#20 Books of Summer – An Update

20 books

 

It is safe to say that my 20 Books of Summer Challenge is not going to plan at all.

With just under 4 weeks to go, I have read 10, reviewed a pitiful 5 and am half way through 2 more. 20 seems very far away right now and if my summer continues the way it has been, there is no way I’ll complete the challenge.

15 still might be possible, so I’m going to focus on that. I still have plenty of time for reading, but workload, kids-load and holidays have meant that I have little time for reviewing. I could give up sleep I suppose, but that probably wouldn’t help in the long run.

Having said that, we had a wonderful week’s holiday in Donegal, in glorious sunshine – YES, sunshine in Donegal – and I managed to read four books (although not all out of my 20 books pile!). If you get a chance to read Ruth Fitzmaurice’s new memoir I Found My Tribe, DO. You won’t regret it.

Work at Seamus Heaney HomePlace continues to be all-consuming and incredibly busy, but yesterday I spent the day with the legendary Bernard MacLaverty, so I can’t really complain.

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I have, however, been very slack at keeping up with everyone else’s progress and blogs, so do let me know how you are getting on and I promise, I will try to resume normal blog upkeep very soon!

One of the positives to come out of this year’s less than successful challenge is that I read one of the most stunning books I’ve encountered in years. Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping is a true masterpiece and while I’m not going to review it here today, it will get its own in-depth review because I loved it so much. If I read a better book this year, I’ll be amazed.

So, here are some more mini-reviews of the books I have managed to read from my 20 Books of Summer pile:

No 586 Gig: The Life and Times of A Rock Star Fantasist by Simon Armitage

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Simon Armitage’s entertaining and eminently readable collection of essays doesn’t exactly fit with its dramatic subtitle. If you know that Simon and his friends formed a rock band again in their mid-forties and you are looking for some insight into that, you won’t find much of that here.

Not that I’m complaining. Gig is a series of reminiscences, reviews and lyrics, strung together by Armitage’s undoubted love of music. So, you get reviews of gigs he has been too and some he missed, and family stories centred on music and most entertainingly, tales of funny, strange and downright surreal poetry readings. These are interspersed with some really powerful lyrics that Armitage wrote with prison inmates while making a documentary for Channel 4.

From being asked who would win in a fight, him or Jarvis Cocker, to being approached to be the face of Tetley Tea, Armitage is never less that engaging and self-effacing which makes for some laugh out loud moments, particularly when he describes coming across a copy of one of his poetry collections in a second hand shop – inscribed ‘To Mum and Dad’ in his own handwriting. He clearly loves music, and talks Dylan, The Fall (‘if you don’t like them, you’re wrong’) and The Smiths and his respect for those who make their living making music is evident.

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His own attempts at the rock star life are covered in the final few chapters of this entertaining and amiable book, as he forms a band with his wife, Speedy Sue and friends and they write and record a few songs. But it is clear that the gigs he is most comfortable with are more the poetry variety and long may he continue to perform them.

 Read On: Book

Number read: 161

Number Remaining: 585

 

No 585 Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner

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I had such high hopes for Dead Stars, a vicious satire on Hollywood, fame and celebrity. The book features some real life characters, including Michael Douglas who is attempting to remake ‘All that Jazz’; 13 year old Telma, the world’s youngest breast cancer survivor, who has just been usurped of her title by a 6 year old; Jacqui, a photographer who rose to fame taking naked pictures of her children and is now trying to revive her career photographing by dead babies, and her son Jerzy, a paparazzi photographer who specialises in up skirt shots of young female celebrities. Dead Stars is, for the most part, wilfully offensive. Prolonged descriptions of pornography and sex abound and chapters are labelled as either ‘Explicit’ or ‘Clean’. Intriguingly, most of the best writing is in the ‘clean’ sections, but these are few and far between. Some scenes are fantastic, particularly when a failing writer gets the chance to have a meeting with David Simon, but the novel is bogged down with satire free, unpleasant characters whose spiel is often difficult to read, let alone empathise with.

It’s a shame, as there are some nice themes at play here – the need to be famous, any kind of famous, at all costs and the pain of mortality and how we face it. However, any insight is drowned out by pages and pages of unpleasant scenes, descriptions of pornography that are completely unnecessary,  and thinly drawn, caricatures of characters. One to avoid.

