Rounding Up and Looking Forward ~ December 2017 – January 2018

1106623932_58e6ad3de8December 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.

IMG_0245You 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.

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24 thoughts on “Rounding Up and Looking Forward ~ December 2017 – January 2018

  1. I do hope you’re feeling better now. Those bugs can take quite some time to get over. I spotted Ghostwritten in your reading plans, still my favourite Mitchell, and I enjoyed Conversations with Friends very much. Strout, of course, is always a joy. Happy reading!

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    1. Thank you, Susan. I am still coughing gaily and sending up the price of shares in tissue manufacturers but definitely feeling stronger each day. I’m about a third of the way through Ghostwritten and what I’m finding interesting is that I am sure I am reading it with a different level of understanding because I have read later novels by Mitchell than I would be doing if I was coming to him afresh.

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  2. December sounds horrid – really hope the year starts better for you. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the Mitchell – I enjoyed the Thousand Autumns but have failed to get on with the two other books of his I’ve tried.

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    1. I also enjoyed The Bone Clocks but was less convinced by Slade House. I’m interested to see how the books link together because they were clear links between The Thousand Autumns and The Bone Clocks.

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  3. Glad you’re on the mend – it’s really bad when you’re even unable to read. And the snow sounds horrendous. We were lucky in the rural north-east – no snow, but we were in Scotland for Christmas and did have snow, which the grandchildren loved.

    I thought Autumn was impressive too – looking forward to the other seasons. But I don’t like to plan too far into the future – I rarely manage to stick to any reading plans. I loved Marghanita Laski’s Little Boy Lost, so hope you do too.

    There is a branch library not too far from me which underwent major changes last year, not good, less space and less books. But I use the mobile service here, which is still coming round, despite fears they’ll stop the service.It’s really good – except when the van breaks down.

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    1. In some ways last week’s snow was even worse because it partially melted and then froze. I want it on record that I hate snow. And I’ve been into the library this afternoon only to discover that things have got worse there too and the fiction library is closed completely. I think I need to go back and start the year again😉

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  4. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your January will turn out much better than your December! I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better. It’s always fun to make resolutions and plans and lists — whether you stick to them or not. 🙂

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    1. Today at the library was not a good omen. They had actually closed the fiction library this afternoon. Apparently they have been taken over by a company that is going to make them very much better. Call me a cynic but that sounds really ominous.

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  5. Oh poor you to have the double whammy of flu and all that snow. Normally I would have said snow of that nature is a good thing since you can do little else but snuggle up with a book but when you are feeling grotty, even reading can be too much of an effort.

    I can sympathise with the library system changeover. We went through that experience here during the summer and it took a lot longer than they predicted. For about two months you couldn’t reserve anything, renew books electronically, return them except by standing in line since the electronic check in/check out system was out of action. Now I find that my entire borrowing history has been wiped out so a book on breadmaking I wanted to get again I can no longer find. How is this progress?????

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    1. I’m afraid I loathe snow of any sort and at any time. It is so isolating and often dangerous and as I said it destroys my routine. When I was teaching the children would excitedly inform me that “It’s snowing, Miss” and I would growl through clenched teeth, “I know it’s snowing. Now get on with your work”. Nasty old Scrooge, that’s me! But they could walk home; I had to drive.
      As for the library, I went today and they have now even got the fiction section closed completely. When I inquired as to how long this state of affairs would persist a very harried librarian just looked at me and said “I wish I knew”. As you say, how is any of this progress?

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  6. I keep reading that everyone is sick, which makes me paranoid! I’m so glad I got my flu shot, even though I know it only covers certain strains of flu. I definitely know what you mean when you write “My very working class roots, and no doubt prejudices too…” I currently live in a city in which many people are NOT working class, so it can feel very hard to fit in. The privileges and problems are on completely different planets, in my opinion, and it can make it hard for me to take people seriously.

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    1. I hate to tell you, but I had the flu jab as well. This is a particularly nasty strain that has come in from Australia after this year’s vaccine was formulated. Apparently there have already been more cases this winter than in the whole of last year’s flu season. Not good news, I’m afraid.

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  7. Oh, I hope your January is much better than your December and that you stay healthy! I also hope the library system gets everything straightened out. Sounds like a real mess.

    But on the bright side, you’ve got some excellent reading lined up and great plans for the new year. I just finished Strout’s Anything is Possible and it is just as good as Lucy Barton, in my opinion.

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  8. So sorry to hear how poorly you have been – hope you feel that you are now on the mend. I too adored Lucy Barton and am looking forward to AiP when it arrives from the library. I had mixed feelings about Autumn and decided that it needs a re-read before I can come to a definitive view. And then of course, there will be Winter to turn to, among all the other want-to-reads. Your prospective reads sound great – what a marvellous reading year you have ahead of you. 🙂

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    1. Thank you Liz. I’m definitely on the mend now, although I am still getting very tired. It’s a post viral thing, I think. Autumn is interesting. I knew I was reading a great book but I also knew that I wasn’t getting to the heart of it. It definitely needs a re-read. It was a book group choice and we all felt pretty much the same.

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  9. Last winter (not the one we’re immersed in right now), I spent three months coughing after two separate viruses caught me with my immunity down, and it was zero fun. Reading was nil, and writing (where my energy usually goes) virtually so. I now live in fear of doing that again!

    My perennial when I can’t do anything else is Busman’s Honeymoon (the last Dorothy Sayers/Lord Peter novel). When it’s really bad, I go to the pages with the good stuff. My kids laugh at me because I don’t have the ability to remember most quotes verbatim, but it’s handy when I read them again – they always seem fresh.

    Hope your snow goes quickly.

    I like your list. How do you go about selecting ‘At least one new contemporary novel’?

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    1. My go to is Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. When I’m low I just want to spend time in the company of other book lovers. This time round the virus has left me with what I can only call post viral fatigue and the last time that happened it took three months to really clear. However, I was working at the time so I’m hoping that now I’m retired and can be kinder to myself it won’t take so long. The contemporary novel is really my short hand for something which has been published recently which is not crime fiction. I suspect that for the most part these will be books by authors I already know and like (both Julian Barnes and Jim Crace have novels published in February) and failing that books which have been well reviewed by bloggers whose opinions I respect.

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      1. If you have post-viral fatigue for a few months, you will know what I live with all the time. It’s not fun, and it does make writing harder. I plug away, but it takes me far longer to write the complex mainstream novels when your brain is refusing the jumps. But if you’re that way all the time, you learn how to make progress when you can.

        I’m finding that, if I have energy, reading takes as much as writing the contemporary novel, so I choose the latter.

        Enjoy your books. Now if only retirement weren’t accompanied by getting older and slower!

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