Isn’t it a relief, dear readers, to have 2020 behind us? Unlike so many in this year of the plague, my personal situation was relatively benign (I had tons of great books, good internet access & my near and dear remained healthy) but even we lucky ones can agree that it’s quite the relief to have 2020 in the rearview mirror. One of the more pleasant annual rituals for a book blogger is the annual summary of books read and enjoyed (or not); it’s especially pleasant this year, where there’s sometimes been little else to enjoy other than books. Being, as usual, just a tiny bit behind the curve in looking over the past year (if you’ve read my blog in the past you may recall that I was several weeks late for Margaret Atwood month), my tally is accordingly
coming somewhat after most of the others. This is partly because I didn’t post very much this year and didn’t formally review many books. The pandemic and a long-distance move took their toll; for much of the year my brain was in a state analogous to the slumber mode of a bad computer, making it almost impossible to read anything very long or demanding. I’m not a big numbers cruncher, especially when it comes to books, but I do keep an informal tally and I was shocked to discover that I had read large portions of, and subsequently abandoned, over eleven books. I’ve never been adverse to abandoning or postponing books that didn’t work for me at a particular moment but I’m certainly not quick to do so, especially when, as here, I was actually reading some pretty good things. It was a very odd experience — about halfway through one of the Abandoned Eleven, it was “Bing! I’m done” and off I’d go to another book, which usually met the same fate (if my binger went off in a particularly intriguing work, such as Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water, I’d skim the end. Sometimes I wouldn’t bother.) What can I say, dear readers? This was the year I just couldn’t focus.
This was also the year when I received several visits from the Ghost of Books Past (envision, dear readers, a bookish version of Dickens’ famous spectre, only in my case toting bags of gaudy mass market paperbacks and brandishing bookish gift cards — I believe these are called “book tokens” in the U.K.), who insisted that I re-visit various reading adventures of yesteryear. This apparition first appeared in September (here in the U.S., we start commercializing Christmas pretty early). Immediately after I finished John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samara (BTW many thanks, Dolce Bellezza, for that read-along, otherwise Samara would still be adorning Mount TBR) I became absolutely fixated on locating and re-reading books that I hadn’t thought about for literally decades. Seemingly out of the blue (but we know whose doing it was, right?) I suddenly remembered enough information to locate and obtain a yellowing, mass market paperback of Gwendoline Butler’s Sarsen Place, a novel I had read decades ago, as well as a copy of The Vesey Inheritance, another read by Butler from days gone by. Sarsen Place, now sadly out of print, was worth the effort. The Vesey Inheritance was slightly less so but still a fun read.
Through sheer force of will I resisted the compulsion to spend October re-reading my ten favorite Georgette Heyer novels (it helped that I already knew several of them by heart), but ah, the Ghost of Books Past was far from done with me. The high school I attended several lifetimes ago had a sort of hit or miss library, mostly dull old classics (Tolstoy isn’t terribly interesting to most fifteen year olds) and the librarian had the maddening habit of only ordering one or two books from a series. At that time in my life I had particularly enjoyed one such incomplete series; I won’t identify it except to say it didn’t concern the adventures of either Trixie Belden or Bomba the Jungle Boy. But my school library had only two books from the series, and odd numbered ones at that, so I never learned either the beginning or end of the saga! Imagine the frustration and grief of my little teenybopper self! It was high time, the Ghost whispered, to atone for The Wrong of Reading Only A Few Books From A Series! Heeding my supernatural warning, I started obsessively locating and reading the entire series, seven books total, following the adventures of the main guy, his brother (who pops up around the third book) and then, for gosh sakes, the main guy’s nephew, who’s born somewhere around book five and who carries the saga forward to a new century and a new place (this author clearly knew how to hook a kid in). Ah, dear readers, the joys of completion, all the sweeter for being so long delayed!
