Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Reading

In January last year, I wrote that I wanted to write here more regularly, and that I thought a way to do that would be to post as I was reading a book rather than waiting until it was finished.  Overall, although there were many fallow periods, thanks to the realities of moving (twice!) and travelling, as well as the complication of throwing a ReadAlong into the mix, I think I managed reasonably well.

I'd hoped to do even better this year. After all, theoretically we're settled now, the moving over, the travelling perhaps less ambitious (in fact, we have a few plans up our sleeves, but nothing's sorted yet). There should be time for more attention to my Reading Blog.

And yet.....

While the cold/flu I'm (crosses fingers, knocks wood) leaving behind has sat me down for more reading time, it robbed me of the energy for writing about what I've read. I'm hoping I can change that pattern next month, but for now, I'll just tell you quickly what I've read this year, and then perhaps you can share your Just-Read list...

Not surprisingly, given my sad invalid state at the year's start, there's a high proportion of mysteries and light reading. I should also note that my reading was driven in part by having several books I had on hold at the library become unexpectedly available. Some of them were high-demand, and I couldn't risk saying "Not right now" and seeing them disappear for months. . . .

That's how I began the year with Michael Connelly's The Wrong Side of Good-bye. It's the first Harry Bosch mystery I've read for at least a couple of years (somehow I haven't been caught by Connelly's Lincoln Detective), and it was okay but without the development of Bosch's character which has been a central appeal for me. I'll probably read the next one, if there is one, but sadly, I'm feeling a bit ho-hum about this (probably Connelly is as well, thus Harry's Lincoln-driving half-brother).

Libraries are dangerous places if you're trying to control your reading and proceed through your To-Be-Read lists in an orderly fashion. If you have as little discipline as I do and you spot titles you'd forgotten about but wanted to read . . . . which is how Dionne Brand's Love Enough came home with me. Brand is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist, memoirist whose work explores, if I can be so crude as to condense, both longing and belonging, individual identity and community.  Her writing is always demanding but always -- even when, as she often does, she's writing about traumatic historical/political events, indicting colonial, imperialistic horrors--always her writing is beautiful, lyrical. This novel is slight, and despite an unavoidably central violent thread, it's surprisingly delicate, tentative, impressionistic even.  Intersecting narratives follow several characters over a short period across the city of Toronto, which returns as a favourite character of Brand's work.  Somehow, although the novel is slight, and the period it covers is very limited (the immediate wake of the (violent) action which provides its momentum), it draws clear lines between various characters' actions and their "root causes" (without ever being as simplistic as my scare quotes might imply). And as all of Brand's work seems to, and as the title emphasises, the novel seems to balance the personal against the political, and to wonder if our love for each other (and she can be so good on the complications of relationship) can be enough to overcome the social and political realities we're caught up in.  

Yes, another important novel that I've seriously under-reviewed, but so far, remember, I've only intended this blog as a place to (briefly!) record and respond to my reading -- and, hopefully, to generate a bit of conversation around mine and yours....

As I finished Love Enough, the library emailed to let me know that two titles had come available.  The first was by Hape Kerkelling, apparently a very popular German comedian, and its title describes it aptly enough: I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. (translated by Shelley Frisch).  Entertaining enough, and it will help to form an impression I'm gathering overall of the walk to Compostela.

The other title I borrowed from the library was Ben Abramovich's Midnight Riot, the first book in Abramovich's Rivers of London series featuring Peter Grant, a young officer in the London Metropolitan Police -- who's recruited into wizardry by a special, kept-under-wraps division dealing with the Supernatural forces that "disturb the Queen's peace." I'm not often seduced into fiction with a supernatural element (although yes to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and more recently, Deborah Harkness's Book of Witches trilogy). But this mystery novel was a great romp through the streets of London -- fun to recognise streets, parks, historic buildings, and even more entertaining to tromp backwards in time through a few of them, watching the city's geography transform via its history. Thanks to Annie for recommending this one -- I'll probably get through the rest of the series eventually as well.

