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AlisonY: 2019 - Rash and Random Reading II

This is a continuation of the topic AlisonY: 2019 - Rash and Random Reading.

Club Read 2019

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1AlisonY
Edited: Apr 10, 12:16pm Top



My reading's bumping along nicely thus far, so time for a new thread.

This is a picture of Scrabo Tower, which is a few miles down the road from where I live and can be seen spotted across the horizon from many parts of the county. It overlooks Strangford Lough, and Game of Thrones fans might recognise it as filming took place there a few years ago.

Part I of this thread can be found here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/301117

2AlisonY
Edited: Aug 14, 10:56am Top

2019 Reading Track

January
1. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates - read (4 stars)
2. Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood - read (5 stars)
3. Back to Basics: The Education You Wish You'd Had by Caroline Taggart - read (3 stars)
4. Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain's Top Forensic Pathologist by Dr Richard Shepherd - read (4.5 stars)
5. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben - read (3 stars)
6. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy - read (4.5 stars)
7. Alexandra by Valerie Martin - read (4 stars)

February
8. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald - read (4 stars)
9. Hymns to the Night by Novalis - read (4 stars)
10. A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert - read (3 stars)
11. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay - read (4 stars)
12. The Accidental by Ali Smith - read (4 stars)
13. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst - read (4 stars)
14. Decorating with Style by Abigail Ahern - read (4 stars)

March
15. The Great Lover by Jill Dawson - read (4 stars)
16. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen - read (4 stars)
17. The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas - read (4 stars)
18. Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty - read (3.5 stars)
19. I'm a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian's Take on What Makes Us Human by Robin Ince - read (2.5 stars)
20. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson - read (2.5 stars)
21. Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis - read (4 stars)

April
22. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - read (5 stars)
23. Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence - And How You Can Too by Gary Vaynerchuk - read (2 stars)
24. Educated by Tara Westover - read (3.5 stars)
25. Autumn by Ali Smith - read (3 stars)
26. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - read (3.5 stars)
27. Lullaby by Leila Slimani - read (2.5 stars)

May
28. So Much for That by Lionel Shriver - read (4 stars)
29. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund - read (3.5 stars)
30. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale - read (3.5 stars)
31. Unless by Carol Shields - read (2.5 stars)

June
32. Home by Marilynne Robinson - read (3 stars)
33. Solitude: Memories, People, Places by Terry Waite - read (3 stars)

July
34. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick - read (3 stars)
35. Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard - read (5 stars)
36. All The Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell - read (3.5 stars)
37. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - read (4.5 stars)
38. The Vegetarian by Han Kang - read (3.5 stars)
39. Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall - read (5 stars)
40. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - read (4.5 stars)

August
41. Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer - read (4 stars)
42. Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age by Sara Wheeler - read (3 stars)
43. The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien - read (3.5 stars)
44. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermer - currently reading

3AlisonY
Edited: Apr 10, 12:15pm Top



25. Review - Autumn by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a very clever author, no doubt about that, but I still can't quite decide if I really like her writing.

No, that's not true. I quite like her writing, and I understand why she gets her plaudits, but there's a modern day British grittiness to her writing with a slightly depressive 'real world' undertone which I'm not sure I overly enjoy in books (depressive writing I can do with pleasure, but I'm not overly keen on that particular type of British grittiness - perhaps it reminds me too much of depressing British crime dramas, or maybe I prefer to be swept away from what I know to something / somewhere else).

This is my second Smith read, and again you're never exactly sure where she's going with the book which is always interesting. There's a purposeful playing with time and other concepts, so that in the end Autumn felt less like a novel to me and more like a fictional vehicle used to carry an essay of social commentary ideas from modern post-Brexit referendum to gender equality past and present, delicately woven with apt observances from the arts (it was the best of times, it was the worst of times).

It's fresh off the press in terms of a social commentary of our times, and it's fresh as a daisy as a form.

3 stars - I compare my feelings on Smith's writing a little with Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' art installation: part of me sees why everyone is heaping on the praise about its genius, and part of me thinks it's just a slightly interesting unmade bed...

4VivienneR
Apr 10, 1:47pm Top

Ali Smith is one of the most puzzling writers I've come across. I gave Autumn four stars and then was really disappointed with The Accidental. However, I intend to keep reading.

Thank you for posting the beautiful photo of Scrabo Tower. I used to live very close to it and was married in Newtownards.

5AlisonY
Apr 10, 1:54pm Top

>4 VivienneR: sometimes Ali Smith makes me feel a bit stupid - like I should be loving her a lot more than I do.

Small world! I live a few miles on the other side of Comber.

6VivienneR
Apr 10, 2:39pm Top

>5 AlisonY: Goodness, it is a small world! My son was born in Dundonald. It's such a beautiful part of the world. The last time I was in the area I wanted to take photos but it was one of those days when the force of the rain would have peeled off exposed skin. :)

7AlisonY
Apr 10, 3:38pm Top

>6 VivienneR: ha! Yes, I was wondering how long the photographer had to wait for this dry shot!

8dchaikin
Apr 11, 1:52pm Top

Beautiful picture. Lots of good titles have showed up since I last visited. So, should I read/listen to Educated? A Little Life? The split opinions with words like “trust” and “manipulation” tossed about are disconcerting. Fortunately I’ve already read Autumn, so I don’t have to dwell on the meaning of your ambivalence, but can simply appreciate your perspective. Pondering British grittiness.

9AlisonY
Apr 11, 3:00pm Top

>8 dchaikin: Educated is definitely a very enjoyable read / listen, Dan. It's just I'm not sure how accurate it is as a memoir.

I don't know what to tell you on A Little Life as clearly there is a lot of split opinion on that one! It is highly emotive, probably excessively so, but I love a good saga so it worked for me. However, I can see how others felt they'd been worked over a little on the emotional front.

On the British grittiness thing, I think it's that I don't like reading books that are close to my day-to-day reality. I don't mind a book set in the UK if it's completely a world away from my world, for example the English upper class country mansion set, but I'm not so keen on those that are based around normal people that I might come across in my everyday life. For those stories, I prefer to be spirited away to the States, or mainland Europe - anywhere that's less familiar to me.

I don't think there's a whole lot of logic to it. Similarly, there's no logic at all in my refusal to watch films that have a lot of extras in them, which exasperates my husband no end.

10dchaikin
Apr 12, 12:51pm Top

Enough reality in RL? Probably I’d be happy to read a book on suburban Houston, assuming it was a good book, but I can understand...well, that part...not the extras bit. : ) I’ll have to keep that in mind if I ever recommend a movie.

