20 Books of Summer
It’s June 1 and time for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, one that I never manage to finish but enjoy putting together and working on. Despite giving up all reading challenges, and despite having read far fewer books at this point in the year than usual, I’m making a list.
I consulted my list from last year’s challenge, which I failed dismally, but one of the nice things about this challenge is Cathy’s emphasis that it doesn’t matter how you do it or whether you succeed, just have fun with it. I did manage to read 10 of the 20 from last year, but as Barb remarked, it was an ambitious list, and it turned out to be too ambitious. But here we go again. I’m picking a bunch of books that are half-finished (or less), some of which I’ll probably have to start over because it’s been so long; different books by authors whose books I didn’t finish last summer; and entirely new books.
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. I read half of this a couple of summers ago and loved it but somehow didn’t manage to finish this and am not really sure why.
Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard. I failed to read Compass last year, so I’m picking a shorter, less demanding book of his from the TBR.
In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina. Yep, this was on the list last year. Let’s give it another go.
Occupied City by David Peace. A different Peace book than last year. This is #2 in his series of postwar Tokyo crime novels. I read the first one and thought it was brilliant (like all his books) and this has been staring at me from the bookshelf. I picked GB84 last year and failed to read it, but I can’t face that one this summer.
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope. I am nearly halfway through this on audio (the version read by Timothy West). I haven’t been listening to audiobooks much but I really like this version, better than reading it for once, so I’m putting it on the list.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. I’ve had this for quite a while and keep meaning to pick it up. I’ve seen a bunch of references to it during shelter-in-place, so this seems like a good time.
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. The next in the trilogy.
Belleweather by Susanna Kearsley. Why didn’t I read this last summer? I have no idea.
Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. I’m partway through this and putting it on the list may get me to finish. It’s very good but kind of tough to read.
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. This is sort of a gimme because I’m nearly halfway through and plan to finish, but this way I’m held to public account.
Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Keishon reminded me that I own this, and I’ve been meaning to read it.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. I’ve had this in the TBR since it was nominated for an award, and it’s since been nominated for more. It sounds great but somehow I never get to it.
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri. Another translated work that I picked up when it came out in the UK but haven’t read.
The Stranger’s Child by Allan Hollinghurst. I have a bunch of Hollinghurst’s novels in the TBR. This one seems like a good followup to The Sparsholt Affair, which I loved.
Morvern Callar by Alan Warner. From last year. I have multiple Warner novels in the TBR. I am going to finish one, I swear it.
Decoded by Mai Jia. I’m a third of the way through this so it’s kind of cheating to put it on the list, but this way I’ll finish it. I’ve been bogged down a few times but want to get all the way to the end.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I know I must have read this when I was a teenager and hoovering up all her works (I even have a facsimile version of the Sanditon manuscript). But I remember nothing.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. One of the earliest spy novels. I’ve been wanting to read more Conrad since Lord Jim, and this is shorter than Nostromo, and hopefully less depressing than Heart of Darkness. I’m not counting on the latter, though.
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths. Installment #3 in the Ruth Galloway series.
Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones. We heard Mars-Jones read and discuss this at Gay’s the Word bookstore in London on March 12, the night before we flew back to the US and commenced self-isolation. We almost didn’t go because of the crowd issue, but at the last minute we did, and we even went to the packed pub on the corner before the reading. Somehow we managed not to get the virus. It was our last outing this year.
That is a very interesting list! Good luck.
Re: the Conrad title–I sure hope it is not as depressing as ‘Heart of Darkness’ as it sounds quite interesting.
The Delafield sounds delightful. I can vouch for the Kearsley–I loved it.
I read all of Trollope’s Palliser books 40+ years ago and enjoyed them very much. They now reside in the Everest sized To Be Re-Read stack.
Small change of subject–did you see that ‘Greenwood’ took this year’s Arthur Ellis Award from the Canadian Crime Writers? I was slightly surprised to find that title missing from your list.
Nothing could be as depressing as Heart of Darkness, so there’s that. My Pallisers are a reread too (and the Barchester books, of which I have two left).
Thanks for reminding me of Greenwood! I picked up a bunch of Giller longlist nominees when they were announced but that hadn’t been released yet. But I do want to read it. I also still have the Evaristo in my pile, which deserves attention. Maybe in the fall I’ll have an “awards” reading list and work on that. I’m not going to read the Booker longlist this year, at least I don’t plan to at the moment, but I know there will be novels on there that will appeal.
Oh, do make time for ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. I found it to be a fairly quick read because it just sucked me in. I had to keep turning the pages, as all of the women were so interesting and vibrant. And the Epilogue had me reaching for tissues.
Re. Heart of Darkness, by depressing, are you referring to the plot, or the racist main character? I read it maybe thirty years ago and the racism went over my head back then. I loved it and it didn’t depress me, although it was quite dark (sorry for the pun). I’ve always wanted to read more Conrad, but I am scared of the potential racism, so it would be good to know more about The Secret Agent.
Incidentally, I’ve always been impressed with Conrad for the fact that he wrote in English despite not knowing the language until he was twenty or so. More impressive than Naobokov’s achievement of speaking Russian, English and French fluently at a young age, IMO. It is much easier to master new languages when you learn them earlier in life.
Well, certainly Kurtz, the main character. But the general depiction of the Congolese, the use of “darkness,” which has a long history in imperialism, etc. Conrad is obviously trying to critique imperialism, but as with so many writers (then and now), it’s difficult not to reproduce some of its supremacist ideology when you’re embedded in it.
I think of it as a structural feature of 19thC and early 20thC literature. Even when it’s brilliant, you can’t escape it. I can read Conrad, but I can’t read Kipling (although lots of Indians read Kipling quite happily while being aware of the racism and imperialism). It’s a feature, not a bug.
ETA: Chinua Achebe has a famous essay on Conrad and racism. This Guardian article where he is in dialogue with Caryl Phillips draws on extends that argument. It’s a great piece.
Thank you! I’ll have to take a look.
I will be (re)reading Northanger Abbey this summer because I’ve put it on the reading list for my History of the Novel course which may or may not actually happen. But I have bad news about that Conrad book (it’s good, of course).
I should make a little pile of non-course books that I’ve actually got in the house. I keep getting distracted by the rapidly expanded digital library offerings. And the physical library is making plans for some pick-up options to come this summer. . . .
I realize that to expect optimism from Conrad is to fundamentally misunderstand him as an author. 😉 He’s worth it, though. We will have to exchange thoughts on Northanger Abbey. I’m really looking forward to it.
Oh, I predict you will love the Provincial Lady, Sunita.
I think your prediction will be most accurate. I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet.