November in Review

Yet again I am playing catch up with myself! It’s the same old story – reading? Good. Reviewing? Bad. I feel like one of my old school teachers, ‘Cathy could do so much better if she would just apply herself more…’

In my defence, November has been a rather rubbish month. The obvious political situation was a downer to say the least and I have been incredibly busy in work again. I’ve also been ill and am writing this from my sick bed under the influence of strong painkillers, so if I veer off topic, or my writing appears more confused than ever, then that’s my excuse.

Despite being busy in work, I did have a really lovely month. I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Hollinghurst, who came to talk about life in Oxford studying under Seamus Heaney and I also met one of my all-time favourite poets, Bernard O’Donoghue. I don’t think poor Bernard knew what to do with me as I made him pose for photographs, sign all my copies of his collections and listen to me be a real fan-girl, but I don’t care! If you’ve never read any of O’ Donoghue’s poetry, please do. The Definition of Love is one of the most beautiful poems I know.

me-and-b

With the wonderful Bernard O’Donoghue


I also had the pleasure of hosting a panel event for The Glass Shore, a new book of short stories by Northern Ireland Women Writers, edited by the indomitable and inspiring Sinéad Gleeson. Spanning the last hundred years and featuring a range of writers including Lucy Caldwell, Rosa Mulholland, Polly Devlin and Bernie McGill, this is a wonderful and necessary collection and I hope to review it on 746 Books next week.

glass-shore

With The Glass Shore contibuters Bernie McGill & Rosemary Jenkinson and editor Sinead Gleeson.

In terms of getting the 746 into the 500’s before the end of the year, I think I’m still on track. I’ve read three more books since my last round up. Please do forgive these VERY mini-reviews, my critical faculties are not firing on all cylinders at the moment and I have a feeling I would end up making even less sense than usual if I tried to review them properly!

No 604: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

brain-on-fire

In 2009 Susannah Cahalan was a thriving 24 year old, with a new boyfriend and her dream job as a journalist for the New York Post, yet the unthinkable and unimaginable happened when she, for all intents and purposes, lost her mind. After a period of mood swings, hallucinations and extreme paranoia; all of which was put down to too much alcohol consumption by one doctor, Cahalan suffered violent seizures and psychosis, which caused her to be hospitalised for a month before being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease where her body was essentially attacking her brain.

Cahalan remembers nothing of this month in hospital and using her journalistic skills, she pieces together what happened from medical records and interviews with her immediate family. This a clear-eyed and sobering memoir, however Cahalan has that reporter’s objectivity which means that the personal side of the story is harder to access. The book is both an investigation into a patient’s illness and a personal account of being that patient, but ultimately the personal side of the story is less effective. Despite this, Cahalan is unflinching in exploring what happened to her and the strain it put on her loved ones and what comes from the book most clearly is her sense of good luck – luck in having a supportive family, luck in having parents who could afford her necessary treatment and luck in finding the right doctors at the right time. As she herself notes, others have not been so lucky.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 143

Number Remaining: 603

No 603: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

under-the-skin

Michel Faber is another author I have had the pleasure to meet in the course of my new job. Despite having three of his books in the 746, I had never got round to reading his work, but decided to rectify this.

I have seen the weirdly wonderful movie adaptation of Under The Skin, and would advise that if you have neither read the book nor seen the movie, then read the book first. Knowing the premise of Under The Skin before you read it definitely takes away from this oddly intriguing and otherworldly book. It is hard to review Under the Skin without giving key things away.

The book follows Isserley, a strange otherworldly woman who drives around northern Scotland picking up hitchhikers. As each new passenger enters her car, we learn a little more about this odd creature and her search for the perfect specimen of man – bulky, filled out, with as few family ties as possible. Faber drip feeds the reader information on Isserley’s plans for these men, to the point that when we realise what is happening, our concern is less for them and more for Isserley and her own victimisation. Written in beautifully restrained prose, Faber has created a chilling, metaphysical tale that takes its time bringing the reader where he wants you to go.

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 144

Number Remaining: 602

No 602: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

woolf

One of my aims this year was to take part in Heaven Ai’s Woolfalong – a wonderful celebration of the work of Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to take part as much as I would like, but thanks to Ali, I finally got round to reading Mrs Dalloway, which I adored and now A Room of One’s Own.

Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but from the beginning of time

Virginia Woolf’s classic study of what a woman needs to write on the same basis as a man, still holds a great influence today. It was interesting to read this whilst also reading The Glass Shore, and hearing how contemporary women writers still feel they need to create their own space, whether in a house, on pages or in the virtual world, to be granted the same consideration as their male counterparts.

Based on two lectures given in 1928, A Room of One’s Own is both a beautiful and invigorating read, which mixes solid down-to-earth advise to female writers (health, money and space matter) alongside a soaring polemic for the female writer to ‘be truthful…and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting.’ Her exploration of what would have happened to a female Shakespeare is at once entertaining and sobering and her call to celebrate the androgynous mind seems as pertinent today as it did almost 100 years ago.