11AlisonY
Apr 16, 4:00am Top



26. Review - Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I've not read anything by Marilynne Robinson, and I realised early on when reading Housekeeping that's she's an author whose prose cannot be rushed. Hurry your way through her writing and you'll miss the complete point of it - this is a book where the writing is a journey and not a destination.

As such, I found Housekeeping to be not a particularly plot-driven book. The gist of the story is that two young girls find themselves living in a town that's more of a pass-through than a destination following the death of their mother. When their grandmother dies fairly soon too, an unknown aunt comes back to the town to take care of them. She's well-intentioned but a drifter at heart, who has become unused to the normalcy of living in a house and the usual rules of normal living that the the other townspeople adhere to.

At its heart it's a book of the differing effects of loss and of the changing dynamics in family relationships over time. It raises the question of what really matters, whether living by the accepted standards of society is the necessary marker for love and responsible guardianship, or whether pure love without restrictions and expectations is the truest and most honest love of all.

It's a book of subtlety rather than drama, and I'm a little torn by my overall impression of it. I enjoyed it, and certainly plan to get to Gilead at some point, but part of me wonders if it's a little too quiet overall. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that the slow layers of this book are really rather brilliant, and that its quiet execution is precisely its genius lies.

3.5 stars - enjoyable, but in a pondering rather than earth-shattering way.

12OscarWilde87
Edited: Apr 17, 3:49am Top

Hi there!
I am veeeeeryyyyy late to the game here, sorry about that. But life got in the way of reading and even more in the way of posting and following around here. I'd like to say it will get better but I guess I'd be lying to myself a little as times are still way too busy. Still, enjoyed your reading. I could not catch up with every review, but I've read the odd one. Now my wishlist is a little longer than before. Especially Educated and Adventures in Human Being sound interesting. I always find it odd to have no idea about what goes on in my body either in sickness or in health, so an easy introduction that gives me some biological knowledge while not expecting too much of me would be great, I think.

EDIT: I forgot to say: Love that picture at the top of your thread!

13AlisonY
Apr 18, 3:49am Top

>12 OscarWilde87: welcome, welcome! Adventures in Human Being definitely does not expect too much of you in the Biology department. Definitely very readable if like me you were completely rubbish at science at school. Obviously the body's kind of complicated so he only touches on certain aspects as he works his way down from tip to toe, but what he chooses is interesting.

14dchaikin
Apr 20, 1:30am Top

Enjoyed your review of Housekeeping. I would like to read it. I read Gilead and thought it was ok. Then later I read Home and liked it so much that I immediately re-read Gilead and this time fell in love with it, especially the first 100 pages or so (where nothing much happens). She seems to be author whose power is sometimes a little hidden, but there.

15Caroline_McElwee
Apr 21, 7:24pm Top

I loved the Gilead trilogy, I've still to read Housekeeping, which has been on my shelf forever.

16AlisonY
Apr 22, 2:07pm Top

>14 dchaikin: I get what you mean from your Gilead comment. I reckon I could read Housekeeping a second time and be more impressed by it. I was in a bit of a rushed reading mood when I read the first 100 or so pages, and was conscious that it was writing that definitely needed more attention given to it.

>15 Caroline_McElwee: you're all convincing me to give Gilead a go, Caroline.

17AlisonY
Apr 25, 5:11pm Top



27. Review - Lullaby (or The Perfect Nanny) by Leila Slimani

I've been looking forward to reading this novel for a while now, but I feel very disappointed by it and am left wondering why it's deserved of the accolades and prizes it's received.

We know right from the first sentence that the nanny kills the children, and as expected the novel focuses on the build up to that awful crime, but yet in many ways it doesn't really build up to anything. The nanny is a cold, queer fish, but the writing too felt very cold and dispassionate. Being a mother myself the very premise of this novel should make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, but I felt very disconnected from the characters. The backdrop and supposed lead up to the terrible murders felt uneven, and whilst I know it's not a first novel it reads very much like one. The dissolving of the relationship between the nanny and the parents seemed rushed, as did her significant decline in circumstances.

All in all, I expected to be glued to the pages, but instead I was more glued to looking at the last page number to see when I'd be finished.

2.5 stars - completely forgettable and disjointed.

18Simone2
May 4, 6:49am Top

>17 AlisonY: excellent review. I agree that it’s completely forgettable.

>11 AlisonY: I kind of hated this book but I loved Home and Lila which I read afterwards so maybe I should give it another try.

19AlisonY
May 4, 1:27pm Top

>18 Simone2: I picked up Home yesterday at the bookshop, funny enough, so I'm looking forward to reading it soon. I can get why you might not have enjoyed Housekeeping - it won't be my read of the year, but I definitely got the sense of her writing capability from it.

20AlisonY
Edited: May 7, 8:40am Top



28. Review - So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

This is my third Lionel Shriver novel, and she's definitely becoming a favoured author of mine. In So Much For That, the novel opens with the male protagonist deciding to finally go ahead with his life's dream of escaping the rat race to live on a small island off the coast of Zanzibar, with or without his family. However (and this is no spoiler as the jacket tells you as much), his plans to live the dream are stopped dead in their tracks when his wife announces that she's had a serious cancer diagnosis.

The rest of the novel plays out predominantly around the impact that the terminal diagnosis has on his marriage, his family, their friendships and his own life plans. Such a topic could make for a very depressing read, but So Much For That is not so much focused on the sadness of the diagnosis but more on the emotional, practical and financial difficulties of caring for a partner whilst other life problems carry on regardless.

It throws out the window the stereotypes of terminal cancer patients somehow being super human and without flaws. Glynis (the wife who has cancer) was a difficult woman to deal with before the diagnosis, and as a patient is more difficult still. She's angry with the cancer, angry with family members who start to make appearances after long absences before the diagnosis, and rude with visitors whose visits she feels are to make themselves feel at peace once she's gone rather than being for her benefit. Doing the right thing is a very difficult line for Shep (the husband) to tread, and the strain of trying to keep the daily plates of life spinning whilst he cares for his wife is huge.

This is also a novel that heavily rails against the American health system (although granted this dates back to 2005 so I don't know how much things have progressed). Shep starts the novel with a tidy nest egg after selling his business, but the poor insurance plan provided by his new employer means that he has to cover vast excesses relating to the cancer treatment. Shriver (through this and another back story) is constantly poking at the sore of why those who have worked hard all their lives and paid their taxes should be penalised so heavily when it comes to needing health support, and the difficulties of trying to hold down a paying job when supporting a family member who's seriously unwell.

It raises some similar questions to those raised by Atul Gawande in his later non-fictional book Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End which was interesting, and is searingly honest in it's questioning of whether it's right to spend extortionate sums of money to extend a life under excruciating treatment for short-term gain.