After reading/skimming seven books from a Young Adult series (comparatively well written but, let’s face it, with rather immature characters), I could feel the Ghost beginning to fade. In late November and December I really intended to make a final push to read a few more books from my “Back to the Classics Challenge;” I really did, but the past wasn’t yet past, so to speak. Are any of you, dear readers, fans of grimdark, described by N.K. Jemison as fantasy’s equivalent to sci-fi’s dystopia sub-genre? If so, you’ll understand why, when Logen Ninefingers (aka “the Bloody Nine”) summoned me for a re-read, I hastened to obey. In a bit of severe counter-programing to the holiday season, I spent half of December re-reading Joe Abercrombie’s magnificent First Law Trilogy (the Guardian has referred to Abercrombie’s work as “delightfully twisted and evil” and it’s been proclaimed by no less than Forbes as “fantasy at its finest”). Less pompous and far funnier than Martin’s Game of Thrones, and much more attuned to human frailty than Tolkien, Abercrombie’s realpolitik, double dealing and dark humor seemed perfectly attuned to this horrible year. If you liked GOT you’d probably like the First Law Trilogy, provided you aren’t adverse to (very) naughty language and more graphic depictions of the old ultraviolence than you’d find even in Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. Don’t judge me too harshly, dear readers, we all have our moods; sometimes one longs to attend a jumble sale with Pym’s excellent women and at others simply to wander the Circle of the World with the Bloody Nine. Say one thing for Abercrombie’s morally ambiguous characters, say they’re most compelling.
Although I spent the last half of 2020 more or less successfully escaping the present, my reading year did in fact include some forward momentum. Two very bright spots indeed were my increased respect for shorter fiction and a growing interest in translated literature. Prior to this year, I had only occasionally read short fiction and then largely on the theory that it was “good for me,” a type of literary equivalent of “eat your broccoli.” I’ve noticed, however, that my fragmented attention span seems fairly widespread this year and that many of my fellow bloggers as well as myself have taken to reading short stories and novellas. Among several outstanding novellas that came my way, the following three, very different works particularly stand out:
Ah, I hear the murmur through cyber space, did she read no novels during 2020? I did, actually, and although there were far fewer in number than in prior years, they included some wonderful works. In ascending order, the three that have stayed with me the longest are:
Well, dear readers, that’s pretty much it for my 2020 reading year. How did yours go? Anyone else out there, haunted by comfort reads and cursed with fragmented attention spans?
27 thoughts on “2020 Reading Roundup”
Although 2020 is gone, i’m not convinced 2021 is going to be a lot better necessarily… But some fascinating reads there. I’ve only read one Dennis Johnson, a long time ago, and I really must read more!
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I’m afraid I share your opinion about 2021 (let’s hope we’re both wrong); I saw where your PM is doing his thing tonight & has announced new lockdown restrictions. The restrictions in my area aren’t nearly as stringent as the U.K.’s but they probably should be (the positivity rate is quite high) and the vaccine rollout appears to be a mess. Thanks heavens for reading; it keeps us all sane.
I’ve been hesitant to try Dennis Johnson, for no logical reason. Train Dreams is a beautiful piece of work but I don’t know how representative it is of Johnson’s output as a whole. I’ve been telling myself for years I should read something by Johnson; now I’ll have to amend my self-message to say “read one of his novels.!”
You got me interested in some of these books. Maybe I’ll get to one or two of them some day. Here’s what I read most recently: Sourdough, a whimsical and charming novel by Robin Sloan.
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YAB: so glad you stopped by (and don’t be surprised if you get two replies — I think I pressed the wrong button or something!). I just checked out Sourdough, which does indeed sound like a very fun read (I used to occasionally make sourdough bread in my more energetic days. I wasn’t very good at it). I also didn’t realize that Robin Sloan also wrote Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I’ve come very, very close to reading several times. I’ll definitely keep Sloan in mind for my next addition to Mt TBR!
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Train Dreams is good, but I think the story collection Jesus’ Son is better.
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Simon: thanks for the recommendation! I must admit that it was a struggle to get myself to even try Train Dreams; it really was on the discard pile but after a couple of pages I decided I had to finish. I liked it well enough to want to read more of Johnson’s work but was unsure where to start, as I couldn’t quite face Tree of Smoke. So — my next one will be Jesus’ Son!
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You’ve definitely made the sale for me on Joe Abercrombie! And the Maria Gainza looks interesting as well. I find Cather pretty great.