Read On: iBooks

Number Read: 162

Number Remaining: 584

 

No 584 The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Over Hollywood by James Mottram

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James Mottram’s well researched but somewhat dry exploration of the independent film-makers who rose to prominence in the wake of Steven Soderbergh’s incredible success with ‘sex, lies and videotape’, covers much of the same ground as Peter Biskind has done previously in his superior exploration ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’.

Taking Soderbergh as the starting and finishing point, Mottram explores the work of filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne and links them thematically to the so-called ‘golden age’ of 1970s cinema when Spielberg, Altman, Scorsese and DePalma were riding high.

It’s an interesting premise, detailing how the Sundance Film Festival brought these filmmakers to the attention of the big studios who saw a financial incentive in championing them. He also explores how the filmmakers themselves played the system and tried to maintain that sense of ‘independence’ within big-budget cinema. Using Soderbergh’s career as the back-bone of the book, Mottram explores how these artists are using the Hollywood machine to create their vision of what cinema can be.

This is a comprehensive book but it has clearly dated in the intervening years since it was written and is in some ways lessened by its own constraints. By exploring only those filmmakers he considers part of the Sundance gang, other artists like the Coen Brothers or foreign directors like Alfonso Cuaron are omitted. Even English directors like Sam Mendes or Danny Boyle go unmentioned, meaning there is no wider cinematic depth to Mottram’s case. The book also focuses heavily on long, uninspiring descriptions of films, which give no real additional insight to the argument being made. Mottram is also clearly

The question also remains at the end of reading this book, did the Mavericks actually take over Hollywood, or did Hollywood use them to their advantage? Mottram himself remains undecided given Hollywood’s continuing deification of the blockbuster and the ultimate importance of the bottom line.

The Sundance Kids is an entertaining enough read for a film buff like me, but does suffer a little in comparison to Peter Biskind’s work. Still, after reading it, I have a lovely long list of movies new and old that I want to check out!

Read On: Book

Number Read: 163

Number Remaining: 583

 So there we are, 8 out of 20 books reviewed! I will be reviewing No One Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July, which I liked a lot and the wonderful Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson hopefully very soon, I will try not to leave it another month before I post again!

Please do let me know how you are all getting on and what kind of summer you are having!

cx

 

 

My 20 Books of Summer List is Finalised!

 

 

20 books

I have finally managed to come up with my reading list for 20 Books of Summer – always my favourite part of this challenge. I’m excited to read these books now, but you can sure as hell bet that by August I’ll be sick of them!

From 1 June to 3 September, I’m going to attempt, for the fourth year, to read my 20 Books of Summer. That’s 7 books a month, which is pretty daunting, but I think I can do it. I managed it last year, although reviews were shorter than usual!

As always, I had great fun putting this list together, although, this is about the sixth version since I started planning. I’ve tried to go for a broad range of genres, eras and styles so that there is always something I’m going to want to read! There are factual books, memoirs, short stories, a very short story and some classic and more contemporary novels.

As with last year, I’ve done a page count, so I have 6128 pages to read over 95 days, meaning I have to read 65 pages a day to complete my challenge. If I could just stop playing Jelly Crush and watching Line of Duty that would be completely do-able…

So, here are my 20 Books for summer 2017, you can click on the titles read their descriptions on Goodreads:

the hunters

1. The Hunters by Claire Messud

I adored The Woman Upstairs when I read it a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to this collection of two novellas. And yes, the phrase ‘novella’ is always attractive when putting together my 20 Books list.

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2. The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee

I’m a sucker for true crime and really loved Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee, which is filled with beautiful writing despite the harrowing subject matter. The Blue Tango is a fictionalised account of a real life murder in Northern Ireland in the 1950s.

yellow wallpaper

3. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This one is a little bit of a cheat as it’s a short story rather than a book, but I need to cut myself some slack here! I’ve been meaning to read this feminist classic for some time now, and at 26 pages, this seems like the perfect time to read it!

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4. Calf by Andrea Kleine

Calf was a birthday present from my husband, so won’t be one of the 746, however I’m intrigued by the description of it as being a cross between Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret and Taxi Driver. Taking the real life assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan as her inspiration, Kleine fictionalises the story of John Hinckley and Leslie Deveau and tells it through the eyes of a 12 year old girl.