In all, this is not a novel falling under misery lit. There's plenty of humour woven into the story, and I didn't find it a sad read despite the subject matter. Nothing escapes Shriver's eagle eye, such as familiar family stories where one sibling is left to bear the brunt of looking after an elderly parent.

It's not perfect - at 530 pages it probably took half of that before it become a page turner for me, but it's one of those novels where the second half is good enough to make allowances for that, and the ending is great.

4 stars - honest, brave and funny.

(post note - perhaps funny is the wrong word - more cynical black humour).

21kidzdoc
May 7, 7:32am Top

Great review of So Much for That, Alison. Onto the wishlist it goes.

22rachbxl
May 7, 7:52am Top

Yep, it's gone on to my wishlist too.

23AlisonY
Edited: May 7, 8:36am Top

>21 kidzdoc:, >22 rachbxl: I hope you enjoy it. For the first half I felt quite meh about it, so I'm a little nervous about recommending this one but in the end I enjoyed it. The characters are quite unlikeable in many ways, but I think I appreciated that Shriver removed the 'sainthood' characterisation that often accompanies terminal illness. There is a secondary back story that I'm not sure 100% worked, but it does inject some extra humour.

24AlisonY
May 13, 5:32am Top



29. Review - History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

History of Wolves has an interesting and well depicted setting in the lakes of rural Minnesota. A young teenage girl struggles to find her place amongst her peers after a childhood spent largely in the company of adults in a now defunct commune, followed by an impoverished existence in an isolated backwoods cabin. When an out of town family builds a cabin across the lake, Linda becomes drawn into their lives as she becomes a regular babysitter for their four year old son, but despite outward appearances of devoted family life it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

I'm a little torn on this novel, and feel somewhat disappointed with it in the end. The first three quarters of the book - a first novel for Fridlund - were very strong. There was a great sense of place amongst the woods and the lakes, and the tension and sense of foreboding was gradually cranked up at a pace that really worked. However, much too early on in the journey Fridlund discloses all the story's secrets, and as readers we're left waiting for another twist that sadly never comes. As a result, what was a really strong and enjoyably tense novel for a good 200 pages becomes disappointingly deflated in the last 70. Fridlund seemed to reach her story's conclusion far too early and then desperately tried to let it linger on when she'd already shown her hand and the game was finished.

Bizarrely, the novel ends around a very much secondary plot in the book which all along never felt like it properly worked, and given that it had nothing to do with the main plot seemed a strange and lacklustre way to conclude the novel. Whilst much of the early writing in the novel read like that of an experienced writer, this attempt to use a secondary plot device that never quite worked showed Fridlund's inexperience. It felt like she was ticking the creative writing box of having a sub-story going on but failed to weave the point of it effectively into the main plot. Also, the occasional forays into the protagonist's life when she was some years older seemed misplaced and an unnecessary interruption into the flow of the narrative. We learn little from her hindsight reflections which don't supply any missing puzzle to the story. Rather, they make the narrative feel disjointed and meandering.

Given that I thoroughly enjoyed 75% of History of Wolves, I hope that Emily Fridlund irons out these mistakes in whatever shape her next novel takes. She can definitely tell a good story, but the fundamental mistakes in this one left the story flagging after a very strong start from the stalls. Certainly she feels like a novelist with great potential; I just hope she gets a better editor to guide her for her next book (although given that she was Man Booker shortlisted with this, both she and her editor would strongly argue on that point I'm guessing).

3.5 stars - enjoyable, but given the critical flaws mentioned I don't think this deserved to be Man Booker longlisted, never mind shortlisted.

25Simone2
May 14, 1:02am Top

>20 AlisonY: Excellent review. I always like Shriver too. I have to admit though that I dread the cancer storyline a bit.

>21 kidzdoc: I remember being a bit disappointed after finishing this one.

26AlisonY
May 14, 3:14am Top

>25 Simone2: actually, the cancer backdrop isn't done in such a way that makes it a long, sad story. It's more about railing against how unfair life and government policies can be when you're in that situation. There is a little tinge of sadness too it, but it's more of a book with fight and venom.

27RidgewayGirl
May 14, 4:38pm Top

>24 AlisonY: I agree with your comments about this book. The setting was so good and all the pieces were there, but Fridlund wasn't able to pull it off. It was a fine debut novel, but it certainly showed an author still learning her craft. I'm interested in seeing what she does later, but this book was seriously flawed.

28AlisonY
May 15, 3:35am Top

>27 RidgewayGirl: totally. I think I get more frustrated with books that start out good and then spoil themselves than books that have never any hope of appealing to me.

29Simone2
May 18, 1:45am Top

>26 AlisonY: That is good to know. On the TBR it goes.

30AlisonY
Edited: May 20, 5:43am Top



30. Review - A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Set in the early 1900s, A Place Called Winter tells the story of Harry Cane, a wealthy Londoner by dint of his father's trade, and his eventual forced exile as an early homesteader to Western Canada. The book opens with Harry Cane in an asylum, and much of the book is recounted as memories as part of his psychiatric treatment.

I've not read anything before about the first farming settlers in remote parts of Canada, and whilst I can't comment on how accurate this particular account is it made for interesting reading nonetheless. Half of the book was set in Canada, half in London, and I think it was a balance that worked fairly well.

Overall this was an enjoyable read with good characters and sense of place. I'm not sure I'll think about it for too long afterwards, but I would say it's good holiday read fodder, and probably sits comfortably in the mass market historical fiction arena. This was my first Patrick Gale read - from the interview at the end of the novel I gather he doesn't usually do historical fiction as a genre - I'm interested if anyone here has read anything else by him?

If you enjoy books such as Brooklyn or Life After Life this is probably a book you'll enjoy well enough.

3.5 stars - in terms of readability this was closer to 4 stars, but it wasn't extraordinary enough to warrant that extra half a star for me.

31thorold
May 20, 6:46am Top

>30 AlisonY: I think that's the only Patrick Gale I haven't read - not sure why at this distance, but maybe the unusual experiment with historical fiction put me off. I'd certainly recommend trying some more!

He's consistently strong on characters and families, as well as LGBT people, music, and British eccentricities. Some of his very early novels are maybe just a bit too much in the Firbankian-magic-realist-Aga-saga line to survive beyond the 1990s, though.

Notes from an exhibition is maybe one of his best. But the most recent one, Take nothing with you, which I read a few weeks ago is very good as well (lots of cello technique!).

32AlisonY
May 20, 9:02am Top

>31 thorold: that's really interesting - thanks for that. He covers some of those themes in this book, but I didn't want to spoil it for others who haven't read it yet. I'll check out some other books by him in the future, and will look out for those you've recommended in particular. Certainly even if historical fiction isn't his usual bag I think he executed it pretty well, so it would be interesting to read novels by him with a more modern setting.

