you get on with your 2018 challenges?  Do you always set reading challenges, or do you prefer to read without any restrictions?

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Hello blogging, my old friend

I realise that a year’s absence from the blog isn’t a trifling matter, but my sole excuse is life got too hectic for me to follow through. I got accepted to and began my Master’s degree in Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh last September and this past year has been truly rewarding but also incredibly stressful for a variety of reasons.

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Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. Photograph taken by me.

My pleasure-reading rate dramatically decreased this year and I found myself not only unable to write new and interesting posts for the blog but also at a loss at whether infrequent updates were even better than no updates at all. In the end, I ended up not finishing any of my drafts, thinking that I would feel it when the time to write again was there.

Now, having finished all my obligations related to my Master’s, waiting for my dissertation results and fervently looking for a job, I’m trying to overcome my reading slump and what better way to do this than return to blogging. Most likely, my return to blogging will initially move slowly, since I haven’t been reading enough to create daily posts, but I aspire to post at least once a week.

I’m very happy to finally be back here and I can’t wait to see what you’ve all been up to 🙂

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2017 Reading Goals: An Update

It seems like high time for an update as to how I’m getting on with my 2017 reading goals.  When I made my list last November, I was aware that I was being very ambitious, particularly with a PhD thesis to write, and trying to cut down on the number of books I’m purchasing.  Still, the organised bookworm inside me could not be stilled, and I came up with rather a large list, comprised of a series of authors and a list of standalone books I wanted to read, as well as a French and Scottish reading project.

I’ve not done fantastically thus far, truth be told.  I was relying on the library to provide most of the outlined tomes when the year began, but many copies have been lost, or the previous borrower hasn’t yet returned them.  A few have been incredibly difficult to find through other avenues.

If we look at the authors and distinct books list, I haven’t done too badly.  Out of nineteen authors which I wrote on my list, I have read books by thirteen of them; the only ones which I have outstanding are Amelie Nothomb, Lydia Millet, Joan Didion, Leena Krohn, Ira Levin, and Gunter Grass.  I am going to aim to read one book by each of these authors before the year is out, but Nothomb and Krohn are eluding me rather at present.  With regard to the books which I outlined, I have read fourteen of them (unlucky for some!), and have nineteen outstanding (not so good!).  Two of these are on my to-read pile, but the others I’m not having a great deal of luck with finding.  I’m hoping to be able to get to them all by the end of the year (although I may leave the M.R. Carey by the wayside, as Fellside was largely disappointing).

I am doing relatively poorly with my geographical reading projects this year.  Of the thirty books on my Reading France project, I have read just seven of them, and have two on my to-read list.  A lot of the books which I was very much looking forward to have proved almost impossible to get hold of, which is a real shame; I may have to add them back onto my TBR list, and tackle them at another time.  With regard to my Reading Scotland list, I have read twelve of twenty-nine, and only have one of them on my to-read list (it’s actually my boyfriend’s book).

Looking over my lists, and the progress which I have made (or not!), I have decided that it’s probably not a good idea to be so ambitious going forward.  I have one project in mind for next year, but it’s free choice, so I will definitely have no trouble getting my hands on elusive tomes.

 

 

 

How are you getting on with your reading challenges this year?

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An Update: ‘Girl, Interrupted’ by Susanna Kaysen ****

At the end of 2016, I reread Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted; I thought it would be an interesting idea to present my previous review, which probably dates from around 2013, along with my current thoughts.

Girl, Interrupted, which was first published in 1993, is a highly acclaimed autobiographical work.  It tells of its author, Susanna Kaysen, who, as an eighteen-year-old in 1967, was sent to McLean Hospital to be treated for depression.  She spent two years on the teenage psychiatric ward, which had previously treated such patients as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Ray Charles.  The information within the pages of Girl, Interrupted was found within her patient file, which she obtained from the hospital after she had been released. 9781860497926

I find books which deal with mental illness and recuperation fascinating, and I love being able to see so far into the human condition, reading about things which I have thankfully never personally experienced.  Here, Kaysen has interspersed her short chapters with photocopies of documents from her file, some of which contain some rather shocking and unsettling information.  One cannot imagine how awful it must have been to read the views of the nurses and doctors upon these sheets, even a long while after they were written.  Each chapter is an episode; a memory fragment, of sorts.  There is no real order to them, and that is what makes Girl, Interrupted so eminently readable.

Throughout, Kaysen writes both wisely and beautifully.  As well as outlining her own experiences – she and her roommate were deemed the ‘healthiest’ people in the hospital – she tells of other patients: ‘We watched a lot of things.  We watched Cynthia come back crying from electroshock once a week.  We watched Polly shiver after being wrapped in ice-cold sheets’.  She writes bravely of force-feedings, medication which could turn friends to zombie-like beings in just a few hours, and the horrific electroshock therapy which some of the patients were regularly subjected to.  Kaysen informs the reader of the gradations of ‘craziness’ which existed in McLean.