I’m cautiously optimistic about 2021 as long as we really imagine it beginning in about April or maybe even May…the next couple of months will need to be considered a (dis-) honorary part of 2020.
Reese: If you decide to try him, you definitely MUST let me know how you like Abercrombie! I love his work so much I worry that I may have oversold him; if you have a taste for this particular fantasy sub-genre, however, his novels are definitely hard to beat (don’t tell anyone, but I’m having a hard time putting down Best Served Cold, a standalone set in the First Law Universe, in order to concentrate on Japanese Literature In Translation month! This despite the fact I’m reading a wonderful collection of short stories, Where the Wild Ladies Are).
Having My Antonia shoved on me in school spoiled Cather for me for many years (I had a similar reaction to George Eliot. Middlemarch is now one of my favorite classic novels). I’m only now beginning to recognize just what a great writer Cather is and I definitely plan on reading more of her work; I’m just going to start with some novel other than My Antonia. Any recommendations?
If 2021 does see something of a return to normality I think you’re right that it won’t come before mid-year. All I can say, along with the rest of the world, is please let it come!
I haven’t read them all, but I think my favorite so far is probably Death Comes For The Archbishop (and it’s quite different from My Antonia…) I also remember The Professor’s House quite favorably.
Joe Abercrombie turned out to be incredibly popular at my library–is there going to be a television show or something?–and while I put myself down for The Blade Itself, I probably won’t see it for months, alas…
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Reese: thanks for the Cather recommendations! By sheer chance, I just happened to be most interested in The Professor’s House & Death Comes for the Archbishop. I hope I can actually get to one of them this year (I tend to be a bit disorganized).
I had to laugh about Joe Abercrombie’s popularity — guess I’m not alone there. I think there’s an internet rumor that someone or other has bought rights to the trilogy but I don’t know of anything definite. Both Mr. Janakay (who’s also a fan) and myself are puzzled why some movie type hasn’t already made a film version, as the books seem such a natural for cinematic treatment. Hopefully you’ll soon get a chance to sample Abercrombie and judge for yourself whether he’s overrated.
Many congratulations BTW on winning the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge! It’s a great accomplishment, particularly in such a difficult year. Numbers wise I did even worse in 2020 than in 2019 but I really enjoyed the Challenge, as it motivated me to read some great books I would otherwise have missed.
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Lovely post! You’ve had a fruitful year of reading! ‘Ghost of books past’- I love that. I must re read Georgette Heyer to summon my own ghosts now that you have mentioned her. I am looking forward to reading The Parasites. It’s exciting to know that there are some Daphne du Maurier books that I have yet to read. And thanks for the novella recommendations! Those would be great to read during the pandemic.
Dear LT: thanks so much for the kind words! My reading year did have some bright spots but it was also quite frustrating at times; there were some wonderful books on my list (Muriel Sparks The Girls of Slender Means; Elizabeth Bowen’s Eva Trout and a host of new 2020 novels) that I just didn’t have the mental energy to tackle. If you do try The Parasites, I’d love to know your reaction. I haven’t read that many of du Maurier’s novels but I understand Parasites is quite different from most of them and that it was only moderately successful when it was published. As I indicated in my post, I loved it! I thought it was psychologically pretty acute and stylistically sophisticated; the intense sibling bond, for example, was reflected by the fact that du Maurier used a “we” pronoun at times to narrate. Oh dear, I’m making the novel sound so very serious, aren’t I? It was a really fun read, lots of family drama and a lovely atmosphere redolent of that glamourous London theatrical world and the country house circles of the 1930s-1940s.
I was quite glad to see the back of 2020 but concerned that 2021 might not be much better. I hope yesterday’s news here doesn’t herald more of the same. I am so glad you enjoyed My Mortal Enemy, The Corner that held them and The Parasites. I read The Parasites in 2020 as well.
