52 Weeks: 52 Books – April

It’s election day, so after three days of politically oriented blogging (one, two, three), I shall stop wittering on about political nerdery issues and refocus on the important stuff in life: Books. Please stick around and read on. Assuming you’ve already voted. If not, go do that first. I’m now four months into my 52 Weeks: 52 Books challenge, and here’s what I read during April.

Book 13: CJ Samson – Lamentation

Book 14: Alexander McCall Smith – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Book 15: Alice Peterson – By My Side

And I’m currently stalled on Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man, which is bad, because to stay on target I really should have finished another book by now. All of this month’s books had strengths and weaknesses for me. My favourite was Lamentation. I’m a big CJ Sansom fan, and I particularly like the Shardlake series, to which this is the most recent addition. My only qualm here was that it’s a bit overlong. It’s still a very good book, but a slightly more aggressive edit in the first two thirds wouldn’t have done it any harm at all.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’d never read any of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books until this month. I’m not really sure how I managed that. There are at least 78000 of them, so I’m not at all clear how they managed to pass me by. This one, the first in the series, was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. Gentle, soothing, beautifully written, the book equivalent of slipping into a nice warm bath. Jolly good.

My main reflection for this month though, comes not from the books I read, but from the book I’m stalled on. Again, I’m realising just how much I like story. The Autograph Man is beautifully written, but I’m just gasping for something to happen that propels things forward. I suspect it’s going to be one of those books about how ultimately nothing and nobody ever changes, which is perfectly fine as a philosophical viewpoint, but just a little bit dull as a reader. I don’t think that’s always the case. I think you can go lighter on plot if you have amazing characters – I think some of Zadie Smith’s other work probably demonstrates that – but in this one I’m not finding the main character particularly engaging, so I’m really missing having a riveting plot to drag me along. I suspect that’s partly to do with where my brain is in writing terms. I’m in the first third of writing my next book, so my brain is holding all the potential characters and stories for that book, and I’ve also read my next book for editing again, and read a complete manuscript for a critique client this month. With all of that in my brain I think I do need to books I’m reading to really grab me by the scruff of the neck. So my current quandary is whether to ditch The Autograph Man or whether to plough on. Normally I only ditch a book if I get to page 100 and I’m not feeling it. I’m past page 100 with this one, but it’s slow going. Is it better to read on or to admit defeat? I’m undecided.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – March

We’re three months through the 52 Weeks: 52 Books reading extravaganza now, and after February’s glut of reading, the pace slowed a little during March, and I only read two books this month, and half of CJ Sansom’s Lamentation. In my defense, Lamentation is really long, and I’ve got it in hardback so it’s also really heavy, which means I can only hold it up to read for relatively short periods. Seriously it’s a massive great brick of a thing. I’m living in terror of dropping it on my face and breaking my nose.

Anyway, the books that I have read were:

Book 11: Katy Regan – The Story of You

Book 12: Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

The Story of You is a women’s fiction/chick lit (nope – I still haven’t settled on a better term) novel about a community psychiatric nurse. It’s a proper page-turner. I absolutely whipped through it despite there being elements of the heroine’s behaviour that gave me severe range (seriously – patient confidentiality anyone??). It was a really interesting read in that I could write chapter and verse about the things that I didn’t think worked, but at no point did I ever think of putting the book down and walking away. There’s a lesson for writers there – if the story is utterly engrossing, you can basically do anything you like with the rest of the novel.

My second book for the month was an impulse read that I picked up the day after Terry Pratchett went for his walk with Death. I’ve loved Terry Pratchett since I was a teenager and am still in love with his work right through to today. He used an entirely imagined place to say very serious things about the real world, but without ever slipping into preaching or lecturing. Everything he wanted to say, was said through story. Guards! Guards! is the eighth Discworld novel, and the first to focus on Sam Vimes and the City Watch. The Watch are probably my favourite set of Discworld characters, although I do like Death, and the Witches, and well, the point is Discworld books are awesome. When Terry P’s death was announced via Twitter I was sad to a level that seemed kind of unbecoming over a man I’d never met. If you’ve never read any of his work, then you’ve got lots of be happy about – there are forty-one Discworld books, and further children’s books, and stand alone novels written alone and in collaboration with others. (Good Omens, written with Neil Gaiman is particularly brilliant.) Read one today.

So far as 52 Weeks: 52 Books goes, it has been a slow month. This partly because of the massiveness of Lamentation, but also because I’ve been doing edits on my soon-to-be-released novel for Choc Lit, which means that I’ve read that book three times during March, and I’ve probably got at least one more read through to go. I think editing and revising a manuscript probably puts the brakes on reading even more than actual writing does. Revising is all about holding the intricacies and the structure of a story in your head and mentally tweaking and adding and taking away until you feel like the whole thing hangs together. I find it incredibly difficult to do that whilst also giving attention to other stories.

So that was March. Come back in a month and we’ll find out how April goes – specifically whether I manage to finish Lamentation without doing myself an injury.