Inching Closer to completing the 20 Books of Summer

Despite my best intentions I’m posting another ’round-up’ post, because yet again life has gotten in the way. Still, the good news is that I have met my target of not doing worse in this challenge than I did last year – my final total may not reach 20 (although I still have 2 weeks) but at least it will be more than 16!

So, here’s a quick run down of the next three reads in my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

The good, the fine and the abandoned…..

No 662 In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake and The Woods by Matt Bell


The premise of Matt Bell’s In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods seems straight forward enough. A newlywed couple move to the wilderness to try and start a family, however, a series of miscarriages drives them further and further apart. Finally, the woman steals another woman’s baby in order to please her husband, but the decision only brings about more problems and abuse, which lead to a separation and then finally, a reconciliation of sorts. A domestic tale of the trials of marriage and the strain of infertility? Yes, but told as a magical, dense, fairy tale that confounds and compels in equal measure.

For example, the husband swallows one of the miscarried foetuses and it becomes a ‘fingerling’ growing inside him and becoming a demonic presence guiding his actions. The stolen baby is actually a bear cub, the husband takes on the form of a giant squid and the wife sings moons into being and creates a deep labyrinth below their house from which to escape her husband. The metaphors in this book are epic, fantastical, almost biblical and serve to create a world of symbolism that is often hard to read through. There is no respite from the strangeness and like the husband searching deeper and deeper underground for his lost wife, the reader is on a journey with him far away from reality.

And yet, within the dense wordy prose there are moments of harsh reality and clarity that pull you back and remind you of what this book is about – the messy, difficult and fraught emotions that come with dealing with infertility, abuse and relationships and how we as humans try and forge our way through painful times.

She said, You changed without me, and I forgot how to recognize you through the changes.

And what was there to do but agree

The writing is complicated, heavy with imagery and often difficult to read, and yet it is often very beautiful

And in this room: the sound of my wife’s knuckle first sliding beneath the beaten silver of that wedding ring, a sound never before heard, or else forgotten amid all the other business of our wedding day.

It is a kind of writing that asks you to just read, immerse yourself and not try so hard to understand it’s almost mythical, elemental grandeur. by setting it in an unnamed landscape with unnamed characters, Bell seems to be creating a wider story, a story about men, women, love, relationships, family – a story that is bigger than his characters.

House. Dirt, Lake, Woods.

House. Dirt. Lake. Woods.

He also seems more interested in creating an experience rather than a narrative and this book is unlike anything I have read. Whether that means I enjoyed it or not, I am still not sure. It’s a book I wouldn’t recommend to too many people and yet it is a book I imagine I will never forget.

20 Books of Summer: 14/20

Number Read: 85

Number Remaining: 661

No 661 The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

the idle parent

Tom Hodgkinson wrote one of my favourite books, How to Be Free – a light-hearted but illuminating treatise against the work hard, buy hard consumerism of our daily lives. Using philosophers and classic writers as his inspiration, he champions being idle as a good thing, reminding us to take time and enjoy life and not worry about having the big house, big car and important job when we just could be reading books and drinking ale.

In The Idle Parent, he turns his attention to the pressures that are now put on parents to ensure that their children are always being entertained, educated and kept active. His starting point is a quote from D H Lawrence – ‘leave the child alone’ – and he argues that we are introducing a work ethic to childhood that is no good for either child or parent.

This is a gently amusing book that contains some very pertinent points. Chapter headings include The Importance of Nature, The Myth of Toys and Learn How to Live from Your Kids and explore how we can have more fun by spending less money and how we should let children be children for as long as possible. In No More Family Days Out, he bemoans the experience of going to a theme park

All week you have been tired, grumpy and guilty because you have hardly seen your children. It’s time, you reflect, to give the kids a treat, do something together. I know! Let’s chase some fun! Let’s pile everyone into the car and join all the other desperate families at the local theme park. We can spend a pile of cash there and everything will be all right again

This chapter is a treat and does capture the modern day parental wish to entertain children at all costs and make precious time off mean something. The Myth of Toys is an equally enjoyable chapter, as any parent who has seen their child ignore an expensive present and play with the box will understand.

Other aspects of the book are less successful, mainly because it is written by and in some ways, for, a middle class demographic. Not everyone can downsize. Not everyone has access to a field or an allotment to allow their children to potter around in. Not everyone can work from home or cut down to three days a week. Many parents are making ends meet as it is.

Photo: Christopher Jones for The Telegraph

Tom Hodgkinson Being Idle…. Photo: Christopher Jones for The Telegraph

He often contradicts himself. In Down With School he maintains that school is there to create good little factory workers and then claims that Eton is the best school in the country. He bemoans people who have nannies or cleaners and then admits to having one himself.

Despite this, there are some interesting truths in The Idle Parent and it is a good reminder that we don’t need to spend loads of money to make our children, our ourselves, happy.

20 Books of Summer: 15/20

Number Read: 86

Number Remaining: 660


No 660 The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart


Sorry everyone. I couldn’t do it. I tried but I had to give up.

I don’t know if it was the bad writing, the unappealing lead character, the misogyny or the sexual violence but The Dice Man just wasn’t for me. I know it’s supposed to be a classic and all, but no.

It was abandoned.

The first abandoned book in the 746. At least it has that distinction.

