September Miscellany – a monthly round-up!

This is (hopefully) the first in a monthly post where I round up on my book-related happenings that haven’t made it into the 746 or one of my challenges.

September Miscellany _

You all know that I stuck to my book-buying ban for three years, but have started buying/ borrowing a few new books here and there. The nature of my work means that I have to keep up to date with the world of books and although I am buying books again, I don’t buy many and I try to buy them all from my favourite independent book shop No Alibis in Belfast.

At the start of this year I was in a real reading and blogging slump. I found choosing what to read really tough. If I wasn’t reading something from the 746 I felt guilty. If I bought a new book, I wouldn’t feel like I could read it straight away as I had so many others vying for attention, so left the new books aside. If nothing in the 746 immediately appealed to me, I would invariably end up not reading anything. Or starting several and not following through on any of them.

I tried a new plan – one from the 746, one from Netgalley and one new book, but that didn’t seem to work either. Reading Ireland Month didn’t really pull me out from the slump as I’d hoped it would in March and a look through my blog shows just how few reviews I wrote in the early part of the year.

Then I made my 20 Books of Summer list and seemed to choose a really good mix of reads. I found myself flying through them and reading a whole lot of other books besides. Why the sudden burst in reading activity?

Several things have helped I think.

Firstly, I’m using my phone and iPad less and reading more actual books. When I read a real book I get less distracted by games or social media and tend to read for longer.

Secondly, I’ve started worrying less about what I’m reading. If I buy a new book or get approved for one on Netgalley and feel like reading it straight away, I do. As a result, I’m reading even more and the 746 is still going down, slowly but surely.

So, here’s a round-up of the other books I’ve read in September on top of my backlog and the two challenges I’m currently doing – RIP and Novels in Translation.

 Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghost wall

I received a copy of Ghost Wall from Netgalley without knowing anything about the book or the author. I just liked the sound of it. I wasn’t expecting it to be the stand-out read of the year for me. Seriously, it’s going to take a really great book to top this one.

Ghost Wall is set in the recent past where teenager Silvie is spending two weeks re-enacting the Iron Age way of life in Northumberland. Accompanied by her bullying father, submissive mother and a group of university students and their professor, the group camp, wear tunics and hunt and forage for their food. As the fortnight wears on tensions start to run high as the idea of bog bodies, ghost walls and human sacrifices start to take a hold.

Ghost Wall is a short book, but a stunning one. The prose is gorgeous, the pacing and tension sustained and the characters vivid and relatable. It’s a work of terrible beauty, exploring how the past, both recent and distant, still have a hold on the present. It is worth reading for the first two pages alone. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of Sarah Moss’s work.

 We That Are Young by Preti Taneja

The lovely Poppy Peacock sent me a copy of We That Are Young as a gift over the summer and I’ve been reading it for a few months.

Preti Taneja

To be fair, it is a doorstep of a book, but well worth the time. Transposing the story of King Lear to modern day India, Taneja tells the story of the ‘Company’ whose head, Bapuji is splitting his assets between his three daughter, Gargi, Rhada and Sita and his son Jeet.

Told from the viewpoint of each of his children, We That Are Young is a sprawling epic that explores the battle for power within a damaged family, the class differences in an ever-changing country and the lengths that people will go to hold on to wealth, status and the love of a parent. A worthy winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize, We That Are Young is well worth picking up.

You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) by Andrew Hankinson

Raoul Moat

Those in the UK will remember the terrifying and surreal case of Raoul Moat which hit the headlines here in 2010. Moat, recently released from prison shot and killed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, wounded his ex-girlfriend and shot and blinded a policeman David Rathband, who later went on to commit suicide. With the help of his two friends, Moat then went on the run for 8 days, releasing statements to the press about his wish to kill more police officers in revenge for their treatment of him and becoming a strange kind of hero to some (including bizarrely the footballer Paul Gascgoine). Moat was eventually found and after a stand-off, committed suicide.

Hankinson has used Moat’s recordings, lengthy statements, police and medical reports to get into Moat’s head and write about his final days in the second person, in a kind of Truman Capote style. This makes for a disconcerting and claustrophobic read. Hankinson is asking the reader to try and understand what makes a killer and to lay bare a toxic masculinity that was the bedrock of Moat’s life. Moat was undoubtedly intelligent, but wallows in self-pity, justifying everything he has done and placing the blame elsewhere. Hankinson allows Moat’s statements to stand, but in parentheses notes when Moat is not telling the truth, painting him as an unreliable narrator.

