52 Weeks: 52 Books – February

The 52 Weeks: 52 Books project continues. I read four books in January and seem to have picked up the pace a bit in February, so here’s the rundown of my month in books:

Book 5: Dorothy L Sayers – Strong Poison

Book 6: Marian Keyes – The Woman Who Stole My Life

Book 7: Malcolm Gladwell – David & Goliath

Book 8: Stella Newman – Pear Shaped

Book 9: Sophie Ranald – It Would Be Wrong To Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (wouldn’t it?)

Book 10: Dorothy Koomson – The Flavours of Love

So that’s a very impressive six books in four weeks – well 5 and a half books really as I started Strong Poison in January, but I’m still ahead of the curve and the whole 52 books in 52 weeks is looking entirely achievable at this point. However, although I’ve read A Lot during February, I’ve written very little, so  it looks like my old concern that when I write more I read less, might also be true in reverse as well. Hmmm…

Anyway, onto the specific books, I said at the outset that this wasn’t going to be a book review project, and it’s not, but I have quite a lot of thoughts about this month’s reading. I shall endeavour not to let those thoughts become too rambling. In fact, I shall actively organise them into a numbered list. (Readers of the rest of my blog will know how much I like a numbered list. A lot. That’s how much.)

Thought 1: Reading too close to what you’re writing is tricksy

This month’s reading included books by Stella Newman and Sophie Ranald – both up and coming writers on the less cutesy end of chick lit, and both are decent books with lots and lots of positive reviews. I liked a lot about both books and read them both quite quickly, but found myself completely unable to switch off my inner editor. I was reading with two levels of thought going on. Level one was my brain taking in what was actually happening in the book. Level two was a constant narrative of… ‘Oooh, she’s used present perfect continuous there… why’s she done that? Would it be better in past perfect? How would that work?…. Oh, I see, she’s using the food as a motif for… does that work? Is it a bit heavy handed? Maybe not. It needs to be clear, but… Interesting – this heroine isn’t that sympathetic. My heroine-in-progress might be a bit unsympathetic. Is that a problem? How’s she dealt with it here?…’ All of which is a little bit distracting from just reading the sodding book.

I’ve blogged before about the ways in which writing can break the enjoyment of reading, and part of the aim of 52 Weeks: 52 Books is to try to work through that problem. I think that – at least for books in my own genre – I’ve still got a bit of a way to go.

 

Thought 2: Reading books you don’t expect to like can be awesome

My first book this month was Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, first published in 1930. This is the fifth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series, and was recommended to me by my crime-fiction obsessed sister because it’s the first where Harriet Vane, Wimsey’s ongoing love interest, appears. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this half as much as I did. I was expecting it to be old-fashioned and just not my sort of thing at all, but actually it was really fun. Some of the language is a bit antiquated, but I suspect there was a bit of an element of pastiche going on there even when it was written, and it’s very clever and, in places, very funny. Harriet particularly, generally believed to have been based on Sayers herself, is a fantastically modern character.

I’m going to mark Strong Poison as a big success for the whole 52 Weeks: 52 Books concept. It’s a book I wouldn’t normally read, but I really enjoyed it, and would definitely read more Lord Peter Wimsey books in the future. Hurrah.

 

Thought 3: Non-fiction rocks

There are readers out there who religiously only read fiction, or only read non-fiction. These people are wrong-headed. I’m absolutely a fiction girl at heart, but a bit of well-written non-fiction thrown into the mix is always good, and snobbery against either form is stupid.

So, if you’re looking for some well-written non-fiction then Malcolm Gladwell is a pretty good place to start. David & Goliath is all about underdogs and situations in which an apparent underdog actually has a substantial advantage. It touches on the American civil rights movement, guerrilla warfare, basketball tactics, and medical research. Properly interesting stuff.

 

I have lots of other thoughts (including ‘Marian Keyes rocks’ which is a general background sort of thought I have most of the time, and ‘Oooh, Dorothy Koomson has sort of switched genres a couple of times – it can be done…’) but I think that’s probably enough rambling about reading for one blog post.  So feel free to join in in the commenting area. What have you been reading during February? Have you read any of the books listed- what were your thoughts? And anything else vaguely reading related… off you go.

 

And if you’d like to add the odd Alison May tome to your own To Read pile you can do that here.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – January

So it’s the end of month one in the great year of reading many books. Here’s how it’s going so far. I  steamed through Book 1: Mhairi McFarlane’s It’s Not You, It’s Me in the first couple of days of the year, and I’ve followed that up with:

Book 2: Terry Pratchett – Raising Steam

Book 3: Veronica Henry –  A Night on the Orient Express

Book 4: Adele Parks – Larger than Life

I’m not going to do reviews on all 52 of the year’s books because a) life is short, and b) the whole idea of 52 weeks: 52 books is to rediscover a love of reading, not to add a whole new level of it feeling like a chore, but I do totally reserve the right to review the ones I feel like reviewing and offer general musings on the whole reading endeavour.

So, my favourite book from this crop was  A Night on the Orient Express which I devoured in less than 24 hours. It was all the things I like best in a book – uplifting but with depth and interest. The novel follows five distinct storylines, linked by the setting of the Orient Express. I love a good multiple protagonist story but, even in the best, you often find that there are some storylines you could happily skip over to get to the better bits. That wasn’t the case this time, and, even better, Veronica Henry has written loads of books, so I get the additional joy of discovering an author I’ve never read before who has a back catalogue I can now start working my way through. Yippee!

It hasn’t been entirely reading plain sailing this month though. I started, but abandoned JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, for reasons that I think are only about 15% the fault of the book. The Casual Vacancy is another multiple narrator story, which introduces lots of characters very quickly. I think that would have been fine if I’d had a free hour for my first reading session on the book, but I ended up reading ten minutes here and there and forgetting who everyone was, a problem that was made worse by the fact that I was reading on my kindle. I love my kindle, but it is much harder to flick back and remind yourself who’s who on an ereader than in a paper book. Then I got sick with Weird Hacking Cough Disease* which was primarily eased by sitting in the bath, and used the ‘I don’t want to take my kindle in the bath’ excuse to abandon The Casual Vacancy, in favour of Adele Parks, who better satisfied the ‘I’m poorly – I need something fun to read’ impulse anyway. I suspect that over the year we may discover that I am generally more likely to abandon a book on kindle than on paper, which will be a mildly interesting thing to learn. This has also left me with a quandary about whether to go back to The Casual Vacancy. As I say I suspect the abandonment was more about my fuzzy poorly-girl brain than the book itself, but I’ve just found out that there’s a TV adaptation coming up in a couple of weeks. Given that I probably will watch the TV version, do I really want to read the book straight before it, or would it be better to leave the book until later in the year?

Anyway, I’m now onto February’s reading, kicked off with Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers. I’m not generally a crime girl, but part of the idea of 52 Books is to read as widely as possible, and January has been quite commercial women’s fiction** heavy. Strong Poison was a recommendation from my senior sibling who definitely is a crime girl (fictional crime only – she hardly ever does an actual murder), and I’m quite enjoying it, but technically it’s a February book, so more on that next time.

 

* Definitely its proper medical name

** Hate that term. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.