33kidzdoc
Edited: May 21, 10:54am Top

If you enjoy books such as Brooklyn or Life After Life this is probably a book you'll enjoy well enough.

Ooh, that's a tease. I loved those books, so I'll add A Place Called Winter to my watch list.

34AlisonY
May 22, 8:19am Top

>33 kidzdoc: hope you enjoy it, Daryl. It's what I'd call a plain good fictional page turner.

35AlisonY
Edited: May 31, 1:17pm Top



31. Review - Unless by Carol Shields

I'm not quite sure what Carol Shields was trying to achieve by this book, other than she had a few (very important, obviously) opinions she wanted to get off her chest which she tried to weave vaguely into some sort of fictional backdrop.

The gist of the book is that the protagonist is an author whose eldest daughter has gone off the rails, spending her days begging on a street corner with the sign 'goodness' around her neck. I can save you a few hours of your life by letting you know that really there's not a lot more too it than that, save for a few sporadic feminist rallies and some (very important, obviously) musings about the challenges her (very clever, obviously) author protagonist is going through. Yawn. Oh, I nearly forgot the (very clever, obviously) observations (and chapter titles) on subordinate conjunctions. Because as women we are all subordinate and ruled by dependencies. Do you see? If we had beards we could scratch them thoughtfully while pondering over that at length.

I think I'm done with Shields. She's too consumed with her own writerly self-importance for my taste.

2.5 stars - well, I've had no problem getting over to sleep this past week.

36thorold
May 31, 4:03pm Top

>35 AlisonY: I think I must have been in a kinder frame of mind than you when I read that one - I gave it 4.5! Maybe it was the unspent letters of complaint that won me over to her side...
But I can see how it could quite easily be a very annoying book.

37AlisonY
May 31, 4:13pm Top

>36 thorold: it would be a very dull place if we all liked the same books :). I'm a story sort of a gal. Writers dwelling in their own musings irks me.

38VivienneR
May 31, 9:41pm Top

>35 AlisonY: I felt the same way about Carol Shields although I wasn't as patient as you. After a couple of less-than-satisfying books, I donated the remainder of what I owned. I suffered guilt pangs because she lived in the same city and I thought I should have been kinder to a neighbour, but there you are.

39AlisonY
Jun 1, 12:18pm Top

>38 VivienneR: I've done two now as well, Vivienne. I'm moving on. I won't tell her that you have too just in case you bump into her one day.

40janeajones
Jun 1, 2:25pm Top

>35 AlisonY:: I was underwhelmed by The Stone Diaries and never read another one of her books.

41VivienneR
Jun 2, 2:28am Top

>39 AlisonY: RIP so not likely to run into her anymore.

I believe the book that finished me was the Jane Austen biography.

42AlisonY
Jun 2, 6:15am Top

>40 janeajones: I didn't like The Stone Diaries either but I decided to give her another go. That'll be the last chance now.

>41 VivienneR: oh I didn't know she's no longer with us. Well that definitely solves the running into her issue.

43Simone2
Jun 14, 2:40pm Top

>31 thorold: I agree with your review. It was a disappointing read while I had been looking forward to it since I loved The Stone Diaries (but I read that one in my teens)!

44AlisonY
Edited: Jun 15, 9:45am Top



32. Review - Home by Marilynne Robinson

I think I was supposed to start with Gilead before I read Home, but nonetheless I think Home stood up well enough to be read independently.

Home is an abjectly sad tale of the return home of the black sheep of the family after 20 years. His elderly father's health his failing, and his youngest sister is reluctantly back living at home after her own life has fallen apart. At heart he is a kind man desperate to find some goodness in his own soul, yet despite the love of his sister and devotion of his father he cannot break the pattern of his own self-destruction and self-narrative that he is someone unworthy of love.

Robinson for sure gets under the hood of the sorrow and complexity of the family's emotions, but I did find Home a very bleak read. The entirety of the book is made up of the family's struggle with Jack and his struggles with himself, with little movement of plot or place to break a little sunshine through the clouds, and whilst the writing was first class it was a depressing place to hang out in.

3 stars - well conceived yet suffocating.

45kidzdoc
Edited: Jun 16, 1:07am Top

Nice review of Home, Alison. I own a copy of it, but I suspect that it will be one of the unread books that I'll give away soon.

46auntmarge64
Jun 16, 10:07am Top

>44 AlisonY:. Do read Gilead sometime. It is really, really superb. I don't think she's written anything else as wonderful.

47AlisonY
Jun 16, 3:44pm Top

>46 auntmarge64: I probably will. Although the 2 I've read of hers haven't got over the 4 star mark, I still have a lot of respect for the writing.

48ELiz_M
Edited: Jun 17, 6:36am Top

>46 auntmarge64:, >47 AlisonY: I loved Lila the best of them all. I just wish I had read it closer in time to the others.

49AlisonY
Jun 17, 7:14am Top

>48 ELiz_M: I'm guessing these can really be read in any order?

50japaul22
Jun 17, 8:26am Top

I've read all of Marilynne Robinson's books and I really love them but I do have to be in the mood for a quiet, contemplative book. Her books actually have some dramatic plot points, but the delivery can make it all seem a little detached if you aren't in the right frame of mind.

I think that while you can read her books out of order, they build on each other in an interesting way if you read them as written. This is because the point of view shifts as events the reader already knows are rehashed.

I also really loved Lila, but I do think it would mean more to you if you read Gilead first.

51AlisonY
Jun 18, 3:40am Top

>50 japaul22: I tend to agree that there is a certain time and place for her style of writing. I've had some stressful stuff going on these past few weeks at home and in work, and it took me much longer than usual to finish Home as opening it sometimes felt like jumping into a bit of a black abyss. I think her writing needs (and deserves) space, time and a relaxed frame of mind to appreciate it. I had none of those going on when I was reading it.

That said, I personally enjoyed Housekeeping more than Home. There were at least some shades of light in it, but Home was devoid of much hope.

52janeajones
Jun 18, 10:35pm Top

>48 ELiz_M:: Lila is totally my favorite also.

53lisapeet
Jun 19, 7:20am Top

For someone who's never read anything by Robinson, what would be a good book to start with?

54AlisonY
Edited: Jul 24, 4:40pm Top



33. Review - Solitude: Memories, People, Places by Terry Waite

Terry Waite, as many people will remember, was famous for being held hostage in Beirut for almost five years in the late 1980s.

