Cathy at 746books.com announced the annual 20 Books of Summer reading challenge a few days ago and I’ve been giving some thought to what I might read from the 60 books I’m trying to knock off my To Read pile this year.Continue reading
Category: Boxall’s 1001 Books
Novellas in November 2022 – How did I do?
I did pretty well with this challenge. It’s the first time I’ve properly done Novellas in November. I’ve tagged the odd novella that I’ve happened to read in November before, but never followed the prompts. I enjoyed it. It made me think about my reading more strategically and helped me to knock six titles off my To Read pile.Continue reading
The Sense of an Ending
The Sense of an Ending concerns Tony Webster, retired, divorced, father of one, grandfather of two. It also concerns his school friend Adrian Finn, who died by suicide aged twenty-two. And his first girlfriend Veronica, her mum, his school friends Colin and Alex, and the ways they are connected through the past they shared.Continue reading
American Pastoral is the novel that won Philip Roth the Pulitzer Prize. It’s also the first novel I’ve read by him. It recounts the life of a high school athlete, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, from his schooldays during the Second World War to a point in his adulthood where his daughter’s countercultural leanings disrupt his American idyll.
People speak highly of Philip Roth. As well as the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, he also received multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His complete novels were published in his lifetime, in a nine-volume series, by the Library of America. I only really paid attention when he died, though. Until then, I hadn’t even heard of him. Or if I had, his name and status hadn’t registered. It’s a funny old literary world, full of reading lacunae.
The first few pages of American Pastoral put me in mind of John Updike and Richard Ford, but better. There’s also a bit of Ray Bradbury about the writing, particularly his Green Town books. Roth’s phrasing has a beautiful rhythm that carries you like a river burbling through the story. Roth also managed to make me care about something that I really don’t care about – the very male world of competitive sport.Continue reading
Novellas in November
Cathy at 746 Books and Rebecca at Bookish Beck are hosting Novellas in November again this year. This is a reading challenge that I’ve dipped in and out of in the past couple of years, when my reading has accidentally coincided with it. This year, though, I’m going to try to set myself some goals to try to bring my To Read pile down a little more.Continue reading
The Rings of Saturn
The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald is a novel disguised as a travel book, recording a walk along the Suffolk coast and inland to Norfolk but also documenting local culture, the interplay between people and landscape, and how transient life is. I read Sebald’s Vertigo a few years ago and loved it, and have wanted to read more by Sebald since.Continue reading
The Book of Disquiet (A Factless Autobiography)
Rating 3 stars
The Book of Disquiet is Fernando Pessoa’s factless autobiography written under one of his ‘heteronyms’, Bernardo Soares. Constructed from fragments of writing on scraps of paper, it is a diary of sorts in which Soares attempts to understand who he is. Continue reading
The Radetzky March
Rating 5 stars
Onwards in my European literary tour to Austria. Joseph Roth was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in Ukraine, but studied in Vienna and is considered to be an Austrian writer. I have his novel The Radetzky March in a Folio edition, which is no longer in print.
The Radetzky March is considered to be a political masterpiece that draws parallels between the elevation and subsequent fall of a military family and the decline and eventual collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The focus of the novel is the Trotta family, Austro-Hungarians of Slovenian origin, the patriarch of whom rescues Emperor Franz Joseph I from death during the Battle of Solferino. This earns him an elevation to the nobility and the title Baron Trotta von Sipolje.
It’s a funny book that captures the camaraderie of military life, the ridiculous nature of civil service life, the generational changes in parent-child relationships, and the curious rigidity of friendship between men of a certain class. Having studied the causes of the First World War at school, it also provided a different, more social context to the political one I garnered from O Level text books in the 1980s.
It’s also a poetic book, in the way Roth describes landscape, seasons, thoughts and emotions. His turn of phrase is perfection. I loved the lightness of his touch, the humour and fondness for his characters, and the way he skewers the social structures of the time, while simultaneously mourning their passing. Continue reading
Rating 4 stars
The Trial is my Czechia book on my European literary tour. I’m still at the beginning of my journey with Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis a fair few years ago, which I loved and have re-read, and then I bought a copy of The Castle from a book fair in Hebden Bridge. I struggled with it while reading, finding it quite soporific, but in the months after reading it, found myself still thinking about it. It’s taken me seven years to pick up my next Kafka, though. Continue reading
The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Rating 5 stars
The Trick is to Keep Breathing is book eight on my summer reading challenge list, part of Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. It is the story of Joy, a Drama teacher whose life is unravelling. It combines narrative with text layout, font weight and insertion of illustrative elements to represent Joy’s unravelling. There’s a feel of concrete poetry to it, and the sort of textual play that Nicola Barker used in her novel H(A)PPY. There’s also a feel of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to Joy’s story, superficially in the way Joy looks to women’s magazines to distract and instruct, and more seriously in the way her immediate family has treated her, and the damage not having a safety net can do to a person. Continue reading