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.
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
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.
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