Tagged: 20 books of summer

20 Books of Summer 2021

Or, let’s be realistic, 10 books of summer if I’m lucky. Last year I made a stack of twenty books, read ten (eventually), and reviewed four (the last review appearing in December). Let’s see how my late pandemic brain does compared to my early pandemic brain, I guess?

If you’re not familiar with this event, Cathy of 746 Books is our host and it’s as simple as it sounds. You have from June 1 through September 1 to read and review your books, but there’s lots of flexibility in terms of quantity, substitutions, and the definition of “summer” (good thing, we have snow in the forecast!)

This year, I am doing a bit of a theme. I am just ten books away from reaching a milestone in my long-running 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die project. My pace has slowed considerably over the last couple of years, and I need a boost. So, my list of ten books is made up of the nine “list” books I happen to have in the house, plus an open space. Perhaps you have a recommendation? You can review the list, and see which ones I’ve already read, here.

Here’s what I have on deck:

  1. The Fox by D.H. Lawrence (included in “Four Short Novels”)
  2. Quartet by Jean Rhys
  3. Wise Children by Angela Carter
  4. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
  5. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  6. The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (considering a traditional summer read-along, any interest?)
  7. Independent People by Halldór Laxness
  8. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  10. I’ve got a blank space, baby (TBA, recs welcome!)
Sorry for the mood lighting

With expectations duly lowered, let’s go!

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

I don’t know Brandon Taylor in real life, but it sometimes feels like I do. He’s prolific on Twitter, but doesn’t stick to a particular persona or schtick. He tweets all kinds of stuff and in all kinds of moods. It’s the kind of Twitter account that draws me in, and in this case, convinced me to buy a debut novel (see also: Colin Barrett).

So while I acknowlege that Twitter is not real life and I don’t actually know Mr. Taylor, after following him for several months, I feel confident in saying that he did not write Real Life to educate the likes of me, a 39-and-three-quarters-years-old white Canadian woman, about racism and sex. There’s also this article in the Guardian that says so pretty explicitly. And yet!

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20 Books of Summer 2020

Embarking on a quantity-based reading challenge in the midst of a pandemic-induced reading slump? What could go wrong?

Fortunately, Cathy, our fearless 20 Books of Summer leader, is very flexible. This challenge will be less about quantity for me, and more about making time for some books I’ve been meaning to get to, and hopefully, posting reviews here. I had so much fun in 2019, writing about disgusting teen boys, Puritans, cannibals, and yes, Jonathan Franzen (and he’s back this year!)

Here’s the stack, and a quick note about each book’s providence:

  1. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang – purchased at Glass Bookshop‘s Valentine’s Day sale
  2. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Coles, bought “for my husband”, no he hasn’t read it
  3. Give War and Peace a Chance by Andrew D. Kaufman – Garage sale, I think?
  4. Green Darkness by Anya Seton – not a clue, had this for many years
  5. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy – Garge sale
  6. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – Chapters
  7. River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay – Coles
  8. This Marlowe by Michelle Butler Hallett – from the publisher, years ago (sorry)
  9. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell – Wee Book Inn
  10. The Known World by Edward P. Jones – borrowed from my mom
  11. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje – a long-ago library sale
  12. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrente – an emergency same-day delivery from Glass Bookshop
  13. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – borrowed from a coworker
  14. Milkman by Anna Burns – Wee Book Inn
  15. Quartet by Jean Rhys – antique mall
  16. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos – Blackwell’s
  17. Real Life by Brandon Taylor – Glass Bookshop
  18. The End of the End of the Earth – Coles
  19. Nerve by Eva Holland – Glass Bookshop
  20. Weather by Jenny Offill – Glass Bookshop

Given that I haven’t even read 20 books this year, the chances of me reading, let alone reviewing, this whole list is slim. Expect DNFs, random order, round up reviews – you know, the usual.

Are you ready? Let’s see those stacks!