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Ali: yes, even in a bad (well, terrible) year, there were reading pleasures, thank heavens. I remember that you had read and enjoyed The Parasites, which was one of my delightful 2020 surprises. I already knew and loved Warner but Corner was a “problem” book for me (I had tried it a couple of times before, to no avail); this time around it just flowed and helped me get through last January. As for Cather, I think for me she’s a novelist whose time has come! I’ve been lining up some of her other novels on the shelf, although I don’t know quite when I’ll get to them.
I, too, am concerned about 2021. Our “offical” restrictions in my part of the U.S. are nothing, really (my own are much, much more stringent), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a high infection rate. As for the vaccine rollout here, I suspect the less said about that the better. I guess we can say that, however, 2021 turns out (and I think there is a good chance of conditions slowly improving) at least we’ve got one bad year already behind us.
Really pleased to see Train Dreams in here, such a brilliant book. The way that Johnson manages to compress the sense of a life into such a slim volume is very impressive. Wishing you all the best for the year ahead – plenty of good reading, I hope.
Jacqui: thanks so much for the kind wishes! Johnson really IS brilliant, isn’t he? I’d almost given up on ever getting to any of his work (so many books, etc) and am so glad that I made a last minute decision to keep Train Dreams. As you say, he has an almost uncanny ability to convey the essence of a man’s life and the changing history of his little corner of the west in very few words. I remember the first time I read an Alice Munro “short” story (so long ago I can’t remember which one) where I was similarly amazed at her ability to depict a whole life in the short story format.
Very strange but I think I’ve read Sarsen Place before. Definitely a blast from the past although I remember nothing about it.
I’m so glad you reconsidered Cather. I liked My Antonia and certainly have plans to read more of her. I absolutely loved Death Comes For the Archbishop! A project would be great but I have so many mental projects lined up ahead of her that it may take awhile.
And, conversely, I absolutely hated Rebecca and have since been hesitant to pick up any more novels by du Maurier but honestly, that’s not fair to judge after one novel and I do need to try another.
The Corner That Held Them sounds fascinating. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on it.
Well, in spite of a weird and unsettling year, your reading life sounds like it was pretty good. I’m determined 2021 will be better in all ways for me, especially as my reading was quite dismal last year. All the best for 2021 to you, Janakay!
Cleo: glad you stopped by and thanks so much for the kind wishes. Yours was one of the blogs that helped me get through a stressful & dismal year.
So funny about Sarsen Place! I think I remembered it because it came pretty early in my reading of Gothics and, also, because I liked the “liberated late Victorian woman” vibes. I also loved the fact that the heroine was determined to be a scholar (I had similar ambitions at the time, so this resonated) and “read” at Oxford, although of course being female no one would dream of giving her a degree. I’d been trying to locate the book for ages, not very intensively but every now & then killing time on the internet, but couldn’t remember enough specific details to be successful. Then, wham! I remembered a couple of the characters’ names. The result — I had a nice, escapist day or two and got even further behind reading my books for the Classics Challenge!!! Oh well — it was just that kind of year.
Although there are a couple of du Mauriers I like (Rebecca being one, but only on my second read) I’ve never particularly sought out her work. This year, however, I read a novella (Don’t Look Now–a great spooky read and even better as a movie), some short stories and The Parasites, which is very different from Rebecca. The Parasites is not particularly uplifting and I wouldn’t call any of the characters likable; there’s also a relationship that isn’t technically incest (they’re step-siblings) but . . . well, you get the drift. It’s well written (very), stylistically interesting with those shifts in pronouns/points of view, and is wonderfully atmospheric, with all the glamor of the theatrical, bohemian, country house world of 1940s England. It’s also quite funny in spots.
I suspect I’m going to like Cather very much, although she may have to wait (I’m getting over committed). Death Comes for the Archbishop will probably be my choice when I get to the novels.
If you get to Corner, you must tell me what you think. It’s an odd, wonderful book that requires time and patience; it only clicked for me on either my second or third attempt (Moby Dick took me three or four times, I think).
Like you, I really, really, really want 2021 to be an improvement in every possible way over its predecessor. I was not at all satisifed with my reading last year (I was actually shocked when I did my little end of the year tally). Basically, without the Classics Challenge, some recommendations from blogs and the translated literature aspects, it was awful. The best to you, too — may we both have some wonderful reading adventures, not least of all so we can compare notes!