As envoy for the Church of England he was trying to negotiate the release of another hostage when he was seized. For the majority of his imprisonment he was held in darkness in solitary confinement, with guards instructed not to speak to him. Almost 30 years on from that experience, Waite continues to work through understanding what it was within him that enabled him to mentally survive his experience, and the premise of this book is Waite's attempt to marry his experience of solitude with that experienced by people from a wide spectrum of places and circumstances (excluding those who have chosen a solitary life for religious reasons, about whom he felt much has already been written).

The book includes an intriguing cast of characters, including amongst others tough farmers who had chosen an isolated life in the Australian bush and the double secret agent George Blake. Whilst it read as a interesting travelogue of sorts, I don't think Waite successfully achieved his goal of reaching any enlightening depths on the topic of solitude. With Blake, for instance, he got caught up in his fascination with Blake's tales of how he became a double agent and whether he regretted that choice. It was certainly interesting to read, but it felt like the question of solitude was latched onto it as a bit of an afterthought to try to remain to topic. The same applied to many other stories - they were interesting for their own sake, but they really didn't get under the skin of solitude at all. Some were quite random and so brief (Myra Hindley, the notorious English child murderer, and Lana Peters, Stalin's daughter) that they read more as moments of name-dropping than anything else.

Having said that, I did enjoy reading this book. Terry Waite has led a unique and fascinating life, and it was an interesting assortment of people to read about. When I heard him speak at an event last week he mentioned that he's written six books across a number of genres books and has been trying to discover his writing voice or style. I think this writing naivety was very obvious in this book, with Waite overstretching himself both as an investigative journalist and as an armchair psychologist, but that aside I enjoyed my short trot around the globe with him.

3 stars - interesting,but would have benefited from some further editorial polishing.

55AlisonY
Jun 20, 4:20am Top

>53 lisapeet: I'm guessing from other comments that Gilead is the one to start with for Robinson.

56VivienneR
Jun 20, 1:39pm Top

>55 AlisonY: I started with Gilead and never tried another one by Robinson.

57AlisonY
Jul 3, 3:22pm Top



34. Review - Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Foreign Bodies opens with Bea, a middle-aged Amercian divorcee, ruining her first visit to Paris as she becomes embroiled in a wild goose chase to find her nephew (who is a stranger to her) on the back of her estranged, overbearing brother's demands. This opens up the premise of the novel, as Bea becomes reluctantly sucked in as the linchpin in her brother's family relations.

This was an OK read, but it failed to grab me in the way that I'd hoped it would.

3 stars - a bit bland for my liking.

58Caroline_McElwee
Jul 3, 4:20pm Top

>57 AlisonY: yes, I remember I was a bit disappointed in this novel Alison.

59AlisonY
Jul 3, 7:01pm Top

>58 Caroline_McElwee: it was a shame, Caroline. She's clearly not lacking in talent, but it just didn't really go anywhere.

60AlisonY
Edited: Jul 9, 8:56am Top



35. Review - My Struggle: Book 5: Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Ah, Knausgaard - my unashamed literary crush. In this Book 5 he is at his archetypal bad boy best (or rather worst), and even though as a reader I regularly rolled my eyes at his behaviour it's impossible not to fall for him as protagonist just a little bit.

This book is much more linear than many of the previous books in the series. It follows on directly from Book 4 (which made me regret not reading them a little closer together), starting with Knausgaard moving to Bergen to take up his privileged place at the Writing Academy there and continuing for almost a decade through his twenties up to his publishing debut with Out of the World.

The youngest student on his writing course, Knausgaard's writing confidence is quickly squashed as he becomes horribly self-aware that his fictional writing capability and credibility pales significantly in comparison with that of his peers. As the years go by, he struggles to come to terms with his consistent writing failure, particularly as his friends' writing careers take off, drifting in terms of career, focus and general maturity. He falls in love, yet a pattern emerges of a struggle between his all consuming introspection and self-sufficiency and his partners' needs from the relationships. Socially, he suffers from a huge inferiority complex amongst work colleagues, friends and family, compensating with mortifyingly out of control drinking which made me want to hide behind a cushion.

As always with this series, this book was pure reading joy from the first word to the last. As I galloped through this latest instalment (despite its humungous size) I found myself wondering yet again what is it about Knausgaard's writing that pulls us in. For me, I think it is his unsurpassed ability to put you directly inside his head. In this series he doesn't just recount these past years in his life - rather, you live them out as him, experiencing his every thought and emotion. It sounds so simple, yet I cannot think of another author who has pulled it off to this extent. It is as if he has plugged us directly into his very thought process, and to put us retrospectively into his fictionalised mind as a child, a teenager, a 20-something year old, a young father is an incredible feat. Who remembers at a detailed level exactly how they thought at different stages in their life? Yet in this work of autofiction Knausgaard makes us believe that he really does. Couple that with the fact that he lives in an intriguing part of the world that I know little about in terms of day-to-day life and you have something really special.

Whilst this series is notorious for the backlash Knausgaard suffered from his family post-publication, I was conscious in this Book 5 that he was persistently respectful towards his friends and family, consistently shining them in a positive light which he largely used to illuminate his own shortcomings. He is brutal in his honesty about himself. If you have ever watched Jim Carrey's film 'Liar, Liar', you probably had a thought or two whilst watching along the lines of 'good job no one can get inside my head to know what I'm actually thinking most of the time'. If you've not read one of Knausgaard's book from this series yet, this is exactly what he does. He lets us into those deepest, truest thoughts that the rest of us keep us tightly locked away from everyone else.

I read somewhere that Knausgaard said that he has no imagination and cannot write proper fiction. I suspect that this may actually be true, as in this book he includes the first few pages of some short stories he was working on at the time which I couldn't wait to skip past. However, who cares. His approach to autofiction is like nothing that's been done before. It doesn't need flowery literary descriptions. Who looks for that when they find someone's diary lying open?

It's not often I say this about a large book, but I was so glad that he strung this Book 5 out for a delicious 663 pages. I'm sad that I have only one book left to go in the series, especially as the reviews have not generally been so kind given its 400 page segue into talking about Hitler. This series is a truly unique reading experience, and I suspect I'll have to come back to it as some stage despite my own general 'no reading twice' rule.

5 stars, 6 stars, 10 stars! - I'm running out of superlatives for this guy. Still crushing.

61RidgewayGirl
Jul 9, 11:27am Top

>60 AlisonY: I'll admit to feeling some antipathy towards reading a series of books in which a dude talks about himself, but you're certainly pushing me towards them.

62AlisonY
Jul 9, 12:54pm Top

>61 RidgewayGirl: yep - in theory it sounds horrific, but these books are fantastic. They definitely need to be read in order if you ever decide to give them a try - books 1 to 4 jump backwards and forwards in time, but you get to know the characters best from book 1.

63dchaikin
Jul 9, 1:59pm Top

Great review, Alison. I’m really interested on Knausgaard, well this series anyway.

