This round-up is coming a little late, because I was on holiday! And read absolutely nothing while I was away – I started the graphic novel/comic Watchmen while on the flight out, but didn’t get very far in.
So in July I ended up reading 11 books, for an overall 2017 total of 100 so far! Last July I read 12, and at the end of July had also hit exactly 100! So it’s tentatively looking like while my reading patterns fluctuate slightly from month to month, it evens out over an annual period.
Noteworthy Reads in July 2017
- Plum Sykes Party Girls Die in Pearls – fun, flippant murder mystery set in 1980s Oxford U. Privilege, caustic footnotes, class warfare and a typically boisterous American sidekick who serves to show exactly how antiquated and arbitrary British society and mores supposedly are in the novel. The pacing of this was really off – too slow, then too fast – it wasn’t so much social commentary as observation, and the humour fell flat for me a lot; it wasn’t as sharp or as acerbic as I would have liked, but still worth a read I think, although I’m not enamoured enough of the protagonist Ursula Flowerbottom to look for the next installment in this new series.
- Sue Townsend Adrian Mole: The Collected Poems – for anyone who was ever a fan of Adrian Mole (I definitely was – my favourite tortured adolescent), these poems will make you laugh. I devoured this while waiting in line for a Van Gogh exhibition in Melbourne, and the letters to and from the BBC editor were hilarious.
- Meg Howrey The Wanderers – The blurb for this was a little misleading. Basically three astronauts have been chosen to man a mission to Mars. As part of their training, they have to spend 18 months in a simulation of the journey, and that’s what the novel is about, rather than the actual mission to Mars. The perspectives shift between the three astronauts and the family they’ve left behind – chilren, spouses, ex-spouses. What does it take to leave family behind in search of something greater than self, greater than humanity? What does it take to love someone who leaves, who is drawn to something beyond this world? There is some interesting stuff about being female in a male industry, and how different it is for females to leave family than males. It is poignant and quietly piercing, and not really about Mars at all, but about what makes humans yearn for it, to achieve things that seem so incredibly impossible, to walk among the stars. The pacing is a little iffy, especially towards the end, but for a book about space, it is really the space within the self that ends up being interrogated, explored, known.
- Robert Seethaler A Whole Life – this translation by Charlotte Collins was an incredibly masculine read, I think. It follows the life of Andreas Eggers, who lives and dies in a mountain village in Europe, lives through World War II etc etc. It’s incredibly spare prose, and it’s a very short read. It’s the kind of book that lingers with you – the poverty and limited reach of some lives, and the way that meaning is still made through the living of life. The title is A Whole Life, but a few years from Andreas’ childhood are actually missing, and that is significant also – how you can tell the entire story of a life, and still there is so much that is a mystery. Worth reading.
- Han Kang The Vegetarian – this South Korean novel won the Man Booker in 2016, and is about a woman who stops eating meat after a series of bloody dreams and how her family reacts to that choice. It’s weird and unsettling and gory, and certain scenes linger with me. It makes a point about the autonomy of one’s own body, and how just to be a certain way is a political challenge and taken as judgement. I’m putting this here because it was a noteworthy read, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. Yoko Ogawa is similar, but her prose is more effective, I think.
Last year I read 8 books in August. I’m hoping to at least get to 12 this year, but this whole first week of August has been a wash, so we’ll see! (I’m so behind on our July book club read as well, Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness)