Inspired by Eleanor over at Elle Thinks, and in an attempt to escape, if only temporarily, from the unbearable dreadfulness of this week’s events in the world of politics, I’ve put together a list of books to attempt to read for an event run by Cathy at 746 Books: “20 Books of Summer”. I’m technically behind already (the event officially runs between 1 June and 1 September), because the first half of June was the tail end of several weeks of non-stop singing work, but I’m back in the game now (translation: mostly unemployed again, and thus writing/reading to my heart’s content). The Witchy Book continues apace, and I’ve decided to have my “Summer of Reading” coincide, dates-wise, with the last three months of my pregnancy. I’ve just entered the third trimester today, so it seems like nice timing.
[Disappears to assemble pile]
And here they are!
Now they’ll probably sit like that on the bedroom floor until somebody (me) trips over them in the middle of the night.
Here are some reasons I haven’t read them yet:
- being intimidated by their length
- being ashamed that I didn’t read them when they were a big popular deal [The Goldfinch is a good example] and consequently being too embarrassed to be seen reading them in public “after the moment”
- being nervous about taking them out of the house because they’re signed copies
- having started them when I bought them, then getting distracted, and then being too embarrassed to pick them up again, as if they’ll rebuke me when I do. I know, I’m weird. I also used to give my stuffed animals equal time and attention (there was practically a rota) because I was worried about offending them.
The longer they sit on the shelf, of course, the worse it gets.
Here’s the list, in no particular order, with brief notes (some aren’t in the picture; and there are more than twenty, but I’m giving myself some leeway to choose what matches my mood at any given time. I won’t be able to read all of them by the 23rd of September):
- Kelly Link: Magic For Beginners – I’m pretty sure that Eleanor (Elle Thinks) gave me this after she’d reviewed it. I read the first short story: delicious and dark. Can’t wait to finish them all.
- Katherine Howe: Conversion – Katherine Howe came to my attention about a year or two ago, probably through writing about witches and also being quite academic; she edited the Penguin Book of Witches, whose delectable cover belies its rather desiccated contents (nothing but contemporary accounts of witch trials, which left me yawning, to my shame). Conversion is a YA novel that’s allegedly a sort of modern update of The Crucible, set (I think) in a girls’ school somewhere in New England. She was kind enough to send me some water-transfer temporary tattoos of the gorgeous cover art because she’d run out of signed bookplates. I haven’t used them yet, but I’ll treat myself when I’m reading this.
- Neil Gaiman: The View from the Cheap Seats – This just came out. Unfortunately it’s a signed copy, a late birthday gift from me to B, so I can’t take it out of the house. But I’ve used an Audible credit to buy the pleasure of Neil Gaiman reading it aloud to me. I think that counts.
- Adam Sisman: John Le Carre: The Biography – my dad sent me this last November after my miscarriage to cheer me up – he knows that I always feel better when the subject of spycraft is on the table – and I listened to the first chapter or so in the audiobook version. It’s a huge book, but I’d like to tackle it properly before the baby arrives (though it might be wiser to leave it for middle-of-the-night feeds from October onwards).
- Melvyn Bragg: The Adventure of English – I started reading this on a tour to America with That Choir back in 2014 (I think?) and lost it in a worryingly luxurious plantation-reminiscent North Carolina hotel bedroom. They promised to post it back, but never did, probably because they figured out what the postage would be to the UK and couldn’t be bothered. It belonged to my husband, so I hastily bought another copy and… promptly forgot about it. I’ve just started reading it again. It’s delightful; so delightful that I might just start from the beginning again for the full effect.
- Ann Patchett: State of Wonder – embarrassingly, B gave me this wonderful-looking book as a Christmas present in 2013. It went on the list immediately because of the mounting guilt I feel at not having read it. It’s a signed first edition, which is why it hasn’t yet left the house. Which is why it hasn’t yet been read.
- Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins – I loved Life After Life, although I was also extremely traumatised by one of the final scenes. A God in Ruins came out SOME TIME AGO and I bought a copy immediately, because I’m a hardback fetishist. I then exiled it to the Shelf of Shame (unread books) and promptly forgot about it.