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My attention span was OK in the past year as it pertained to my reading life. In fact, I read four more books in 2020 than in 2019 but I suspect that was largely because I have become increasingly adept at integrating audio books into my routine (when dog walking, doing housework and/or yard work). I have cards at three different library systems which provides me luckily with a fairly broad range of choice in audio and e-books. I did some re-reading as well: The Handmaid’s Tale, as previously mentioned; the first four (three on audio)of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series because the fifth book, Big Sky, came out and it had been so very long since I first read them; and the first two in Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series. It was all very satisfying. For comfort reads, I usually go to Agatha Christie and I read Taken at the Flood as well as an omnibus of her short stories.
My first completed book of 2021 was The Glass Hotel and I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Station Eleven. I think it just didn’t live up to the hype machine for me. But I had no real expectations in reading The Glass Hotel and could accept it for what it was.
I loved My Antonia. I’m sorry you didn’t get on with it. I read Death Comes for the Archbishop 20+ years ago and disliked it. But I was a different reader then. I read My Antonia a couple of years ago and would very much like to read all of Cather’s work now…along with revisiting the Archbishop eventually.
I’ve heard lots of good things about Joe Abercrombie. I do like fantasy (I read all the GoT books) but they are such a commitment …Maybe once I’ve made more headway in the Robin Hobb Realm of the Elderlings books (5 down, 11 more to go).
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Ruthiella: always a treat when you drop by! I’m glad you were able to concentrate so well last year and put the time to good use. I did read a good bit, but in a very disjointed way as I indicated in my post. Lots of starts and stops and not too many completions. I’m finding that this continues in a strange way, at least so far; I seem to have gone from a “serial monogamy” kind of reading (i.e., reading one book intensely to the end before starting another) to something more, shall I say, promiscuous? I’m now about halfway through several different novels, all of which I’m enjoying very much. I’m also mulling over whether to do a challenge or two this year; can’t quite decide even though I’ve picked out all the books!
I remembered that you weren’t wowed by Station Eleven. I didn’t expect to be but was. I didn’t have any great expectations for The Glass Hotel but ended up, as I said, thinking it was almost as good. At some point after Eleven I went back and read Mandel’s earlier novels, which I enjoyed in a mild kind of way, i.e., they were good but they didn’t prepare me for her last two novels, where she really seems to have broken through to an altogether different level, much deeper and more poetical than her earlier work. It’s fascinating to me, when a writer does that.
I was very young when I really tried My Antonia and not very interested in classic American writers; I fully intend to try Antonia again but not, I must say, as my next Cather. Next month, I plan on reading Alexander’s Bridge as part of Kaggsy’s celebration of independent publishers, as I have the Melville House edition. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been collecting Cather’s work in preparation for a massive immersion which may or may not ever happen (alas, I’m better at planning projects than finishing them. So many books, etc). I must say I’m now far more interested in her work than I’ve been before.
Can it be that I’ve discovered ANOTHER Susan Howatch fan? I’ve read most of her novels, although not recently. I liked the Starbridge Series but didn’t think it equalled Penmarric or Cashelmara. I always enjoyed picking out the historical events Howatch was using as the skeleton of her stories and wow! The stories themselves. Wunderbar! (god! I hope this doesn’t spark another massive re-read)
If you liked GoT you might really enjoy Abercrombie. For one thing, unlike George RR, he can complete a story arc, which counts for a lot. I love Abercrombie’s dark humor, his cynicism and his uncanny knack for pulling the rug out from under you and your expectations of where a story or a character is going (at times, however, I do get a bit tired of detailed battle scenes, but then I was re-reading pretty intensely). And he is very, very good at creating colorful characters, who have a delightful way of popping up in cameos in several different novels. For this reason, if you do decide to give Abercrombie a whirl, I’d recommend reading the books in order. I read them the first time through at pretty wide intervals and didn’t lose a lot, which cuts down on the time commitment.
I’ve never read any of Robin Hobb’s stuff. Have I missed anything?
It is always delightful to have a bookish conversation with you.