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I’ve had some wonderful cases of book serendipity this year. That is, when books you’re reading simultaneously, or consecutively, have a common thread, a coincidental similarity of theme, or detail, or maybe an uncommon word usage. Bookish Beck keeps track of these in Twitter threads. I kicked of this 20 Books of Summer challenge with just such a case of eerie paralells, between Jonathan Franzen’s How To Be Alone and Paul Auster’s Winter Journal.

This (another mini review cop out) is the opposite of that. Books 12, 13, and 14 of my list of 20 could not be more different. Objectively, they are of very different lengths, subjects, genres, and tones. Subjectively, they ranged from unexpectedly delightful to completely incomprehensible.

These books do serve to illustrate a point, though. In the Literary Fiction Book Tag, I defined “literary fiction” as fiction that leaves “plenty of room for interpretation.” I still believe this to be true, but in examining my reaction to these books, I find that what I need is a middle ground. Don’t spoon feed me, but don’t leave me completely on my own. Here’s how I fared with interpreting each of these books.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Goodreads is generally trash, but it is good for one thing: looking up reviews when you’re stuck on writing your own. Or, more to the point, you need to shore up your opinion about a book that seems to go against the grain. My first impression of The Fishermen was that it’s a good book that does several things quite well, but doesn’t really come together and feels a bit unfinished. I was uncertain: did I just not get it? Was it the cultural context?

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Refuse: CanLit in Ruins edited by Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak, and Erin Wunker

Writing this review was as difficult and exhausting as trying to follow the numerous CanLit controversies over the past couple of years, with which this book is concerned.

Okay, not quite as exhausting.

Reviewing any anthology is tough, though. I have a hard enough time with story and essay collections – when some entries are strong and some are weak, how to evaluate the whole, other than to deem it “uneven”? With an anthology, add the difficulty of evaluating multiple voices. Here, there are twenty four contributors and three editors, and we hear from the editors a lot.

Add another difficulty: the fact that I’m almost certainly not the intended audience. This is a book of writers and academics thinking about writing and the academy.

Indeed, I can’t help but agree with Russell Smith, who I normally find to be a bit of a crank (though a great short story writer) when he said that “CanLit now means the study of CanLit, with all its fraught panel discussions. In short, it means university departments.

In other words, readers don’t come into it. Back to that in a sec, though.

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The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo: DNF review

Rules for novels are more for writers than readers. If a novel is successful, I shouldn’t be thinking about whether or not the writer followed or subverted some set of rules. But one of those oft-repeated rules kept coming to mind while I attempted to read The Ghost Bride: show don’t tell.

While I’m sure there are many examples of successful novels that “tell” rather than “show”, this ain’t it.

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Little Reunions by Eileen Chang

Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City was one of my favourite books of last year and a new author discovery for me. Chang doesn’t have a huge body of work, but recent English translations like Half a Lifelong Romance (translated in 2016) and this one, Little Reunions (translated in 2018), seem to have revived interest her work and there’s a fair amount of buzz – among those who get buzzed about translated lit, anyway!

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The Watch That Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan

I mistakenly noted that I received this book “from the publisher” in my 20 Books of Summer list. Actually, I received it as part of a promotional push for Douglas Gibson’s 2011 memoir, Stories About Storytellers. The memoir is centered on his lengthy career in publishing, during which he oversaw and edited CanLit classics from luminaries like MacLennan, as well as Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Robertson Davies, and Alastair MacLeod.

In 2013, Gibson set up “The Storytellers Book Club“, with lengthy discussion questions for a selection of books covered in Storytellers. Bloggers were invited to review those books for chance to win the whole selection. I submitted this review of Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love and won, then proceeded to neither read nor review the rest of the books, because I suck. I also just realized, nearly six years later, that Gibson responded to my blog post about the contest (see his comment here), and I never responded. Now I feel really bad!

So in the style of that Munro review, I’ll give you a few quick impressions, then attempt one or two of Gibson’s discussion questions. As I noted back in 2013, Gibson’s questions are a bit biased, but I’ll work with them.

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