This slim book is a marvel and I just wish I had read it years ago. My thanks go to Ali for giving me the necessary push to pick it up. It may be the first time I’ve read it, but it won’t be the last.

Read on: Book

Number read: 145

Number Remaining: 601

So, there we have it. Two more books and I will be in the 500’s! Given that it’ taken me three years, I really shouldn’t feel so pleased with myself, but it’s time to celebrate the small victories!

Up soon on the blog, will be my third birthday annual round up of my reading year.

How has everyone else’s reading been this year, have you reached your goals? I look forward to seeing everyone’s ‘best of’ lists.

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41 thoughts on “November in Review

  1. Congratulations on getting within a hair’s breadth of the 500s, Cathy, and commiserations on having to take to your bed. Hope you’ll feel better soon. It does sound as if you’ve had a lovely, if busy, month other than that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a wonderful month, not a rubbish month. You met Hollinghurst. I have A Line of Beauty on my TBR. Congrats about meeting your goal. I think you will surely be in 500s by the end of the year.

    Thanks for the mini reviews. Michel Faber is an author on my radar. I just can’t decide what to start with.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LOVE Under the Skin. And A Room of One’s Own is one of the books that pushed me to apply to Oxford—that comparison she makes between a day at a men’s college and a day at a women’s college encouraged me to apply to one that wasn’t historically female, partly so that I could, in some weird roundabout way, get into the fortress and make Woolf proud of me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It *sounds* like you’ve had a great month, besides the being sick part, which, of course, can ruin everything else no matter how great it is. I hope you are feeling better soon!
    Congratulations on being practically at 500 – that seems like a huge deal to me – so much less than 746! 🙂
    I hope to read something by Faber one of these days. And, now I have to ask which Virginia Woolf you preferred? Or is it impossible to say?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry to hear you’re not well, Cathy. My very best wishes for a speedy recovery and better times ahead.

    I loved Michel Faber’s Under the Skin when I read it a few years ago – such a strange and compelling book. Glad to hear you liked it too. (I agree, it’s such a difficult one to capture without revealing any spoilers!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t have any reading goals except to try to read more than the previous year – I think I have this year though maybe I’ve cheated a little by reading more short works! Still I’m the adjudicator and I’ll take whatever I can.

    I love that you read Woolf. That’s one of those memorable books that once you read you never forget.

    And congratulations in advance on reading the 500s. I am so impressed by your diligence in all this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hope you feel better soon and woohoo! Congrats on getting to the 500 milestone! I’ve been meaning to try Michael Faber for ages, but did have Under the Skin spoiled for me by all the movie reviews. Perhaps I’ll try one of his other ones…

    Liked by 1 person

      • Tell me, Cathy, is Darran McCann connected to your workplace? I ask because I came across an Amazon lisitng for a short story collection he has apparently edited for the Seamus Heaney Centre, and thought that’s where you are now? I was looking because I enjoyed his own novel several years ago now and still keep hoping he might produce another…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think so, but he is probably involved with the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queens University Belfast. We are separate – the Seamus Heaney HomePlace. I must check out his work if you recommend it though.

        Like

      • Ah, that sounds familiar – I think that is what the blurb said! He’s only written one book so far, After the Lockout, way back four or five years ago, good enough to put him on my watchlist – I was going to ask you to give him a nudge and tell him to speed up a bit… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  8. How wonderful to meet Bernard O’Donoghue and what a lovely picture of the two of you! Thanks for including a picture of your favorite poem – it was so good. I’ve never read him before.

    Congratulations on your reading progress!

    I am really looking forward to the new year of reading – I’ve got some good reading goals in mind that I hope will reinvigorate my reading and blogging!

    And thank you again for the book – I got it this week and I think I’m going to really enjoy it. That was so very kind of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hope you are back on your feet soon. It’s miserable being ill when everyone at his time of the year seems to be rushing around. I had similar good intentions with the Woolf project but in the end only managed Mrs Dalloway. Room of Ones Own is going to have to wait a while

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ooh, you’re getting there, well done! I have finished PIlgrimage and I have a Woolf (maybe two) to read – glad you enjoyed Room of One’s Own, a lovely book, and her prose is so clear and readable, isn’t it.

    I don’t do best-ofs until the first day of Jan, as I tend to read a very good book at the tail-end of each year, but I do look forward to reading everyone else’s as they come along!

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  11. Just wanted to let you know how saddened I was with the recent death of another Irish writer, William Trevor. He was such a great short story writer. Along with Alice Munro, I have read them for years amazed at how great the short story can be.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nice list! Sometimes I have a hard time reading then reviewing, but I find it even harder to move on to the next book until I’ve reviewed the one before it. And when life gets in the way it’s even harder! Hope you’re feeling better, Cathy!

    Liked by 1 person

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