- Ruth Goodman: How to be a Victorian – this was a Christmas present to myself, er, two years ago, when my dad gave me a nice Amazon voucher and I used it entirely to buy books. I remember hearing a review on NPR. Apparently it’s very down-to-earth and myth-busting, and doesn’t shy away from the gross details of Victorian life. Fun.
- Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant – after listening to/reading Ursula le Guinn’s angry response to this book with utter glee, I started reading it and just stopped.
- Will Cohu: Nothing But Grass – I have no idea why I own this. I think it was in the Christmas haul a year and a half ago, but I’m not sure.
- Hilary Mantel: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – again, something I bought very quickly after its release and then was too scared to read, because I missed the moment.
- Anthony Trevellian: The Weightless World – a book published by the wonderful people at Galley Beggar Press, with whom I have a bizarrely friendly Twitter relationship. I also need to finish How to be a Public Author, the wonderful satirical “non-fiction” book from “Francis Plugg”, but that’s another story.
- Jonathan Gibbs: Randall – another Galley Beggar book, but I have no idea what it’s about, or why I own it. I have a horrible feeling they may have sent me a copy for review around a year ago. There’s something about the black background with splotches of yellow paint on it that’s unbearably excellent as a cover design.
- A. L. Kennedy: On Writing – I’m currently halfway through this, so it might be cheating to have it on this list, but this is one of the most wonderful, darkly funny things I’ve ever read about the vicissitudes of being an author. Highly recommended. It’s a collection of her blog posts from several years ago.
- Hanna Rosin: The End of Men – happily, I knew about this from the Slate Double X Gabfest before it was featured on Orange is the New Black. Bizarrely, I’m a little nervous about being seen with it in public. Ridiculous.
- Philip Pullman: Northern Lights (Three Novels) – to clarify, I’m halfway through the second book, where I floundered (I felt the plot was getting really tedious), and B is not impressed – he loves all three. I’d like to finish them, at the very least, to get a better insight into my husband’s brain.
- Susan Cain: Quiet – her Ted Talk was so, so good, and I’m all for championing introverts and the importance of recognising the possibility of success and innovation without having to shout and be super popular and the kind of person who, I don’t know, somehow enjoys public dancing or whatever. I started this over a year ago and… maybe it was the teensy typeface? In any case – time for it to come straight back onto the reading list.
- Simon Armitage: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – another gift from B, a modern rendering by the inimitable SA of the original tale. He was quite cross that I never read it. I like Arthurian things, and I like SA, so I really ought to get down to it.
- Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch – Bought it, shelved it, then saw an amazing mezzo I’m slightly in awe of reading it on a plane on a tour we were on and thought, well, I’ve missed the boat on that one – can’t be seen reading it after her. Utterly ridiculous.
- Edward St Aubyn: Patrick Melrose Novels – ok, so it’s ridiculous to think that I can get through all five of these this summer, but I’d like to at least try the first one or two. I’ve heard people say that the books made them physically sick because of the abuse that’s catalogued in them (they’re heavily autobiographical fiction), but I’m still intrigued; his send-up of the Booker Prize in Lost for Words was wonderfully spiteful and very, very funny, and I got these after I’d read that one in the hope that I could just bathe in his prose a little more. B is ahead of me on this one, having read the first two or three already.
- Jessie Burton: The Miniaturist – oh God, she’s already releasing the sequel at the end of this month and I still haven’t read the first one? I think this is at the top of my list in terms of Things That Intimidate Me Because I’m Late To The Party. And her website is so cool, and she’s so casually excellent on Twitter. And ugggghhhhh will I ever be profiled in The Observer as a debut author? Extremely unlikely.
On that depressing note, an additional thought: because I’m hammering away at Draft 2 of Witches Sniping At Each Other Amusingly In Oxford (definitely not the official working title), I won’t have time to write a proper review of each of these books, but I’ll try to put something up on each one – maybe short reviews in batches.
I actually can’t wait – it’ll be so good, so wholesome, somehow, to get back into reading after having slid into the mind-corroding habit of being on my phone all the time because I’ve been commuting between gigs. In the meantime…
Are you doing 20 (or more) Books of Summer? Share your list!