Saturday, 7 April 2018

My "Stop Procrastinating on Your Phone" 2018 book challenge

Ah, faffing about on your phone.  The completely free (apart from all the stuff you buy), mindless activity, that requires no major investment of brain power, and sucks hours, weeks, potentially decades from lives.  I LOVE it, but I do it far, far too much. I decided that in 2018 I was going to set myself a target to read 100 books, in an attempt to distract myself from the demon phone.  

Cunningly, I downloaded Audible, so that the phone can be complicit in the undoing of my ridiculous procrastination.  If I'm listening to Audible, I can't follow Mumsnet properly.  I have prioritised Audible, because I find I absolutely love it.  There are so many books I want to read, Audible forces them down my ears.  I've included the books I've listened to, which may be cheating, but I rather think not.

So here I present my list of books I've read in 2018 so far, why I read them, and what I thought:

1) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Whilst I love my brother in law dearly, we do not generally share a taste in books.  He likes great books, and I can tell they are great, and I can see why he likes them, generally, but I don't. I am thrilled to announce that, after knowing him for 18 years, he recommended a book that I not only liked, but loved.

It's a very long and involved book, but totally brilliant. I loved the weaving in of magic with something that reads like standard historical fiction.

2) Persuasion by Jane Austen

I love an episode of A Good Read on Radio 4. I was listening to the episode with Mel and Sue, from ages ago, and one of them talked about Persuasion by Jane Austen.  In my formative years, I considered myself a pre-eminent Austen scholar, having won £90 for an essay about buildings and social status in 2000, which I spent on jeans and sparkly belts from Oasis, as all self-respecting serious academics do.  To my shame, I realised, that, several years later, and that £90 being literally the peak of my academic prowess, I haven't even actually read Persuasion.  This probably limits my ability to deem myself an expert.  I read it, liked it, and was extremely glad that I didn't have to write an essay about it.

3) Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells

Another book that I heard about on A Good Read, that I assumed I had read, but actually hadn't.  I made a vague mental note to read it, and then discovered it on the shelf of my own classroom, in a lovely 1990s copy with a font I really like.  Fate.  I took it home and read it in one evening. Like Children of the Dust, it utterly defied scientific reality, but was exceptionally powerful.

4) The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis

Lent to me by my lovely friend at work, I really wanted to like this, because it was a great idea for a story, but it was so over-written.  Clumsy imagery, confusing ending, too much co-incidence.

5) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I loved the flawed, interesting characters, but was annoyed by the twist, which I felt was totally unnecessary.

6) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I absolutely loved this, mainly because I loved the first trilogy, but also because I grew up taking walks to Godstow with my family, because my Nan lived in Wolvercote.  I think I would have loved it anyway, but it always helps to know where you are, even if the novel is set in an alternative reality. Childhood often feels like an alternative reality at any rate.

7) The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey

This was like a dumbed down version of all seven books of Charlie Higson's The Enemy series. Higson for beginners! Really good villain in the evil Doctor character.

8) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Third in the series of Books I Thought I'd Already Read this year is this one. Over-written, in the style of a book that was originally written for a magazine, this is an interesting read, with an annoying main character, and a good love story. I was amused by an audio copy I found on YouTube, read by an American, where the Yorkshire folk had a very interesting hybrid Irish accent.

9) The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

Read this for Book Group.  A fab idea, which was slightly ruined by the writer feeling the need to share everything she's ever learned about Derrida.

10) Fatherland by Robert Harris

A thread on Mumsnet (OK, I'm not fully cured yet) prompted me to read this.  I was sure that my Dad and MIL both had a copy, but apparently they both went to the charity shop years ago, so I downloaded it on the kindle. It took a while to get into, but was rather brilliant.  

11) Soviet Bus Stops by Christopher Herwig

I heard about this on Radio 4, and was so glad I bought it.  A glimpse into a totally unfamiliar world, showing the art in the mundane.  Fabulous.

12) Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans 

Part of my Carnegie reading for this year, but mainly bought because I loved Small Change for Stuart so very much.  This is great, hilarious, thought-provoking. C loved it.

13) Acts of Kindness From Your Armchair by Anita Nelson

Somebody recommended this on Mumsnet as a book to read at night to calm anxiety, so I bought it for C. Some bits will be useful, he says.  It was a little on the woo side for me.

14) The Call by Peadar O'Guillin

Carnegie Longlist, but not eventually shortlisted, which is a shame.  It's a wonderful mix of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games and The Secret History with Old Irish Myths. It might as well have been called Part 1, though, so obviously was it part of a trilogy.

15) Ketchup Clouds by Annable Pitcher 

A recommendation from A.  Clever epistolary novel with a slightly depressing ending.

16) Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

I was inspired to read this by a Mumsnet thread about "inappropriate books you read as a child". Along with Virginia Andrews, Danielle Steele, Jilly Cooper, etc, there were several mentions of this, which is, apparently, terrifying.

I knew enough about the book from the thread not to be scared, but I know I'd have loved it as a child. Like a menacing Moondial. Unsettling ending. Just fabulous.

17) The Explorer

I loved this so very much that I dusted down the blog for it.

18) When the Adults Change Everything Changes by Paul Dix

Key word being "adults". I really liked this, but it's a bit irritating to read about initiatives that have full-staff consistency as a guiding principle when I can't enforce this.  Will implement some things though.

19) The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Another one for the book group. The main character annoyed me greatly, and the motifs were heavy handed, but the story was a good one.

20) Flawed by Cecelia Ahern.

Suffice to say that this is very aptly named. 

21) The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

LOVED this.  It took me ages to read, because it was so involved. Similar vein to Golden Hill, but better.

22) The End We Start From by Megan Hunter.  

Almost more of a prose poem than a novel.  I loved it, and wanted it to be longer.  Will definitely look out for anything else she writes.

23) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This really made me want to go on a random walking adventure, and I have promised myself that one day I will.  

24) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

Brutal. Slightly disappointing ending.

25) Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Carnegie Shortlist 2018. I don't understand why this was shortlisted and The Explorer wasn't. Same sort of thing, but not as good. Like Lord of the Flies with puffins.

26) After the Fire by Will Hill

Carnegie Shortlist 2018. Excellent. A really important topic, well written about here. I think The Hate U Give will win, but this would be a worthy winner too.

27) The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Glad I listened to this one, as it was a bit rambling. Great characters, unpleasant plot. The kind of thing MrM might watch on TV. Reminded me of Days Without End, but better.

28) Beetle Boy by MG Leonard

Read to C.  Good idea, but slow-moving. Neither of us have any great desire to read the rest of the trilogy.

29) Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

I have discovered that the Wellcome Collection (one of my favourite London places to visit, and definitely one of my favourite bookshops) have a book prize.  I bought one of the shortlist for this year (I have 200 pages left), and then bought most of the previous winners second-hand or on the kindle.  This was the winner in 2011, and is brilliant.  Like Elizabeth is Missing, but better-written, and with zero feel-good factor. Great twist.

30) The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Just amazing.  So, so awful that this could happen. Incredibly moving.  Everyone should be obligated to read it.

My currently reading shelf on Goodreads has 9 books on it! My anti-procrastination book fest does appear to be working...

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