If anyone out there likes it and thinks I gave up too soon, do let me know. Although I don’t think I will go back to it.

20 Books of Summer: 16/20

Number Read: 87

Number Remaining: 659

20 Books of Summer 2015!

20 books of summer - master image

It’s hard to believe a year has passed, but there are hints of a change in the weather here in Ireland and I’ve decided to challenge myself again this year to read my 20 Books of Summer!

Last year I managed a mere 16 ½ books, so hopefully I can beat that record this time round.

When I started trying to decide on my 20 Books, I had an idea. At the start of 746 Books, the aim was to read what I had, save some money by not buying books and clear some space by reading what was in the house. And I have managed to read what I have and save some money but over the last 18 months though, I’ve come to realise that I mostly read on my iPad, so the piles in the house are still there, mocking me.

So, this summer, I will only read physical books. It’s a bit daunting, because it removes the opportunity to read on my phone, but it will be nice to spend some time reconnecting with some real, actual books for a change! Plus, I might have a clear shelf by September!

So, starting from 1 June and running until 4 September, I’m hoping to read 20 actual books. 7 a month, I can do that, right? Like last year I’ve gone for as broad a range of genres and books as I can and like last year I have included a rock star memoir, a trashy 70s classic, and some sneaky short plays, poetry collections and short stories!

Photo: drbimages

Photo: drbimages

I won’t be reading in any particular order and be warned, reviews may be shorter than usual – I’ve still a job and a couple of twins to look after you know!

So, here are my 20 Books of Summer, click on the titles for a link to their Goodreads description:

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me? Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10 or 20 books you’d like to read and link below.  I’d love your support and I’ve provided a 10 Books image in case 20 seems too daunting! I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hastag #20booksofsummer.

10 books

So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.

Top Ten Tuesdays – Books I Want to Read But Don’t Yet Own

Top ten tuesday

Oh boy was this week’s theme made for me! Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish and this week’s theme is the Top Ten Books I Want to Read But Don’t Own Yet. Or as I have alternatively titled it The Books That Cathy’s Husband Will be Buying Her for Her Birthday.

Given that I haven’t bought a book in 8 months (the longest I have gone without book buying in my adult life) this was a pretty easy list to compile. I could have even done a Top Twenty. Hell, a Top Fifty wouldn’t really have been a stretch at this point.

But 10 it is. So here they are. The books I have been coveting the most for the last 8 months….

1. The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin
I mean really. Who places a book-buying ban on themselves just before the publication of the last instalment of the greatest series of books ever? I really, really regretted not buying this before I started my blog, but I didn’t. So it is top of my wish list. I am dying to find out what happens to Anna Madrigal and that lovely bunch of Barbary Lane residents.


2. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
This is a no-brainer. I’ve read and loved all his books. So far he hasn’t put a foot wrong. The Guardian has called The Bone Clocks ‘a globe-trotting, mind-bending, hair-raising triumph’ which is good enough for me.


3. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
The moment I started my challenge, it seemed to me that all my favourite authors decided to announce publication of their new books, out of spite. Just to test my resolve. This is another period drama from the superlative Ms Waters, exploring the lives of a mother and daughter forced to take in lodgers after the War ends. I anticipate sumptuous page-turning drama shot through with that trademark tenderness and intelligence.


4. The Fifty-Year Sword by Mark Z Danielewski
What’s this you say? A new book from House of Leaves author Mark Z Danielewski? A prose poem? With five different narrators looking back on one terrible night? That comes in its own box? With drawings and an unusual layout? Remind me again why I haven’t failed my challenge on this book alone?


5. The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
The fantastic Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith won…take a deep breath here….. the International Thriller Writer Award for Best First Novel, the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was long listed for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the inaugural Desmond Elliot Prize. High pedigree indeed and enough to make me want to read The Farm even if I didn’t know anything about it. I know this though:

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

Now that is a premise. And I really, really want to read it.


Books not bought collage

6. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
I have been known, in the past, to buy books based solely on their title. You’ll all find that hard to believe I’m sure, but there it is. I’ve been intrigued by the sound of this book since I heard of it. By all accounts bizarre, dense and dreamlike, this tale of a couple who go to the wilderness to make a new life and raise a family but are thwarted by failed pregnancies, sounds just odd enough for me.

7. The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Did I hear someone (quite a lot of people) saying that this was a return to form from Amis and akin to Times Arrow? That’s enough for me.

8. Orfeo by Richard Powers
I wanted to read this before it was long listed for the Booker Prize as Richard Powers The Time of Our Singing would be on my Top Ten Books of All Time. Anything new he writes is a must-read for me and this tale of an avant-garde composer labelled a terrorist by Homeland Security and forced on the run sounds really intriguing.

9. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Sometimes I think the reason I’m drawn to a book about a world where hundreds of thousands of people have lost the ability to sleep but can be gifted sleep from healthy people is because I have twins and I didn’t sleep more than 3 hours a night for at least 2 years. I would have sold my soul for some sleep donation…..

10. The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin

I’m a sucker for anything relating to 1970s cinema – Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is one of my favourite books about cinema, so an autobiography from the man who made The Exorcist, The French Connection and Killer Joe is right up my street. If he is as forthright and abrasive as his movies, this is going to be a great read.

So, are any of these on your list? What books are you really looking forward to buying?