Next, my daughter pressed André Alexis' The Hidden Keys on me. I'd given it to her for Christmas and she'd chewed through it very quickly so that she could swap it for my copy of his Fifteen Dogs. Because I'm determined to publish this post in January, but also determined to make it to yoga today and to get to my physiotherapy appointment, I'm going to have to stop simply at recommending this one to fans of literary mysteries with interesting characters and a fascinating examination of moral dilemmas plus very stylish writing -- this is one of Alexis's not-yet-completed quincunx, and it's fun to note a trio of characters from Fifteen Dogs make a cameo appearance.

Patricia Cornwell's Chaos -- Pater gave me this for Christmas, knowing that we've both enjoyed the Kay Scarpetta mysteries in the past. This is not as good as the early ones, but it's better than some of this series' more recent volumes -- much less bloated, better edited, although I think the prolonged career of the uber-madwoman Carrie Grethen is long past straining credulity. I would say there's a return to the character development and focus on relationships that pulled me in to the early titles in the series. So, overall, not bad. . . . if you can borrow from the library and have time on your hands.

Elaine Sciolino's The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs. Paris lovers will enjoy this book if they're interested in the intimacies of its neighbourhoods. Sciolino blends historical/architectural research with her personal experience getting to know her neighbours in this street that runs through the 9th and 18th arrondissements. Her keen observation and her frank self-awareness make for a charming memoir/travelogue. Recommended.

And that will have to do. We'll see if February can see me write a bit more often here, although with only 28 days. . . .

But what about you? Perhaps you can make up for my paucity of writing here by telling me what you've enjoyed reading lately. Or what you've got on your nightstand for next month. . .


  1. I had the urge to peek in today and here you are!

    The highlight of this year's reading, or better to say this month's, has been A Country Road, A Tree (Jo Baker). It was recommended by Susan at High Heels in the Wilderness (thank you Susan). The language! The detail! Just exactly what I like. It is the story of Samuel Beckett prior to and during his time in the French Resistance. I find this pertinent right now. I borrowed it from the library but am thinking of buying a copy to read again more slowly.

    I am on the waiting list for Zadie Smith's Swing Time. It has been a long wait, months. I'll add The Only Street in Paris to the list. Neighbourhoods, yes, please.

    1. Oh dear, I'm going to have to add that one to the unending list of Books I Want to Read. You and Sue are both readers I trust, although I'm generally keener on a non-fiction bio or a memoir than a fictionalised version. I mean to get back to something by Zadie Smith as well (Autograph Man was the last I read by her)

  2. I am reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood but stuck at 48% on the kindle. Another book I've been waiting for just became available at the library. It is Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi. The story of a painter/doctor/writer confined in present day Basilicata because he opposed Fascism in the 1930's. He writes about the lives of the people in the region who were socially and politically isolated from the rest of Italy.

    1. Ai-yi-yi, that reading is far too pertinent these days. I'm not sure I could bear The Handmaid's Tale at the moment, but it's definitely relevant. I'll see if the library here as the Levi available -- I'm pretty keen on books about Italy's history and culture these days, what with family living there.

    2. I was not familiar with the Handmaid's Tale until it showed up on a Kindle suggested reading list. I read one more chapter and now on my way to finishing. It is disturbing but I usually finish ebooks I purchase no matter what. Hope you can find the Levi book. It is translated from Italian.

