July reading round up

Late posting this month due to actually going places! I was away this weekend so am catching up. So, to July!

*insert inane comment about the weather*

It’s got to the point where the sheer number of books sitting about the house has become an annoyance. There a fine line for me where the book collection tips over into clutter and starts to nag at the peace of my mind and I think we’re there. So July, pull some of these titles from the shelf and let the air in. These are the books I’ve read in addition to the new reviews posted earlier this month.

The Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley Heller

I know a lot of people who raved about this and I don’t like to start with a negative so I will just say that a few years ago, it felt like there was a spate of books that used child sexual abuse as a plot point and it all felt rather distasteful. I thought those days had gone. They haven’t. I don’t have to like the characters in a book but I do need something that makes you care about what happens to any of them and this was not the book for me.

So Long As You Write – various

This is the latest compilation from Dear Damsels who champion women’s writing, and is a series of essays from women writing about writing. It’s ok.

Unsettled Ground – Claire Fuller

This won the (now defunct) Costa novel award last year and I had heard good things about it. I’m still somewhat perplexed. It is well written and shines a light on people whose home lives are very foreign to anything I was really expecting in this day and age so in that sense, it’s an interesting read. Jeanie and Julius, 51-year old twins, live at home with their mother who dies in the first chapter and they find themselves at a loss. Neither of them seem to grieve their mother but they have absolutely no money at all so they bury her in the back garden, try to find steady employment and discover that their mother was in debt all over the village. Jeanie, in particular, seems fairly feeble and passive, not knowing how to do even basic things and it turns out that she cannot read or write, and believes she has a health condition. When they are evicted from their home, they have to make serious choices about their future, which obviously they find difficult as they’re secretive and a bit useless. I’m still trying to work out what I think about this, but I spent much of the book frowning and I can only assume it’s because very little of it, especially the mother’s actions, gets explained fully. It wasn’t what I was expecting, although I’m not sure what I was expecting and all round, I’m going to suggest a rating of ‘shrug.’

Deborah Levy – Things I Don’t Want to Know, The Cost of Living and Real Estate

I listened to Levy on Desert Island Discs and a lot of people rave about her trilogy of biographies, touting them as an updated Woolfian look at being a woman in this day and age. They’re what Levy calls a ‘living autobiography’ and in parts it felt very much like Levy as Talking Heads, waking up and thinking, “Well, how did I get here?” They are reflective as she looks back at her life but also examines her current situation, making a new life, a new writing shed, travelling to new places and so on. There is little room in the telling for other people, I assume to protect their privacy. Others are referred to as ‘my daughters’, ‘the father of my children’, ‘the man who cried at a funeral’, and so on. I liked parts of the books. Other parts were the kind of thing I would skim read in the weekend papers. It feels likely that there is something I’ve not really discovered in reading them, hidden depths. They are perfectly good books, I’m just not sure what people are raving about – you may spot a theme this month.

Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My Neck/ I Remember Nothing

I Feel Bad About My Neck is this month’s reading group choice and I’ve read it before, as I’m a huge Nora fan. It’s an interesting choice to read alongside the Levy as both are trying to do the same thing in different ways. Both are reflective books with bits of autobiography in them, though Nora has gone for the quick witted, New York rapid style where Levy is slower and deeper, though less fun. Having read one Nora, I immediately picked up her other books of essays and reread that, which is more of the same but with longer essays and, I think, some realisation that her life was drawing short. Certainly there is more in the second book about friends dying, about the passing of time, and of course her list at the end of things she’ll miss. Every time I read Nora I’m inspired to write like her and I never can but the trying is fun.

Octavia Butler – Kindred

From the shelves, this intriguing tale of race and time travel. I’ve heard many things about Butler but not read her before and I was immediately drawn in. It’s a powerful, sometimes incredibly brutal, book. I believe Butler is often described as a sci fi writer and I can’t comment on her other works, but here anything scifi-y (the time travel) is really just a plot device to make the point she wants to make. Dana is a black woman in California in 1976, married to Kevin, a white man. She is hauled back in time to the early eighteen-hundreds every time her ancestor, Rufus, a white son of a slave owner, is in danger and she saves his life several times. Both Kevin and Rufus witness her disappearing and reappearing and seem to accept the weirdness of it – again, really so we can get on with the point of the book which is to talk about the horrors of slavery. But Butler’s best point is to show how easily even modern attitudes adapt to slavery – when Dana and Kevin both get caught in the slave times, they live there for months and months and they have to adapt in order to survive. This is in theory easier for Kevin than for Dana and you see many scenes where the slave owners cannot deal with her independence and free attitude and treat her as a possession, even as they are grateful to her for modern medical methods and her help. It’s a really fascinating, if violent, book and reads like it was written yesterday, not in the 1970s. I thought it was excellent.

Isaac and the Egg – Bobby Palmer

There is a lot of hype about this and I got an advance copy to review for Netgalley. I’m afraid I found it a little overwritten and containing some cliched tropes about how men handle (or don’t) grief. I feel like we should have moved on from men being emotionally stunted by now. Perhaps we aren’t. But please, no more ‘give him something to care for and he’ll snap out of it’ storylines.

Lean on Me – Serge Joncour

I cannot for the life of me remember who recommended this or why it’s been sitting on the shelves. Translated from the French, it’s an interesting and engrossing read, though I felt the ending was a disappointment, despite it being quite realistic. Essentially, Aurore is a clothes designer whose business is in trouble and she starts to realise her business partner is undermining her from within. Ludovic, a one time farmer who, since his wife died, has come to live in Paris and become a debt recovery heavy man. They meet because they live in the same apartment building and the internal courtyard has been taken over by crows who scare the daylights out of Aurore and Ludo deals with them to help her. They begin an affair, and the storyline then turns to the business. Neither character is wholly likeable and are certainly flawed, especially Aurore who was generally hopeless. Having said that, I liked them both, and the book was enjoyable with a strong sense of place – you were right there in the apartment – but I wanted a better ending.

Moments of Pleasure

E and I went to Deershed Festival this weekend, finally using our 2020 tickets. There were a number of firsts: we went kayaking which we’ve not done before, E went on a helter skelter which she’s never done, I had bubble tea for the first time, we danced with a drag queen which I don’t think we’ve done before, and we had to scoop rainwater out of the tent with a reusable cup after the deluge of Saturday night. But despite that last entry, we had a lovely time. E always becomes her best self in a festival field – it really is her natural environment – and it was great to catch some of the lineup of music (John Grant! I love him), film and activities. And the phone signal was terrible so a social media holiday too.

We returned from the festival just in time to see the first Lionesses goal in the Euro final! What a great tournament it has been – so much fun to watch (and I don’t really like football) and the atmosphere has been joyful. We went to watch the Lionesses back in 2018 and I remember how cheerful and friendly it all was then, and this tournament has been such a treat to watch confident women go out and do their job brilliantly, as a team intent on raising each other up, and out to inspire. More of this please.

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