On Home - interesting especially because I didn’t consider Home to be about Jack...because I already knew him from Gilead. Instead for me the book was about Glory and her response to Jack. A curiosity, I guess. I suspect if you try Gilead, you’ll struggle as there is no plot for the first 2/3 of the book. If you try, keep in mind it took MR 20 years to write, maybe it will provide a little motivation to push through. : ) (Also - it reads better a second time.)

>53 lisapeet: Lisa, if you see this, I second starting with Gilead, best explained by Jennifer in >50 japaul22: . I haven’t read Housekeeping, though.

Finally, just before I duck behind my own cushion, I didn’t really like Lila...

64AlisonY
Jul 9, 2:19pm Top

>63 dchaikin: I'd be interested in hearing what you think of this series if you start on Knausgaard, Dan. I'm not overly interested in reading the seasonal quartet he's written after the My Struggle series, but never say never.

65japaul22
Jul 9, 4:58pm Top

I feel the same as Kay in >61 RidgewayGirl:. But so many people love these books, so I admit to being tempted.

66VivienneR
Edited: Jul 9, 7:55pm Top

>60 AlisonY: Excellent review! I've put the first book on my wishlist but I have to say my first thought was the same as Kay's in >61 RidgewayGirl:.

67AlisonY
Jul 10, 8:42am Top

>65 japaul22:, >66 VivienneR: well now I'm nervous in case you hate it! I love this series - that's all I can tell you.

68dchaikin
Jul 10, 12:51pm Top

>64 AlisonY: I had trouble with A Time for Everything, got bored in parts that other reviewer rave about. So, I’m assuming I need to be selective with Knausgaard. My Struggle appeals because of the reviews here in CR and because I tend to really enjoy autobiographical stuff (even fictionalized)

69lisapeet
Jul 10, 1:22pm Top

>63 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan--this seems to be a fairly general consensus. When I'm ready for my Marilynne Robinson read, I'll probably start there.

I just can't summon the enthusiasm for Knausgaard right now, even though I totally believe your (and others') accolades--and I really have heard good things. Maybe someday, when I'm more in the mood to be immersed in someone else's experience.

70AlisonY
Jul 10, 2:00pm Top

>68 dchaikin: I'm not surprised at your comments on A Time for Everything. I get the distinct impression that the My Struggle series is his best work and that his other work falls flat with much over-philosophising. I wouldn't let that put you off trying the My Struggle series, though.

>69 lisapeet: hope you give it a try some day, Lisa.

71AlisonY
Edited: Jul 21, 9:43am Top



36. Review - All The Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell

This was my first Lucy Caldwell novel, having been impressed by a collection of short stories of hers that I read last year. She's a home grown Norin' Iron' (Northern Ireland) girl, so I'm interested that she's part of a small band of NI writers who are starting to make their mark further afield.

All The Beggars Riding is narrated by a London young woman looking back and trying to fill in the gaps of her family's story post the death (at separate times) of her parents. Her father was a surgeon based in Belfast for most of the month, and it is only at the age of 12 that the narrator fully grasps the truth behind her family situation (I won't spoil it). As time goes on she wants to understand more fully why her parents chose to continue their relationship, but as her Mum (who survived her father by many years) would never divulge this detail while she was alive, the narrator decides to fill in the blanks for herself by creating a fictional account of their story.

Overall this was an enjoyable read, although a little uneven in parts. The approach halfway through of the narrator choosing to write her own version of her parents' relationship felt a little clunky and unseasoned, as if Caldwell crowbarred it in as a method of the narrator being able to tell the full story that she otherwise wouldn't have had insight into. I also squirmed at the voices she gave to the Belfast characters - they were clearly from educated backgrounds, yet Caldwell bizarrely chose to litter their speech with manners of speaking that one would never hear from someone in a position such as a surgeon. I found that strange and disappointing that Caldwell is from NI herself yet seemed hell bent on creating some cringeworthy accent stereotypes.

Caldwell definitely can write - in this novel I just think she got a little too caught up in unnecessarily trying to tie up all the loose ends, and a different narration approach probably would have been more successful.

I think the title was really great - I just wish Caldwell hadn't gone to such pain to explain it to the reader at the end, which made the writing feel inexperienced.

3.5 stars - an enjoyable read but a little flawed.

72AlisonY
Edited: Jul 21, 2:18pm Top



37. Review - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I picked this book up a couple of weeks ago as I wanted some light, enjoyable reading for my holiday, and Gail Honeyman delivered that very nicely.

When we first meet Eleanor she comes across as completely bizarre - an old-fashioned head on young shoulders who has little social interaction with the world. Her work colleagues find her freakish and make little attempt to keep their jibes from her ears, but Eleanor is only concerned with doing her job efficiently, completing the daily crossword at lunchtime and getting through the loneliness of the weekend before she can busy herself with work again.

Initially Eleanor appears to be autistic, but as the novel develops we discover that she has zero emotional interaction or support structure in terms of friends or family. She has been alone for so long she misinterprets this survivalist behaviour as self-imposed independence, but through an unexpected event Eleanor gradually has the opportunity to turn herself for the first time towards the warmth of human kindness.

Mass market? Definitely. Page-turning? Absolutely.

This is not highbrow literature, but if your head is in the place of wanting an absorbing feel-good read with some great characters it ticks all the boxes.

4.5 stars - it warms the cockles of your heart.

73AlisonY
Jul 21, 9:27am Top



38. Review - The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian is a dark, spare, unusual Korean novel about a previously unassuming wife who becomes an ardent vegan after a disturbing dream. As the violent and disturbing dreams continue, to the shame of her husband and her family the wife continues to ignore the expected social behaviour of a wife, becoming increasingly mentally unstable as she shuns basic human needs in favour of earthly needs.

Creating a ripple effect of family destruction, Han weaves an unsettling and unusual tale of dark depths and mental imbalance.

The Vegetarian reminded me of the translated novels from the Peirene Press stable - it had the same spare darkness that many of their novels have, and whilst I couldn't read this literary noir type of genre all the time, it is interesting to delve into them from time to time.

Worthy of being a Man Booker winner? From the Man Booker judge perspective of unique oddness probably, but from the average reader perspective probably not.

Not a novel I'd rush back to, but it did keep me hooked and I enjoyed it nonethless.

3.5 stars - clever, dark and unsettling, but hard to tag as 'enjoyable'.

74kidzdoc
Jul 21, 1:00pm Top

Fabulous review of My Struggle: Book Five, Alison. I finished Book Four last week, and I'll probably read Book Five in October or November. Your description of why Knausgaard's series is so compelling is spot on. Although his life as a young child, teenager and younger man is mundane and bears no resemblance to mine, especially his troubled relationship with his abusive father, I can relate to his successes and failures, his self doubts and insecurities, and the awkwardness that is a part of the young adult years of all of us, I suppose. I've attended two of his talks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival the past two years, and he's a very interesting and warm speaker as well.