Girl, Interrupted is a fascinating and heart-wrenching account of living one’s formative years in such an institution as McLean.  Unlike that of some of her peers within the hospital, Kaysen’s story has relatively happy elements to it, in that she came out of the other side and was brave enough to share her story.  Her self-awareness and the use of retrospective, along with the power which every single word holds, makes <i>Girl, Interrupted</i> a truly stunning memoir, and one which I urge everyone to read.

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Update:

I reread Girl, Interrupted for my Goodreads book group in December 2016.  The work was far more fragmented than I remembered, and at times, Kaysen’s own condition and diagnosis felt a little overshadowed by those she was living in close confinement with.  This approach, and her choice to use others in her own journey of mental illness, was fascinating.  The scenes which she presents are almost disjointed on the face of it, but one soon gets the impression that the piece has been well structured.  The introspective sections which discussed Kaysen’s own health, and her place within the world, were those which I found of the most interest.

The historical and social context which Kaysen presents, from the Vietnam War to Kennedy’s assassination, firmly anchors the whole within the mid- to late-1960s.  What is surprising about the piece is both how different treatment appears to be in the twenty-first century, and the similarities which we can still recognise within our own societal treatment of the mentally unwell.  Scotland, for instance, still uses electroshock therapy, which sounds old-fashioned even in Kaysen’s account.  The smoke and mirrors which often surrounded which treatments were being given was surprising to me; there appears to be very little honesty with the patients, and little understanding of their own conditions at times.  The gender distinctions here are fascinating – for instance, musings of experiences which have occurred to Kaysen within the workplace – particularly from a standpoint almost fifty years in the future; again, similarities can be recognised within our own global society.  Upon my second reading, the camaraderie of those around Kaysen surprised me too; rather than being separated, the patients are encouraged to be together, from their leisure time down to their rooming.

Kaysen’s telling of her story is brave and heartfelt, and the insight which she gives into the institution of McLean and its treatments is fascinating.  She is essentially laying herself bare for the world to see.  I was left wondering whether any of the information which she relays has been partially or fully fictionalised, and whether the names of patients and nurses were changed due to anonymity.  This does not matter on the whole, I suppose – we must remember that I absolutely adored James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and the furore surrounding its fictionalised scenes didn’t bother me at all – but I do like to think of Girl, Interrupted as a brutally honest account.  It has been highly well-styled, and intelligently written.  The advantage of hindsight, and her discovery of her patient notes detailing her Borderline Personality Disorder twenty-five years after she was released, are startling, and demonstrate how much treatments had moved on just in that relatively short space of time.  Kaysen’s ability to talk in a relatively removed and understanding way about her experience was a fantastic asset to the whole, and definitely one of the strengths of the whole piece for me.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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A Little Update of Sorts

Hello lovely people, Akylina here 🙂

Despite June and July being the two months I read the most this year, my posts in the blog have been few and scarce. Not all the books I read were very worth writing about (and this is the point where I remind to myself that quality should precede quantity), but I do plan on catching up on all the reviews I’ve been wanting to write. I just need to stop procrastinating. Haha.

Apart from the English/Japanese/etc. literature I read on a regular basis, I have also read some really wonderful Greek books as well, which I really really want to share with all of you. But then again, some of them have not been translated to other languages, so it would be pretty pointless to do so. Life is really unfair towards great literature sometimes.

So, step one, catch up on reviews.

Step two, award nomination posts (no, Alex, I haven’t forgotten, I promise!)

Step three, prioritise challenge posts more. I have read some books for my Reading England challenge already, but I haven’t managed to post anything about them just yet (yes, I’m ashamed of myself). The truth is that challenges make me really anxious and I end up seeing them more as obligations than the sources of pleasure and fun they should be. So, I need to work on that as well.

Step four, I haven’t watched many movies lately that I believe are worth writing about (except for maybe a select few), but I would like to make some travel posts, so it would be lovely to know if that would be interesting to any of you 🙂

I may also make a book haul post, even though I haven’t really bought that many books lately (or have I??). The sad thing is that I have been sharing my time between Athens and my hometown the past couple of months, so some of my books are here and others there and I don’t even seem to remember what I bought when anymore…

These are my plans for the blog for the near future, and I thought I should let you know 🙂 I’d also like to apologise for my absences and lack of comments on fellow blogs or comment replies, but life is sometimes too much for me and I get more distracted than I should. But I love this community and all of you very much 🙂

I hope you will all have a fantastic weekend whatever you do! 🙂