While fascinating, the book is also problematic mainly because of Moat’s incredible capacity to avoid responsibility for anything he has done. There were times when he was let down by the system and he undoubtedly had a difficult childhood, but it is hard to empathise with someone who is so incredibly self-involved and lacking in insight. To label Moat a monster (as Prime Minister David Cameron did) is as simplistic as labelling him a hero and in that respect, Hankinson does a good job of saying that reality is a whole lot less black and white, without letting Moat off the hook for the crimes he committed.

 Normal People by Sally Rooney

I quite enjoyed Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s debut novel and had very high hopes for Normal People, her critically acclaimed follow-up. Normal People has been universally praised by critics and readers alike and it’s exclusion from the Booker Shortlist last week was met with disbelief. I hate to say then, that I was disappointed. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne, a couple from a small-town in Sligo as their relationship changes and grows over several years. Connell is a popular boy whose mother cleans Marianne’s house. Marianne is well-off, but not well-liked and the two begin a secretive relationship. When the both start university at Trinity, the tables are turned. Marianne is popular with a wide group of friends, while Connell struggles to fit in.

normal people

Normal People is a typical ‘will-they, won’t they?’ narrative which is incredibly readable with some interesting characterisation (particularly Connell, who tries to navigate what it means to be a man in today’s society). For the most part I enjoyed it, although I found some of the dialogue stilted and unrealistic. I sometimes get the feeling that I may be too old for Rooney’s books and overall, I wasn’t blown away.

Normal People shares a similar plot to Belinda McKeon’s Tender, which I thought was a book with far more depth and emotional charge and I’m finding myself wondering what all the hype is about.

 

That’s my extra reads for this month. Have you read any of these? Do any tempt you?

Or do you have any other suggestions for getting out of a reading slump?

 

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

41 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m so glad you’re out of your slump, Cathy. We’re as one on Ghost Wall. I’m still astonished and aggrieved that it was nowhere on the Man Booker lists. I’m sorry to hear about Normal People but interested to read your comparison to Tender which popped into my head when I read the blurb for the Rooney. Absolutely loved that book. I’ll probably still read the Rooney but forewarned is forearmed! I now have a copy of We That Are Young sitting on my shelves waiting to be read thanks to your recommendation in a previous post.

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    • Ghost Wall was astonishingly good Susan and maybe that’s why I was so ambivalent towards Normal People as I read it straight after. Don’t get me wrong, Normal People is fine, I just felt like I wasn’t reading the same book as everyone else! The Taneja is epic – I wish I’d read it in a more concentrated time frame but it’s so accomplished for a debut novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Out of a slump? Read more?
    I moved my favorite reading chair into a better place in the room
    …to enjoy the Indian summer sun.
    Arranged better lighting around chair an side table.
    Supplied my table with fresh bottle of sparkling water and Kleenex.
    Turned off my laptop…and picked up (as you do) real books!
    Hype: I agree that a book is so personal….I read Washington Black (Esi Edygyan)
    and thought is was good….but not blown away!
    Buying books? I do not dare mention how many I bought this month!
    I was reading about the poet James Wright…and bought so many of his collectons.
    Now it’s time to read them!

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  3. The Raoul Moat story sounds completely chilling! And I see where that would be very problematic, both from the bedrock of toxic masculinity (you explained that so well) and from his being an unreliable voice even in telling his own story. As difficult as I’m sure his life was to some extent, if he can’t take responsibility for his actions it seems like there’s no point in hearing his side of it.
    Great to hear your take on these!

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    • Thank you! I do feel like we have to try and understand people like Moat rather than simply villifying them but he was so unaware of his own failings and his lack of responsibility was wearing. Although Hankinson does hold him firmly to account.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re absolutely right, there’s a lot to be gained from understanding why they felt these choices were the right ones and how that can translate into changing behavior and avoiding tragedy in other cases. Just frustrating when they cling to a victim role or refuse to accept responsibility.

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  4. I have Ghost Wall waiting for me and have read so many good reviews that I think I shall have to move it up the pile. I’m also interested in We That Are Young. I am teaching King Lear this term and am wondering how much has come from Shakespeare’s play and how much from the traditional meat loves salt story, one variant of which comes from India. Is there an equivalent of the Gloucester plot or a Fool character?

