Rounding Up and Looking Forward ~ June~July 2020

woman sitting while reading a book

Looking back over this past month has actually proved to be a very dispiriting experience. It’s not so much that I am discouraged by the amount I’ve read or the quality of what I’ve read but rather the quality of the way in which I’ve read it. At the beginning of lockdown I seemed to be able to engage with books in a far more thoughtful and detailed manner, but over these last few weeks I feel as if I have been reading with less attention and ending up with fewer worthwhile comments to make about books that I’m sure deserve better. I suppose that back in March there was novelty in having as much time to read as I wanted, but now that novelty has not only worn off, it has begun to drag. I am used to having long conversations about the books I’ve been reading and receiving stimulation from the other readers in the five groups I run during the course of any one month. Online conversations are great, and I wouldn’t want any of you for a single moment to think that I don’t appreciate my friends in the blogging world, but I think I’m missing having to be prepared to justify my opinions about what I read in the immediacy of face-to-face conversation. So, with that in mind, my apologies  to M W Craven, Catherine Fisher, Roz Watkins, Kate Grenville, Noel Streatfeild, Michèle Roberts and Katherine Applegate, writers to whom I have done less than justice during the month of June.

used red coffee cup and saucer

I suppose I should also apologise to those writers who I am expecting to read in July, just in case the same thing happens! However, most of the posts going up next month have already been written, and one of the things I want to give some thought to is the number of books I’ve been taking for review. Because, having once accepted an ARC I really do feel obliged to write about it, and consequently, they have been dictating my reading to far too great an extent. I’ve always maintained a list of forthcoming publications that I know I’m going to want to read and I think in future that I shall have to limit myself where NetGalley is concerned simply to the books that are already on that list. With that in mind, where I do have spaces this month I’m going to try and write a series of combined shorter reviews to work my way through as many of the books that I have committed to as I can and then keep a tighter rein on my requests in future. Even so, I think it will be several months before I’ve finally caught up with myself.

One way of dealing with this would be simply to dedicate the whole of July to reading review copies, however I’ve very much enjoyed dipping back into the world of children’s literature and also to reading from earlier in the last century than I would normally have done. So, I’ve drawn up a preparatory list for the forthcoming weeks which I hope will allow me to mix-and-match across a number of genre and a number of periods while still working my way through my review commitments. Some of these, I know, were on my projected list for June so maybe I should prioritise Lucy M Boston’s, The Children of Green Knowe and Alison Croggon’s The Gift, both of which are excellent children’s novels. Some of you may remember as well a very good televised version of the former, which I think was made in the 1980s? Mark Billingham’s Cry Baby and GR Halliday’s Dark Water are both on my to-read list and so that’s two review copies easily dealt with and in addition I’ve added Kate Weinberg’s The Truants and Rhiannon Ward’s The Quickening from my ARC pile to try and make something of a real dent in it. Peter Lovesey’s The Finisher is there as well, so that makes five that with luck and perseverance I will have cleared. To complete the list I’ve added Anne Enright’s Actress, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym and the fifth Campion novel, Sweet Danger.  There was a time when only reading ten novels in a month would have seemed paltry, at the moment I’m hoping I’m not being wildly over optimistic.  Oh well, at least there are thirty-one days in July!


20 thoughts on “Rounding Up and Looking Forward ~ June~July 2020

  1. BookerTalk July 1, 2020 / 9:03 am

    You’re not alone in finding it hard to focus right now and missing human contact but I hope we can cut ourselves some slack and not worry about perceived “failings”. I’ve not noticed any drop off in quality of your reviews so maybe you’re being too hard on yourself??


    • Café Society July 1, 2020 / 10:44 am

      Thanks, Karen. It’s all too easy when you’re sitting on your own without any immediate feedback to take the most pessimistic view of things, I find.


      • BookerTalk July 4, 2020 / 7:29 am

        The mental well being of so many people is being put under severe test right now. I’m part of a befriending service with Age Cymru and it’s heartbreaking to connect with some elderly people who live alone and find the days without social contact so hard. I know you’re not elderly and I also know you have a good circle of friends but it’s understandable to have some low days. Hopefully not too long now before you can get out more.


  2. A Life in Books July 1, 2020 / 9:06 am

    I think many of us share your weariness, Ann. At first there was a sense of novelty, truly all being in it together, but as time wears on and the restrictions loosen, we’ve begun to miss our ‘normal’ lives acutely.


    • Café Society July 1, 2020 / 10:45 am

      I think, Susan, that as restrictions ease we are beginning to realise that life is not going to go back to what we knew as normal. In the beginning it was very easy to talk about “when all this is over“ now I think we’re just beginning to understand that there isn’t going to be a nice clear cut end and that life is going to be very different for a very long time.


      • A Life in Books July 1, 2020 / 10:51 am

        Absolutely! So many of the things that seemed an integral part of life are going to be very different until a vaccine is developed, or rather if one is developed.


  3. Annabel (AnnaBookBel) July 1, 2020 / 9:50 am

    June dragged as a reading month for me too. I found it was all too easy to be glued to a box set on screen (with a side window open to monitor social media) instead of reading.


