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.

Throwback Thursday or A Long Long Time Ago in the days before Goodreads…

Apologies for the handwriting!

Apologies for the handwriting!

Last week I was having a bit of a clear out and came across a diary from 2007. Goodreads was just a twinkle in some web gurus’ eye in 2007, so I kept track of what I read the old fashioned way. By writing a list in the back of my Moleskine diary.

It’s fun to have a look back at what I was reading seven years ago.

What struck me the most is how many of these books I have no recollection of whatsoever! Seriously.

The Weight of Numbers? Not a clue.

Electricity? Can’t even picture the cover. *

The same goes for JPod (by a once favourite author Douglas Coupland), The Hiding Place (I think there were some sisters involved) and D Is For Deadbeat, which I remember as being a generic crime thriller I got from the library and not much else. It gets worse though.

I bought a copy of The Observations by Jane Harris just last year and it’s sitting on my bedside table, counted among the 746. Yet it appears that I read it seven years ago and can’t remember it at all. Is this normal? Maybe the nature of literary fiction and the amount of it that I read means that I can’t retain memories of all these stories. Does this say more about the books in question or more about me?!

As I am taking part in Non Fiction November, it was also interesting to see that I read quite a few biographies and non-fiction books, including Bill Buford’s Heat, The Divine Matrix (I recall an attempt to get my head around quantum physics!) and Goddess – a biography of Marilyn Monroe, tellingly read straight after Joyce Carol Oates’ majestic Blonde. I read Judith Levine’s Not Buying It in an attempt to curb some of my superfluous spending, but clearly that didn’t work – book-wise at least!

The list also reminded me of my beautiful holiday in Crete that year – I read Battle Royale, Ghostwritten, An American Tragedy, Invisible Monsters and That’s Me in The Corner (borrowed from the hubbie when I ran out of books!). It was so hot that the pages of Battle Royale fell away from the book but it’s nice to remember a time when it was possible to lounge around on the beach all day reading. Holidays with children don’t afford the same luxury!

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There are some duds in here too, I started watching Dexter in 2007 and read the book for comparison. As I recall, the book was awful. Piers Morgan’s autobiography may have been full of smarmy self-aggrandizing, but it was also chock full of hilarious celebrity anecdotes to more than make up for Piers and his self-love. I’m also surprised that I read two Harlan Coben books in a row. I was slightly disappointed with Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk as I’d heard that people had been fainting at his readings from one particular story, but although grossed out a little, I stayed fully conscious the whole time. Sushi For Beginners was my one and only attempt to read chick-lit, figuring that no one does it better than Marian Keyes and while the book was diverting fun, it didn’t convince me to read more of the genre!

Another thing that strikes me when looking at this list, is the amount of books here that have been, or are being adapted for film or television – 14 in total, some more successfully than others.

Overall though, 2007 seems to have been a good reading year. The Line of Beauty, Libra, The Remains of the Day, The Year of Magical Thinking, Black Swan Green, An American Tragedy and The Road. All fabulous, fabulous books. Plus I ended the year with How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, the book that inspired me to go part-time, start a card-making business and have more fun with life and a book I return to again and again when I need to remember what it important.

The 'How To Be Free' Manifesto for Life

The ‘How To Be Free’ Manifesto for Life

So, how did you all track your reading in the days before Goodreads? Do you still keep lists? Can you enlighten me as to the plot of The Weight of Numbers?!

*A quick Google search has just told me that Electricity has been made into a movie that is out this year. I read the plot synopsis. Still nothing.