Reading Challenge Update

First up is an update on how I did with my 10 Books of Summer reading list. 20 Books of Summer is an annual challenge hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. This is the third year I’ve taken part, and once again I’ve managed to knock a few books off my To Read pile.

This year, 130 people signed up to the challenge. Cathy posted recently about how she’d done, which reminded me to do the same.

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Variations

Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Jolts

Jolts is a short story collection from the Argentine writer Fernando Sdrigotti. It’s a punchy collection that looks at being an émigré from somewhere and an immigrant to somewhere. Across the nine stories there is anger, frustration, a sense of being lost in spaces in between, broken up by leaving bits of yourself in the places you inhabit and move on from.

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The Box Man

Kōbō Abe is a writer I struggled with when I read his most famous book, The Woman in the Dunes. His dreamlike, psychological horror bent my brain. The Box Man promised a similar trip, as it follows a man who chooses to live inside a cardboard box, rejecting the normality of his previous existence in favour of the tenuous reality contained within his mind.

I’ve had the book on my To Read pile for almost 5 years, so I decided to add it to my 10 Books of Summer reading list. It turns out that its claustrophobic setting fitted well with the unusually oppressive sweltering heat of July in the UK.

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Ways of Living

Gemma Seltzer’s collection of short stories centred on the lives of female Londoners is in some respects more Ways of Leaving than Ways of Living. Its principal characters are seeking escape. In their escape, they’re also looking for understanding, whether that’s understanding themselves or being understood by others. The nature of friendship is placed under a microscope and found to be largely a matter of convenience.

The women could be anywhere. That they are in London adds a different flavour – the proliferation of people performing an artistic life and vying for attention, the particularities of multicultural working class life in the unmonied areas – but the lives portrayed here could be lived in any city. Even a global city is parochial, when you dig down into it. Perhaps the London-ness of these stories is that the strangeness of the characters’ behaviour is normalised.

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The Human Fly and Other Stories

T C Boyle is a writer that I have intended to read more by since I read and loved his short story ‘She Wasn’t Soft’ in a Bloomsbury Quid edition in 1996.

A decade later, I was visiting a friend in New York and found the collection The Human Fly and Other Stories on a table in Strand Bookstore.

On the back cover it says, “His many and varied novels are part of the American literary landscape – but one of the best ways to appreciate T C Boyle is through his richly imagined short fiction.”

I bought it, and it has been on my bookshelves ever since. From time to time I’ve taken it down and pondered it as my next read but always put back. I decided to add it to my 10 Books of Summer list this year to ensure that I actually get round to reading it.

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Hadji Murat

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Read 11/08/2021-18/08/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hadji Murat is Tolstoy’s final novel, drafted and redrafted between 1896 and 1904, going through eight iterations before the final version was created. It is an examination of war and political posturing between opposing cultures that has relevance to the world we live in today. Continue reading

Knucklebone

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Read 04/08/2021-10/08/2021

Rating 3 stars

Knucklebone is a police procedural with a twist set in Johannesburg. Detective Ian Jack has left the South African police force to fulfill his late mother’s dream for him to get an education and not turn into his father. His former colleague Reshma Patel has risen up the ranks in the meantime and is now a Captain. They reconnect one night when Ian is shadowing a security guard as research for his Criminology MA, and the police are also called to the scene of a crime. Continue reading

Frankenstein Unbound

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Read 10/06/2021-28/06/2021

Rating 4 stars

My second read for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge is Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss. I’ve known Aldiss’s name in relation to science fiction for a while but never read anything by him. I picked this novel up in Bookmark, a second hand bookshop in Falmouth, drawn by its cover art.

It is simultaneously, as with most science fiction, a reflection on concerns about the contemporaneous era, and a projection of where current science might lead. It is also a meditation on Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein.

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