December is always a difficult month in our house. As the Christmas scene moves onto the horizon and then the holiday season itself rolls around it becomes more and more of a problem to stick to any sort of routine and for people with Aspergers this is not good news. I find myself wasting great stretches of time just because the world won’t let me organise my life in the way I’m used to. This year the situation was compounded by the arrival on the 10th of fifteen inches of snow. (Being me, of course I went out and measured it!) I live in a no-through road, half a mile away from the nearest bus route. For five days it was impassable. And, even if you had been able to trudge through to the main road, it wouldn’t have done you any good because bus route it may be but there were no buses running. This despite the fact that I live in one of the biggest cities in the country. We’re not talking the depths of rural England here. Mind you, I have long been of the opinion that if you were to look on the local Council maps where you ought to find the name of our district printed what you would actually find is Here Be Dragons. I think they’d rather like to forget we exist. I then made matters even worse by going down with full-blown flu – temperature, aches, pains, swollen glands, the lot. That was three weeks ago yesterday and I am only just beginning to feel human again. So, all in all, December was not a good month and I found it difficult to settle to reading anything very much and after the 10th nothing of any great substance.
The two works that did impress me were Ali Smith’s Autumn, which I read for my book group and Graham Greene’s The Third Man, which formed part of my Years of My Life project. I reviewed the latter but felt that I needed to give the Smith a second reading before drawing together my thoughts about a novel which may be short but which is, nevertheless, very complex. Flu put an end to that idea and what I am thinking of doing now is waiting until the sequence is complete and then reading all four books straight through because I’m sure that the sum is going to be very much greater than the parts. I also read The Pursuit of Love but that turned out to be a dreadful disappointment. Mitford irritated me no end. My how those upper classes suffered. My very working class roots, and no doubt prejudices too, came rising to the surface and I soon decided that for my temper’s sake I wouldn’t be going on to read Love in a Cold Climate, which was another book I had considered for my project.
Other than that I have stuck to crime fiction, which for the most part hasn’t demanded too much from my depleted little grey cells. Two such, Howard Linskey’s The Search and Margery Allingham’s Mystery Mile, I have already reviewed and I very much enjoyed both of them. Four others have January publication dates and so the reviews are still to come. As you will discover, they were something of a mixed bunch. With Hell Bay, Kate Rhodes has begun a new series, this one set in the Scilly Isles and it is as beautifully written as her Alice Quentin novels, while Helen Fields’ Perfect Death shows her continuing to go from strength to strength. Eva Dolan has abandoned her Peterborough based hate crime series for a one off, This Is How It Ends, a novel full of anger and one which I am not quite certain in its final pages she has managed to bring off. And the fourth was so awful I very nearly didn’t review it. However my comments will turn up in the not too distant future so I will leave you to find out what it was for yourselves.
You will understand then, that I am looking forward to January, if only on the grounds that it is extremely unlikely that it could possibly be any worse than December. I did use some of my down time to have a good think about my reading habits and although I haven’t done anything as radical as making resolutions, I do want to try and establish a better balance in my choices. I too easily resort to crime fiction or to re-reading old favourites. I need to challenge myself a bit more. So, I’ve drawn up a tentative schedule which runs along these lines.
- Unless there is a plethora of new publications only three crime novels a month.
- Whatever needs reading for book groups.
- At least one book for my Years of My Life Project.
- At least one new contemporary novel.
- At least one unread novel from a favourite author’s backlist.
- Any free time left at my own discretion.
Whether I will be able to keep to this I have no idea but I am full of good intentions.
This means that for January I have some definite titles on the list and some that are rather more tentative. I’m leading a book group discussion on Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful novel My Name is Lucy Barton so, before the meeting comes round, I’ll re-read both that and the associated short story collection Anything is Possible. Looking ahead, re-reads where book group selections are concerned are going to be impossible to avoid. I have my last 1949 publication, Marghanita Laski’s Little Boy Lost to start, that’s a definite as well. So too is David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, which I’ve already begun. Mitchell is one of a number of writers that I’ve come to rather late, meaning that I have a lot of back catalogue to catch up with. The earliest of his novels that I’ve read is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I haven’t decided yet whether I am going to read all four of his previous books straight off or intersperse them with those of other writers. I shall probably have to do a post on this just to get my ideas straight in my head.
Other choices are, for the moment, rather more fluid. As far as I can see, none of my favourite contemporary writers have a new publication this month so I am thinking of adding Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, for which she won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award, to the list. Where crime fiction is concerned the only January publications I am looking forward to and which I haven’t already read are James Oswald’s The Gathering Dark and Alafair Burke’s The Wife. The latter comes out too late in the month for me to get hold of a copy so the Oswald will probably be joined by my review copy of Sarah Hilary’s Come and Find Me and the third Albert Campion, Look to the Lady.
Of course, all of this is contingent on what turns up from the library. My local service is in the process of changing its systems and as a consequence chaos has ensued. No books can be reserved, no catalogues consulted and no new books are being added. I even received an overdue demand this morning for two books that I returned before Christmas. I really rely on the library so all this had better be worth it. Oh well, have a good reading month, everyone.