I’m not sure when I moved from reading one book at a time to many books at once, but I suspect it was sometime in 2009 because that is when I discovered book blogs and signed up to Goodreads. In my younger years, I only read maybe 10 books a year – one at a time. I am sure no method is “better” than another, but what I like about having different books on the go is that I can kind of match them to my brainpower. Some books are more work than others, so I like having a “lighter” read around when I need it, for example. When it comes to reading challenges, I like to try to match them to the books I own when possible. I recognize that I will never read all the books on my shelves, but currently I am really enjoying trying to reduce their number. It is a challenge within a challenge. 😊
I think I might go back and read Mandel’s earlier books someday. I certainly like her writing style. It is almost calming, somehow. I just didn’t think the plotting in Station Eleven was as intricate as other readers/reviewers made it out to be. I know that there are many readers who want to be wowed with every book and there are other readers who enjoy the comfort of encountering variations of the same story over and over. I fall somewhere in the middle and I like to read mildly entertaining books in between books that knock my socks off and books that are comfortably predicable. I agree with you, however, that it is fascinating to read an authors entire work and see where they move from good to great. Spoiler alert: I finished Setting Free the Bears which was John Irving’s debut and it was OK, but doesn’t hold a candle to his later books which are, in my opinion, genius.
I hope you are successful in your Cather immersion plans. There are bloggers/book tubers who sometimes read an author’s entire body of work over the course of a year in publication order and I love hearing/reading about that experience. I would like to attempt it one of these days but so far have been commitment shy. There are a few favorite authors I would like to pick for such a project; Irving would be one. Also I would consider Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. In all three cases, it would be a nice mix of new to me works combined with re-reads.
I LOVED reading Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series. I read them all in the ‘90s during my 10 books a year phase. The reason I started to re-read is because I happened upon a third trilogy set in the 1980s that carries on from the Starbridge books with many of the same characters. It is called The St. Benet’s trilogy. So far, I’ve only read the first one in it, called The Wonderworker, but it really gave me the urge to go back and revisit the originals before I continue on. And on the plus side, my library has all six Starbridge books available in electronic format and having read the first two, I am reminded that they are super fast reads. There is some theology and philosophy in them, but they are mainly plot and books like that are easy for me to read quickly. In the 1990s, I didn’t even know about the Penmarric or Cashelmara books. But now, thanks to the internet, I do. So I will definitely tackle those when I am done with revisiting Starbridge and finishing up St. Benet’s. I am sure I will like them because Susan Howatch knows how to tell a good story.
Yeah, I have given up on George RR (and Patrick Rothfuss too). At this point, if he ever publishes the last two books in the GoT series, I doubt I will read them. I’ve lost interest. You’ve done a wonderful job selling Abercrombie to me. He’s definitely on my list now! There are so many fantasy series out there and I want to try them all. But they are just so darn long! But I will for sure try the first book soon. It is fun and satisfying to read a complete series of any kind of book in fairly quick succession because the reader is familiarly with the world of the series. You may be missing out on Robin Hobb, I don’t know how much you like the genre. I am really only just now dipping my toes in. She is very popular among the Fantasy crowd, which is how I came to her. After so many rave reviews, I had to give her a try. The Realm of the Elderlings is a set of 16 books comprised of four trilogies and one quartet. They are all linked, but one can read each trilogy/quartet and have a full story arc.
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Ruthiella: I, too, very much enjoy our bookish conversations (feel free to email me if you’re so inclined, I think my blog is set up for it)! Among other things, I find it very interesting to compare our reading tastes. Very, very similar in some respects, quite different in others.
As least for the moment, I seem to be converted to the “reading several books at one time” position. My method is similar to yours, if not quite as organized or rational: some difficult books, some easy books and something in-between, read at different times depending in my case on whim to suit mood. As I said in my post, sometimes you want Barbara Pym and the jumble sale and sometimes it has to be Logen Nine-Fingers. What a boring world, if one just read the same thing endlessly!