75AlisonY
Jul 21, 1:11pm Top

>74 kidzdoc: you were very lucky to hear Knausgaard speak, Darryl. I'd love to, but sadly he's not been at any of the literary festivals I've attended. My friend and I are planning to go to the Cheltenham Literary Festival again this year, but I must look into the Edinburgh Festival as a possible alternative for another time as I'm in N. Ireland and she's in England so it could be a nice meeting up point.

76kidzdoc
Jul 21, 1:24pm Top

>75 AlisonY: Sounds good, Alison. I won't go to Edinburgh this year, but I hope to resume going in 2020.

77NanaCC
Jul 21, 4:34pm Top

>72 AlisonY: I’m glad you enjoyed Eleanor O, Alison. ”it warms the cockles of your heart”...it does, doesn’t it?!?! 😄

78lisapeet
Jul 21, 7:59pm Top

>73 AlisonY: Have you read her Human Acts, Alison? I thought it was terrific (haven't read The Vegetarian), very hard-hitting without any kind of self-conscious drama.

79AlisonY
Jul 22, 4:11am Top

>77 NanaCC: I loved it, Colleen. I thought both the characters of Eleanor and Raymond were really well done.

>78 lisapeet: no I haven't, Lisa - The Vegetarian was the first of her books that I've read. I just looked it up on Amazon and it looks good - one for the list at some point in the future.

80AlisonY
Edited: Aug 16, 3:50am Top



39. Review - Born to Run: The hidden tribe, the ultra-runners and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall

Four days before my recent holiday in the French Alps I hurt my ankle. After too many years in the serious exercise wilderness, I'd had a resurgence of interest in running and had been diligently plugging away at the Couch to 5K training plan when injury struck out of the blue, most annoyingly after my easiest and fastest run to date and in my final 'graduation' week. As a result, I couldn't comfortably walk the length of myself for most of our holiday, and as I sat and stewed over the loss of our travel plans and the loss of my training plan I contemplated hanging up my trainers for good. I didn't want to - I was enjoying feeling my fitness improve - but this latest injury was hot on the heels of increasing running knee pain from overpronation and a torn miniscus last year.

Cue an excellent piece of book serendipity.

With plenty of time on my hands I'd finished all the books I'd brought with me before the week was up, and scouring a very small shelf of books written in English in a local bookshop a cover caught my eye. Christopher McDougall, a US men's magazine writer, was fed up repeatedly injuring himself on insignificant short runs, prompting a trail of discovery into what makes ultrarunners such as the infamous Tarahumara tick and why the rates of runner injury have been significantly climbing ever since the invention of clever cushioned running shoes.

Even if you last ran in 1972 when you were 12 years old, I think this is a fantastic read for anyone. Part science, part travelogue, part social history, part anthropology, part extreme sport, it's peppered with a cast of fabulous characters such as the shy and reclusive Tarahumara people who run hundreds of miles up mountains for fun in sandals made out of old tyres, Caballo Blanco, the mysterious loner who turned his back on a life in the US to become an ultrarunning nomad in the Copper Canyon wilderness, and Barefoot Ted, the annoying US ultrarunner with insatiable verbal diarrhoea who became a respected pioneer for barefoot running.

It's utterly fascinating, and extremely well written. McDougall manages to really nicely knit investigation into the science and history of our bodies and distance running with a gripping travelogue which culminates in the first ever underground ultra race between the Tarahumara and a handful of selected US ultrarunners in the deadly terrain of their Copper Canyon homeland. As I read I was able to Google this infamous cast of characters and images of the Copper Canyon which really nicely complemented the book.

And in case you were wondering, it's the marketing devilment of Nike and the like that is behind our increased running injuries. Build up the natural muscles in your feet and ankles that the modern day running shoe prevents you using and your injury woes will be behind you. (Apparently).

5 stars - the Asics are in the bin and the barefoot trails are beckoning.

PS - my husband, who has only read 2 books in the 16 years we've been married, picked up this book yesterday to look at the cover and is already 30 pages in. I rest my case.

81kidzdoc
Jul 24, 11:44pm Top

Fabulous review of Born to Run, Alison! I can relate to your injury, as I sustained two severe ankle sprains after high school (I was a miler on the varsity spring track team and a member of the cross country team), one of which was diagnosed many years later as an ankle fracture, which put an end to my non-competitive running. I'll keep my eye out for this one.

PS - my husband, who has only read 2 books in the 16 years we've been married

And you're still with him?! I thought that spouses and significant others of LT members had to be at least casual readers. Tim will undoubtedly have something to say about this.

82AlisonY
Jul 25, 3:45am Top

>81 kidzdoc: ha! Do you think I should cite LT in the divorce papers?! He spends the week reading the weekend papers but he isn't a book reader at all. Believe me I've tried to encourage him over the years to no avail. But hey - maybe there will be a turnaround after Born to Run?

83rhian_of_oz
Jul 26, 8:35am Top

>82 AlisonY: My other half isn't a reader either, though he has probably read more in the last 5 years than the previous 20. And the only books he's read have been sports related.

84AlisonY
Jul 26, 9:18am Top

>83 rhian_of_oz: maybe it's been the sports aspect that has encouraged my other half to start reading this one. He's surprisingly far into it already so I live in hope that I'll make a reader out of him yet.

85rocketjk
Jul 26, 3:28pm Top

Greetings. Just checking in with your thread for the first time as I familiarize myself with this group. I've enjoyed reading through your reviews here and the conversations they've sparked, and look forward to checking out the first part of the thread soon. May I ask whether you've read, and if so what you thought of, Milkman? Or are you sick of people asking you about that book because you're from Belfast? My wife and I both read Milkman earlier this year and we both admired it very much.

86baswood
Jul 26, 6:55pm Top

>80 AlisonY: My running days are over too. Hope you are able to get on those bare-foot trails.

87AlisonY
Jul 27, 4:42am Top

>85 rocketjk: welcome to both the thread and the CR group! Look forward to reading your reviews as well.

I haven't got to Milkman yet but I definitely will at some point. I've heard nothing but good reviews on CR. I'm curious as to how she's handled dialect, etc., although some people have commented that it's complex in dialogue structure more than getting into local slang.

>86 baswood: I'm not giving in yet, Mark! I doubt I'll get into bare-foot running as let's fact it we don't have the weather here to support it. Having said that, I am very tempted to try a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

88NanaCC
Edited: Jul 27, 7:59am Top

>85 rocketjk: Jerry, I am listening to Milkman now, and enjoying it very much.

