The Trick is to Keep Breathing

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Read 22/08/2021-28/08/2021

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

White Teeth

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Read 20/03/2019-27/03/2019

Rating 2 stars

White Teeth is Zadie Smith’s debut novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel award in 2000. It was touted as a new writing for a new millennium.

I tried to read White Teeth once before, because people raved about it, Continue reading

The Accidental

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Read 17/03/2019-20/03/2019

Rating 3 stars

Prior to The Accidental, I’d read four novels by Ali Smith, all of them belters. The Accidental is her third novel but her sixth published work. It appears on Boxall’s list of the 1001 books you should read before you die (I know, Boxall says you MUST read them, but I don’t think you should put that kind of pressure on people in case they end up resenting you and the books you love). I’m having a small moment of trying to read the female authors on the list, so I borrowed The Accidental from my local library. Continue reading

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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Read 10/03/2019-16/03/2019

Rating 5 stars

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the story of the intellectual and philosophical engagements with life of two residents of a Parisian apartment building. Renée Michel is the widowed concierge of the building and Paloma Josse the 12 year old daughter of one of its residents. I bought the book a little more than three years ago but haven’t felt any urge to pick it up.

Continue reading

The House of the Seven Gables

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Read 07/03/2018-14/03/2018

Rating: 3 stars

I bought The House of the Seven Gables for £1 from the book shop in the café at Mrs Gaskell’s House. Once upon a time, it had cost five shillings, and its purchaser had given it to a friend. There’s an inscription inside the front cover. The recipient is nameless, the donor signs themself M.L. and it’s clear that the book meant a lot to them. Continue reading

In Cold Blood

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Read 26/09/2017-06/10/2017

Rating: 4 stars

As I started this book, it felt like I knew the story already, and yet I didn’t. I had watched the film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote, based on his experience writing the book, which has left me with a strange half knowledge.

It took a while for Capote’s writing style to gel for me. I’d come from volume 7 of The Sixth Gun (review to come), and prior to that had read Peter Carey’s memoir Wrong About Japan, both of which were punchy and fast flowing in their own ways. In Cold Blood starts off more melodramatic in tone. It made me think of those true crime TV programmes where re-enactments take place and a man with a sonorous voice intones the story over the top of the action. A bit like Judge Rinder’s Crime Stories, for readers in the UK.

As I settled into Capote’s style, though, I found myself gripped by the scenes he was setting. Continue reading

Rabbit, Run

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Read 05/08/2017 to 11/08/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

Rabbit, Run is the first novel in John Updike’s series about Rabbit Angstrom, an unlikeable man in his mid-twenties who is suffering an existential crisis. He lurches from selfish act to selfish act, abandoning his pregnant wife and two year old son, taking up with an escort, playing golf with the local minister, and all the while bemoaning the fact that he hasn’t achieved anything since his high school basketball team. He has no self-awareness, no interest in other people, and is almost a parody embodiment of the male condition.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a number of years. I bought it because I’d never read any Updike, and he’s a Pulitzer prize winner twice over, so there must be something about him. Recently, though, I’ve read a few reviews and comments on social media written by women excoriating him for his misogyny. Passages that have been quoted show a man who lacks the desire to see women as anything other than objects in the lives of his male protagonists, objects that are a source of irritation and a receptacle for loathing.

As I took in these opinions and comments, I knew that I had Rabbit, Run coming up as one of my Road Trip Challenge reads. I don’t like to knee-jerk to others’ opinions, even when I respect the people giving those opinions, but part of me felt I shouldn’t read the book, knowing that I was approaching it with an expectation that bordered on prejudice against Updike, and that it would likely raise my hackles. Another part of me felt that this wasn’t giving me the chance to experience Updike on my own terms, that I should put the opinions of others to one side and approach the book without preconceived ideas. Continue reading

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Read 17/05/2017-18/05/2017

Rating: 4 stars

This is a very funny book, chaotically and terrifyingly so. I don’t need to tell you what it’s about. You already know what it’s about.

I’ve had my copy for about ten years. It was given to me by a chaotic and terrifying writer that I once knew. I think he was attempting to channel Hunter S Thompson. Sometimes that’s all you can do when you live in darkest South Wales.

I’ve been saving it up for a moment such as the one that hit me this week. I’m calling it existential nihilism, even though that gives more weight to my ‘so what?’ than it deserves. Continue reading