I, too, have an enormous number of unread books but I’m afraid I use any excuse to add to Mount TBR. 2020 was especially ruinous in this respect. In addition to the pandemic, which meant much more time at home, I had the trauma of weeding the collection and moving (I’m still moving BTW, being in temporary housing for at least another month or so). I was quite surprised to find just how difficult it was to reevaluate my mass of books. I found myself making lists of my discards, in case I ever wanted to replace them; books kept migrating from the “get rid of” to the “can’t get rid of” pile and . . . well, you get the drift. And then, I realized after the shelves went into the new house that I had —- empty shelf space!!!! At that point, I was reading lots of book blogs and getting scores of ideas, becoming interested in translations and small publishers . . . the totally predictable result? I’m not sure I’m going to have enough shelf space after all. Thankfully, the acquisition fever seems to be abating this year (fingers crossed here).
It really would be interesting (and fun) to do one of those projects following an author’s work from beginning to end. Here’s where our taste coincide and diverge at the same time: my prime candidates like yours are Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison; perhaps Cather. I’ve noticed your fondness for Irving but oddly enough he’s one of those writers whose work I haven’t really explored. I did read The Cider House Rules when it was published, and liked it without being inflamed by the desire to read more. Which of his books is your favorite, in case I decide to go exploring?
I would love to be wowed by every book I take up but, sadly, I find these days that I’m less and less overwhelmed by what I read. Unlike my younger days, I’m pretty selective about my choices, so I’m seldom really disappointed in a book but conversely I find it’s pretty rare for me to get totally, emotionally wrapped up in one. Don’t get me wrong — I read plenty of things that I enjoy or admire a great deal, but fewer things that pack an emotional wallop. When it happens (and it’s not always with the greatest of literature that it does), I really cherish the experience.
Isn’t Susan Howatch great? There should be a special pantheon for writers like Howatch, who frequently get short shrift from the literary establishment but who write well and can create great characters and stories with such immediacy you just can’t put their books down, the “I must read straight through the night” writers. I discovered Howatch with Penmarric, then Cashelmara and aftrewards on to The Rich Are Different/Sins of the Fathers (her modern rift on Caesar/Cleopatra/Augustus — my theory anyway), then some of the early ones, then St Benet and then Starbridge (unlike you, I read these series in reverse order!) Do you think the Starbridge series is Howatch’s version of Trollope’s Barsetshire? I found her early novels entertaining but “pre breakthrough to greatness,” so to speak. It didn’t sound like you’ve yet gotten to Penmarric; I loved it but it didn’t have the spiritual/philosophical aspects of her Starbridge novels. Regarding St Benet trilogy —- again, I enjoyed but — I don’t think she was really comfortable with her High Flyer, a career oriented woman operating in a man’s world, and correspondingly, her portrayal didn’t ring totally true to me.
I do love fantasy, so I really must try Robin Hobb. As you say, however, these fantasy epics are such a commitment of time. Can no one write just a one or even a two volume fantasy any more? Single trilogies even are becoming rare and the multi-volume disease seems to be spreading to sci-fi. And, while I love the genre, I am pretty picky about it; no more Tolkien ripoffs and pseudo elves for Janakay!
I do hope I haven’t oversold Abercrombie (as you’ve noted, over hyping can spoil a perfectly good novel). I would say that you should know pretty quickly when you start reading whether he’s your guy or not. As I recall, you liked Hollow Kingdom, didn’t you? Some of Abercrombie’s characters have outlooks reminiscent of S.T.’s but (mostly) without the warmth; they also don’t all come to good ends. And I will caution that I don’t think he’s a great world builder — pretty good, but not great. Abercrombie’s fantasy world is pretty standard pseudo-medieval but he does eventually introduce some interesting elements of change into it. Anyway, I’ll be interested to know your reaction, if you do go forward.
For sure had my attention span cursed. 2021 hasn’t been off to a much better start sadly.
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Milliebot! I miss your blog!!! Where are you these days? What’s up with your reading? Still looking at those beautiful book covers? Hopefully things will settle out and your attention span will straighten out. My own isn’t totally back, but I’m slowly doing a bit better (hopefully, after I finally finish moving, the improvement will continue).
Impressive. I haven’t done anything since forever, but I will come back little by little.
I need to come back to read this in detail.