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5. No one Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

I’m a fan of Miranda July’s movies, particularly You, Me and Everyone We Know so I’m looking forward to this collection of short stories.

sundance kids

6. Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood by James Mottram

This is one choice I may well regret, as it is a BIG book, but I do love a book about the movies. Here James Mottram charts the rise of the indie filmmakers in the 1990s – Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Soderbegh – and explores how their work changed the cinematic landscape.

goat's song

7. A Goat’s Song by Dermot Healy

Dermot Healy died in 2014 and remains one of the most underrated Irish writers. His fans included Seamus Heaney, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle. A Goat’s Song is considered to be his greatest work, as it chars the doomed love affair between an alcoholic playwright and his actress muse.

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8. The London Train by Tessa Hadley

I actually know very little about this novel, or Tessa Hadley’s work but imagine I bought this after it was longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2011.

hateship

9. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

I must have about five Alice Munro books in the 746, so I think this is a well overdue choice. A twitter call out suggested this collection of short stories was a good starting point for her work.

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10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Another classic I’ve been meaning to read for several years, The Awakening shocked readers in 1899 with its depiction of female infidelity.

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11. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

Here’s another novel I don’t remember buying and know very little about! Anyone help me out? All I know is it’s an epic love story played out against the backdrop of the Korean War!

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12. Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill

This collection of short stories seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book, but edgy, creepy short stories are just my thing and any book that contains the story that the movie Secretary is based on gets my vote!

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13. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Like Alice Munroe, I’ve bought loads of Murakami books and never got round to reading them. I really hope I like this, as I think I’ve got about five more to get through once I’m finished!

housekeeping

14. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

It was a toss-up between Housekeeping and Gilead, but I thought I would go for Robinson’s first book for my first reading of her work. I’ve heard rapturous praise for Housekeeping, and Robinson’s work in general so this should be a good one.

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15. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I started Half Blood Blues last year and gave up after a few pages for no good reason, so I’m putting on the list to try and finish it this time round.

dead stars

16. Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner

I have a feeling this is going to be a strange one. A satire on Hollywood, it sounds less La La Land and more Maps to the Stars. Featuring drug addicted American Idol contestants, failed celebrity photographers and Michael Douglas, I could be in for a treat here, or I could want to throw it out the window.

olive

17. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Is I just me, or has Elizabeth Strout been everywhere for the last few years? Having read all your glowing reviews for My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, I was delighted to find a copy of Olive Kitteridge lurking, forgotten in my iBooks.

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18. Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Peter Carey, but have always enjoyed his books, particularly Oscar and Lucinda. As a former Art gallery manager, I’m always drawn to books about art and artists, so should enjoy this tale of an old famous painter whose life is turned upside down by a mysterious young woman.

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19. Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is another writer I haven’t read for a long time and I like the sound of this character driven thriller.

gig

20. Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock Star Fantasist by Simon Armitage

Anyone who knows me, will know my love for Simon Armitage, so he fills this year’s music memoir slot as he explores the importance music has had on his life and career.

So that’s my 20 books, however this year I’ve allocated two ‘spares’ just in case one of my 20 isn’t working for me and they are:

1. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is getting rave reviews and Zone One has been on my TBR for ages now. I’ve tried to read it quite a few times now, which it why it’s a possible replacement rather than a firm choice. I’m just not sure that it’s for me, although I do love a good zombie story…

2. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson hasn’t let me down yet, from Life After Life to Behind the Scenes at the Museum. The only reason this isn’t on the main list is because I’ve read a lot of Atkinson’s work over the last couple of years and would like to try some other authors this time round.

So, what do you think of the choices? Any I should start first? Any you think I’m mad to include? Does anyone think my spare reads should be in my main list?

I’ll be keeping a pinned Master post on the blog from 1 June, with a Linky where you can share your lists if you are taking part.

Remember, if 20 seems too daunting, then there are the 15 and 10 options also!

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10books

 

Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10, 15 or 20 books you’d like to read and link back to my Master post so I know you’re taking part.  I’d love your support and as anyone who has taken part before will know, I am wonderfully slack with my rules!

I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hashtag #20booksofsummer. Do let me know if you will be joining in and don’t forget to link up your lists on Thursday when it all kicks off!