A few of my recent favourite reads…

“Books break the shackles of time – proof that humans can work magic.” – Carl Sagan.

I have been writing about the benefits of finding moments of stillness and quiet in our busy lives over on my Leaping Tracks blog recently. Becoming absorbed in a good book is one of my favourite ways to find a place of calm, even if there is plenty going on around me. I have read some cracking books recently, largely as a result of recommendations by fellow book lovers. So I wanted to share a few thoughts on these titles in case they prove to be of interest to others too.

 

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – this book was highlighted via Madame Bibliophile Recommends who has been participating in the currently running ‘Margaret Atwood Reading Month’. I liked Madame B’s description of this story and was able to download an e-library version (hoorah for libraries!). So rather unexpectedly, I can count myself as having participated in MARM too.

Being Atwood, this story is of course set in a dystopian near-future. But I found it to be much more light-hearted and comic than her other work. In fact it reminded me a lot of Carl Hiaasen‘s rather whacky and chaotic crime stories. In his books, as is the case with The Heart Goes Last, the characters get themselves into highly improbable situations, yet we can see clearly how their journeys have a sense of inevitability about them. Atwood explores very deftly the age old conundrum about whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. And the reader is constantly challenged to consider what they would do in a similar situation. If you have every asked yourself ‘how on earth did I get myself into X position’, which must be most of us, this story is for you.

 

Carol by Patricia Highsmith – this was recommended by Kate over at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest and I completely agree with her that this is a beautiful narrative which explores different kinds of love very sympathetically, without ever becoming schmalzy or judgemental. I constantly stopped to re-read passages which I found heart-stopping and poetic. Overall, this is a quiet novel which hums along with its compelling story. I plan to watch the film, and will definitely be reading more Highsmith.

 

Mary & O’Neil by Justin Cronin was also a Kate recommendation (thanks Kate!). This is another quiet book which gently and tenderly explores parental, sibling and partner relationships. Cronin has a wonderful writing style and is able to hold the reader’s attention with a simple yet gorgeously rendered story. I will be looking out for more of his work.

 

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan was mentioned by Ann in one of her reading round-ups. It caught my eye because I have already ordered Ryan’s latest novel, From a Low and Quiet Place. It is very creatively structured into a series of short story-esque chapters, all from a different character’s point of view. Each narrative links with and illuminate the others and in this way it reminded me of the wonderful Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (who, by the way, will be bringing out her second Olive book next year – can’t wait!). Ryan’s portrayal of the individuals in a beleaguered Irish community is absolutely captivating and I am looking forward to reading his other work.

 

The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman – I very much enjoyed Borman’s contribution to this podcast with fellow author Manda Scott (whose latest book, A Treachery of Spies is currently on my nightstand). The starting point for The King’s Witch is the relentless persecution by the newly crowned James I of anyone (usually women) who demonstrated any kind of ‘suspicious’ skills, such as helping and healing others with natural remedies. Borman creates a page-turning narrative packed with historical interest, which is not surprising because she is well known as a historian focusing mainly on the Tudor and surrounding periods.

 

Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers – last but not least, I have re-read this book after picking it for one of my six degrees of separation posts. It is even better than I remembered. I have savoured every word of this gentle and moving tale which explores our tendency to develop preconceived ideas about things, and the wonder which comes when we allow ourselves to be ‘wrong’ and instead set ourselves free to think whatever we like about anything or anyone.

 

I love reading the thoughts of fellow bloggers on the books they have enjoyed, and my own reading life is very much the richer for it. Keep up the good work folks! 😀📚💕

 

 

“All time spent reading is time well-spent.” ~ W H Auden. The joys of participating in the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon

In my last post I wrote about becoming a first-time participant in the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon, which ran across this past weekend. Although I had seen social media traffic about previous readathons, I was not quite sure what to expect. But I needn’t have worried – it was really great fun.

I knew before starting that I would not have to read for the whole 24 hours – the ethos is very much ‘do your own thing’. I also suspected that my reading plans would be too ambitious. Tick and tick. In the end, I read for a total of 7 hours in roughly three main concentrated periods. I completed two of my original goals: I finished Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin and The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch. I started my second planned Murdoch, The Red and the Green, but found that I was getting too boggle-eyed and headachy from spending too much time with the Kindle app on my iPad. So I swapped to a book from my current library pile – Carol by Patricia Highsmith.

In total I read about 400 pages, which is pretty good going for me. I usually try to get through about 100 pages on a ‘normal’ day.

I will aim to write more about the books themselves in a future post. In the meantime…

What were the best things about participating in the readathon?

  • engaging with fellow book lovers around the world about this marvellous shared passion;
  • experiencing good quality reading time – I found that reading The Italian Girl pretty much straight through enhanced the flow of the story;
  • giving myself permission to prioritise reading over other commitments felt very luxurious.

And the challenges?

  • I should have anticipated that reading for much longer periods on my iPad would be a strain. I don’t usually have a problem reading ebooks, but it was a welcome relief to pick up a print book after a while;
  • I would undoubtedly have read more if I had not been so glued to everyone else’s comments, updates etc. It was hard to tear myself away sometimes!

What will I do differently next time?

The next readathon takes place on 6 April 2019. It’s already in my diary and I am looking forward to having another go, when I expect to:

  • plan more of a mix of reading media, combining printed books, ebooks and audiobooks will allow for even more reading;
  • plan better when to engage with other participants;
  • make more of an effort to participate in the various hourly challenges etc. This time I really only scratched the surface with all the goings on. I definitely feel I missed out by not joining in on the readathon bingo lol!

Having said all of this, though, it seems to me that the best way to approach the readathon is actually to be very laid back about it, just taking things as they come, in accordance with how you feel at any given moment. I can see that an element of planning will help to enhance one’s participation, but the most important thing to remember is that it is meant to be a fun event, not a slog!

I don’t need any encouragement to read – it is definitely one of my priorities these days. One of the added joys of this hobby, though, is the sharing of recommendations, reviews, ideas etc with fellow book lovers. I always enjoy my online conversations with fellow bloggers about their reading habits and recommended titles. Participating in the readathon allowed me to extend this even further. So roll on next April! 😀📚