  3. The beginning of the 2017 was a kind of involuntary hygge time for me,long period of ice on pavements meant less going out and more reading
    I've finally read "When Breath becomes Air" and "The Man Called Ove". I liked both very much
    In the mistery department- Nicci French's Thursday's Children (I still like the couple) and two books of Croatian author Pavao Pavlicic-not translated,so sorry about that,because I like his misteries,as well as other genres (and ,as a university professor,he really writes a lot,fiction and non-fiction)
    But,I've read finally the first one in a trilogy about famous women and their famous,genial husbands/lovers who neglected/abused them(I wrote about it here),- Frida's Bed from Slavenka Drakulic-and finally-it is a book translated in english
    It is about Frida Kahlo and her life. A lot was written and said about Frida,her life and paintings,but I liked this book a lot, the title is Frida or About the Pain in croatian-it is certainly worth reading. Relatively a short story-about 150 pages- but I read it longer than usual,checking the paintings and facts
    I've read also Semple's Where'd You Go Bernardette and Grégoire Delacourt's La liste de mes envies
    Now I'm reading The best croatian novel awarded book in 2016- so far not impressed at all

    1. You really did have a hygge month! So many titles here, and I'm madly scribbling down books I should read. I will have a look in our local library catalogue and bookstores to see if I can track down Frida's Bed, just to get the flavour of one of your writers.

  4. Love that you share your reading list with us! This month I was looking forward to Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, but was left unsatisfied. There is no doubt she is a great writer, some of her sentences enchant; but over all the way she chose to use a non linear timeline, coupled with at least 20 characters made it a "no" for me. I enjoyed "The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. It is a simple read with a simple plot. I most enjoyed the way the characters reveal themselves as the plot progresses. I slogged my way through Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy" in an effort to understand how my fellow Americans could have voted in the horror that is currently our president. I feel more well acquainted with this constituency, but angry at what I perceive as the group's inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for their own lives. Finally, I finished Louise Erdich's "The Round House." I enjoyed the book, although the themes and plot are centered around horrifying events. She magically weaves in tribal and non tribal ways of thought in a way I find fascinating. All that being said, it was still not my favorite book of hers that I have read. I am really longing for my next "I can't put this down" moment. I'd love fellow reader's suggestions.

    1. I've heard conflicting reports re Commonwealth -- I still plan to read it, eventually, and we might compare notes. Also planning to read Hillbilly Elegy for the same reasons as yours. Erdrich, okay, now that's a must, isn't it. She's so good and her work important, I think. Hmmmm, yes, let's see what suggestions pop up here for "I can't put this down."

  5. I too read "The Nest" and really enjoyed it - even though/or perhaps because it did not pan out the way that I had thought - and that pleased me - I like my expectations to be exceeded.

    It has also been a month for mysteries - "The Lewis Trilogy" by Peter May - highly recommended - well written, difficult to put down once started - and each had a twist that I was not expecting! I have also had good luck at the library with filling in a number of the Donna Leon "Brunetti" mysteries that I hadn't read as yet - I think I'm now all up to date except for the latest.

    The one non-mystery was Lionel Shriver's "The Mandibles - an American Family" - about the financial collapse of America about 15 years from nw and it's effect on one upper middle class family over the following 20 years or so. Not light reading and may be a bit too traumatic for some at this moment in time - but it was certainly interesting!

    I have umpteen piles of TO BE READ books still awaiting me so I am certainly prepared for February if hibernation seems prudent!

    1. Thanks for the recommendation of the Peter May Lewis trilogy -- I've put the first on hold at the library. Might be time for me to search out a new Donna Leon as well -- you're quite a few volumes ahead of me...
      And no, I imagine the Shriver is not light reading -- she doesn't compromise, does she, although there's a biting humour in her work. . .
      I think I could do with a month of hibernation as well -- certainly wouldn't run out of reading material!

  6. I read a lot in January but I can't say that any of the novels made it to my "best books" pile. Commonwealth was good, and I liked the nonlinear timeline, which I think made it more effective. Even so it fell short. I went back and read the first Tana French Dublin Murder Squad book, "In the Woods", but my favorite novel was probably Paulette Jiles "News of the World". I do recommend Hillbilly Elegy -- I live with feet in both words due to my location. No answers but some insights into the depths of the divide.

    1. Okay, another vote for Hillbilly Elegy, and a "better-than-meh" for Commonwealth. I'll see if Paulette Jiles' News is readily available at the library -- they have such a useful feature on their website for noting books you might want to read later. . .