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    • We That Are Young is quite faithful – the Gloucester storyline is there (and handled well) and there is a Fool of sorts, but not to the extent of the play. The focus is firmly on the children rather than on the Lear figure, which gives it a very different dynamic. Ghost Wall is a stunning book. I hope you like it.

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  5. I hadn’t heard of Ghost Wall before this, but it sounds a must-read. Many thanks for the recommendation. The Preti Taneja sounds good too, but I’m not sure I could take on another doorstop right now.

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  6. It sounds like your new relaxed approach is just right for you. I am so glad you are out of your slump. I have had a slower blogging and reading month during September and that was bad enough. Though looking my blog this morning I realised I hadn’t done as badly as I thought, September has just felt really long. I am massively impressed by how you kept to your book buying ban so long. That’s such an achievement, I can’t manage three months!

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  7. I am truly impressed by your determination not to buy books for awhile and read what you have until that pile is manageable. Congratulations! In my rare times of a reading slump, when nothing on my wish lists satisfies, I get sale books or maybe switch genres. (My very rural library system is worthless and there are no real bookstores in the county.)

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  8. I was also disappointed with Normal People in comparison to Conversations with Friends. Ghost Wall will be coming up for me soon whenever it arrives at the library. We that Are Young has a tempting premise; if only it were 200 pages shorter! 😉

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  9. I’m just coming out of a slump that I’ve been in since the hot weather triggered it, so it’s great to hear how back in the swing you are!
    You and Susan have me totally convinced on the Sarah Moss too – I’m always a fan of novellas anyway, but coming out of a slump means short books are especially appealing right now!

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  10. Hi Cathy! I always like seeing what you’ve read. I think I might like to read Conversations with Friends and then decide about Normal People. I know how you feel about being in a reading and blogging slump or at an impasse. I’ve gone through that myself. I have a bunch of NetGalley books I haven’t read yet, plus a pile hidden away so my family won’t see, as well as my Kindle hoard and my mental list of books I want to read. It does get a big much, and with a lot of outside pressures, it’s hard to get excited about curling up with a book when there’s no time.
    But I’m out of that now and it sounds like you are too!

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  11. I can’t think of a time I was in a slump that was memorable, but I know touching my books always reinvigorates me. I may reorganize them on the shelf or make a spreadsheet of books with their genre, TBR, add date, etc. I may cull books I’ve read and take them to the Little Free Library.

    This year, I’m doing a structured reading plan: the oldest book I own, the newest book I own, a book with a fat protagonist, and a freebie. This has worked out so well for me. I used to get anxious about buying new books when I hadn’t read older books, etc.

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  12. You know, I found Normal People a lot more compelling than Conversations With Friends; the vignette-ish, episodic structure seemed just right and I love Rooney’s eye for detail. (All that said, I still liked Tender better, but that’s partly because Tender never looks away while Normal People is all about eliding and choosing the moments on which it wishes to focus, and I just tend to prefer the former technique.)
    Ghost Wall is, I agree, effing incredible, and a strong book-of-the-year contender.

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  13. I’m glad you are absolutely out of your slump – I think turning off electronics helps enormously as they just eat up time. I’ve actually gone the other way and I’m reading less but what I am reading I seem to be appreciating more because it’s back to being what I want to do rather than feeling that I need to do this for the publisher, blog etc.

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  14. I love this kind of post, Cathy! I was also in a reading/reviewing slump in the first half of this year, and I haven’t quite recovered from it, actually. As for your September reads, I am really tempted to try Ghost Wall now. And McKeon’s Tender :). And I may wait the hype to pass, before trying Rooney…

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  15. I’m always gobsmacked by your voracious reading, even when you’re in a ‘slump, Cathy. You’re a mighty reader. I’ve gone back to some Irish authors, Eimear McBride ‘s A Girl is a half-formed thing, now more than halfway through it, and loving it. And Chris Arthur’s Reading Life. He’s a great essayist. Other stuff like Mark Herron’s Spook Street is a spy thriller that also makes me laugh. And I’ve just become entranced with C. J Sansom’s books on Tudor England. Not sure if any of that is to your taste or liking. Very Best wishes

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  16. The only thing I find that puts me in a slump is reading a book that I’m not enjoying so consequently my cure is to stop reading that book – otherwise my reading stops entirely and it’s just a block that I can’t get round. The catch 22 is that i really don’t like to dnf a book so I have to tell myself that I’ll pick it up again – it very rarely happens thought (which is perhaps a bit sneaky)
    Lynn 😀

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