  4. heavenali July 1, 2020 / 2:39 pm

    I was finding it harder to focus than I am now. June was a better month for me. I haven’t accepted any review copies for ages, though I have some left over from before. I don’t feel I can commit to them. Don’t be hard on yourself about reviews, I think your reviews are great.


    • Café Society July 1, 2020 / 5:41 pm

      Thanks, Ali. I think you are beginning to be an influence on me, good or bad you will have to decide, because I am finding myself wanting to read books from a much earlier period than before and searching out novels from the thirties, forties and fifties.


      • heavenali July 1, 2020 / 5:57 pm

        Ha, well I would definitely claim they makes me a good influence. 😉


  5. joulesbarham July 1, 2020 / 4:54 pm

    Isn’t it tricky knowing what best to do when we no longer have the framework of regular events throughout the week? I am reading a lot at the moment, but I know that it is difficult without getting any feedback from our regular reading groups. At least we are storing up ideas for future discussions…


    • Café Society July 1, 2020 / 5:42 pm

      Oh yes, I have so many books that I want my groups to read and discuss. When we do get back together we will have to meet twice a month to catch up with them all.


  6. Kat July 1, 2020 / 6:13 pm

    I do enjoy your reviews so much. You are a voice of reason in the wilderness. I think this is a very stressful time, that no one is handling it particularly well, and that we must practice the much-vaunted “self-care” to keep from losing it altogether! So give yourself a break from Netgalley if you feel like it. They are extremely generous, but I doubt they expect us to review EVERYTHING. I have read some brilliant galleys, but sometimes I drop a note saying something is not for me.


    • Café Society July 2, 2020 / 9:06 am

      I’m going to have to do that with some I think, Kat. There is one in particular that I really thought I wanted to read but I’ve tried to start it three times now and I just can’t get anywhere with it. I’m going to have to admit defeat.😕


  7. Jan Hicks July 2, 2020 / 12:34 pm

    That’s very interesting that you feel the quality of your reading has changed during lockdown. I’ve noticed that I’m reading less frequently during the week, because I’m not commuting to/from work and because my husband is also at home, so we’re spending daytime time together, which is a luxury. I do still have longer reading sessions at the weekend, but it’s taking me twice as long to get to the end of a book at the moment. I am still engaged with what I read. I’ve switched almost entirely to non-fiction, perhaps because my brain wants concrete facts during this uncertain period!
    I found your concern about doing justice to the ARCs you receive interesting, too. I’ve toyed with the idea of joining something like NetGalley, but I know deep down that my inbuilt sense of obligation would then turn reading into a stress for me. What you say about how you currently feel resounds with me. I cut back on things like LibraryThing’s 50 and 75 book challenges and Goodreads’ annual reading challenge because they turned reading into a competition, and I want my reading to be about pleasure and my understanding of the world. Like Karen said, I think as bloggers and reviewers we can be too hard on ourselves and we should cut ourselves some slack.
    I hope you find your happy medium and look forward to reading your thoughts on what you’re reading. You’re always interesting.


    • Café Society July 2, 2020 / 2:48 pm

      Thank you, Jan. It has meant a lot to me that other people have said they are still enjoying what I write. I have had further thoughts about taking on reviews, namely that it does mean for the most part I’m only reading new material rather than also exploring books from previous decades or the back catalogues of recently discovered (by me) novelists. I’ve tried to do something about this in the list I’ve drawn up for July and that should cut down on ARCs even more.


  8. Alyson Woodhouse July 2, 2020 / 5:57 pm

    I’ve still been really enjoying your reviews, Ann, so I wouldn’t worry about a fall in quality at all. It’s funny though, I’ve found June the worst month so far in terms of my own ability to cope with the Covid situation, which has of course fed into my reading ability and caused the biggest reading slump in years. I think I found everything easier to digest when the information and advice we were receiveing was uncomplicated and uncompromising, IE stay at home at all times. The easing of certain restrictions has frazelled my brain somewhat though, which was not what I was expecting to happen at all. I hope you have an easier month in July.


    • Café Society July 2, 2020 / 6:12 pm

      I’m sure you’re right, Alyson. Now we are faced with having to make decisions again, only in the new climate those decisions might just prove to have a life or death consequence. It’s enough to frazel anyone’s brain, let alone a Bear of very little brain like me. 🙃


  9. FictionFan July 3, 2020 / 8:15 pm

    Yes, the idea of having endless time for reading is a bit more alluring than the actuality has turned out to be! I try only to take books from NetGalley that I would otherwise buy since in the early days I got really bogged down with review copies and it all began to feel like a treadmill. Now I try to limit myself to four review copies a month – it doesn’t always work but it keeps me from splurging on too many. Hope you have an enjoyable reading month in July!


    • Café Society July 4, 2020 / 11:38 am

      Thanks FF. I am definitely cutting down on the review copies. Unless it’s something I know I would have either borrowed from the library or bought for myself I’m going to leave it alone in future.

      Liked by 1 person

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