>87 AlisonY: Alison, I think your comment about structure is spot on. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

>80 AlisonY: My running days are over, but I loved your review. I’m sorry about your injury. I always have a hard time finding the perfect shoes / trainers. I’m very fussy with my footwear.

My hubby reads loads of magazines, but only reads about five books a year. Every once in a while I’ll give him a book that I’m sure he’ll enjoy, just to push him to read more, (usually war related books). He watches far too much tv. I dread when he retires next year. ;-)

89lisapeet
Jul 27, 7:41am Top

Another former, now non runner here. Foot problems for me, exacerbated by the fact that I've always run in urban areas on concrete. And somehow I doubt I'm going to take up barefoot running in NYC... I prefer myself hepatitis-free, all things considered. But I miss it! That feeling of being in control of a good tool, that relaxed attentiveness (because there are so m any ways to hurt yourself—ah, but was the gradual one that got me). I do like a good power walk, but it's not quite the same endorphin-inspiring thing.

90AlisonY
Jul 27, 8:41am Top

>88 NanaCC: on the running, Colleen, I'm 99% sure it was bad fitting (unfortunately fairly new) trainers that caused the injury. I therefore found it very interesting to read about how Nike had cleverly created this false need for better shoes when we run.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Milkman.

My husband also watches too much TV - action films galore. I'd love to see a bit more book reading going on.

>89 lisapeet: I definitely couldn't imagine barefoot running in NYC! I still haven't quite got the running bug - it definitely still feels very hard, but this book made me wonder if I could get to the stage of really enjoying it if I learnt a better running technique. No aspirations to become a marathon runner, but would be happy enjoying maybe up to 6 miles.

91kidzdoc
Jul 27, 9:44am Top

>82 AlisonY: Divorce seems a bit rash to me. It would be a good start for couples bibliotherapy, though.

92AlisonY
Jul 27, 10:35am Top

>91 kidzdoc: I like the idea of that....

He's actually been suspended from the house book club even though he's only been a member for 4 days. I nearly needed an oxygen tent when I found Born to Run splayed on the windowsill with the cover bent back. Now that could be grounds for divorce.

93kidzdoc
Jul 27, 11:47am Top

>92 AlisonY: Yikes. More training is definitely needed, and soon!

94rhian_of_oz
Jul 30, 4:30am Top

>92 AlisonY: I am both amused about the suspension and appalled about the book treatment. I just about hyperventilated just thinking about it ;-).

95AlisonY
Jul 30, 5:25am Top

>94 rhian_of_oz: it's a very serious crime.

96VivienneR
Jul 30, 3:20pm Top

>80 AlisonY: I hope you've recovered from your injury, Alison. What an interesting and timely find at the bookstore and an excellent review. The perfect trainers are so difficult to find, even if comfortable in the store, the actual wearing can turn out to be a different story. But I'm not sure I'd ever try barefoot running - or even running with Vibram Five Fingers! I used to run in the city but every time I saw someone ahead walking their dog I'd take the first turn, taking me far off course on a much longer run than I'd planned. This happened mostly after dark when I couldn't see if it was on a leash or not. I'm not scared of dogs, just don't like to get close.

I wouldn't worry too much about your husband not sharing your love of reading. My husband reads a lot but our tastes are miles apart and often I have to put up with him telling me about his current book. I thought my reading covered most topics, but none of his books interest me in the slightest, obviously mutual because it's been years since I've heard "What are you reading?"

97AlisonY
Jul 30, 4:22pm Top

>96 VivienneR: completely, Vivienne. My latest trainers seemed so comfortable in the shop but they really aren't. I need to find something to scare me when I'm running to make me stay out later! Love the dog story.

98AlisonY
Edited: Aug 16, 3:58am Top



40. Review - A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I started this book with serious trepidation as it's my first Hemingway book and I feared I wouldn't like his writing at all given previous discussions on him, but I'm delighted to say I really enjoyed it.

Set in Italy during WWI, the narrator of A Farewell to Arms is an American lieutenant serving with the Italian army as part of the ambulance corp (echoing Hemingway's own experience). On good terms with the Italian officers he is stationed with, his love affair with a local English nurse deepens when he is badly wounded by a shell, but once his convalescence is complete and he returns to the front he discovers that the summer has been a difficult one for his compatriots, and his war turns a very different corner.

Given Hemingway's first-hand experience of what he was writing about, this book felt very powerful on many levels. Less about the experiences of being in the middle of the fighting on the front-line battlefield (although at one point it touches on it in a hugely impacting way), it is more about the myriad of war experiences of the men involved in the Italian front in the border mountains with Austria-Hungary, especially while they were waiting for the bigger offensives to take place. As the protagonist is wounded, we experience the juxtaposition of life in untouched Milan, where normality continues to a large extent, and the difficulty of then returning to a much changed war. The depictions of being part of a losing army that is being pushed back were deeply moving and engrossing, and Hemingway puts us front and centre in the middle of the confusions, heightened emotions and dangers that arose during the chaos of a major retreat.

At its core, this book is the story of a love affair being conducted in the thick of the war. The protagonist's lover is very much a woman of that time, focused on doing whatever keeps her man happy. If you can't stomach that outdated portrayal of a relationship then perhaps this is not the book for you. However, if you take it for what it is - a fictional account of a war relationship from a very different era - it's a terrific read. His sentence style is a little bizarre at times (on occasions he jumps around topics between commas requiring some rereading to get the flow of the sentence properly), but the occasional choppiness in style somehow fits the tensions of the time where one couldn't afford to think too deeply and long-term about anything.

Overall, I'm surprised and delighted by my first Hemingway. It was a fabulous page-turner, and I'll definitely be back for more.

4.5 stars - one of the most authentic wider war experience books I've read to date.

99NanaCC
Jul 31, 7:37am Top

>98 AlisonY: I read this one many years ago, and your excellent review makes me want to read it again.

100AlisonY
Jul 31, 2:18pm Top

>99 NanaCC: thanks Colleen. It was very different to what I'd expected (in a good way).

101lisapeet
Jul 31, 2:41pm Top

>98 AlisonY: I last (and only ever) read that in high school... why on earth do they think 16-year-olds will appreciate Hemingway? Anyway, your review makes me think I'm due for a reread.

102rocketjk
Edited: Jul 31, 3:41pm Top

>101 lisapeet: Actually, I read The Son Also Rises in high school and really liked it. This may be because I had an excellent English teacher, Mr. Krasner, who was really good at not only teaching the story, but also presenting it in the context of the recurrent themes found in Hemingway's works. That class also featured Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn and MacBeth. I can't remember off hand what else we read that term. Possibly The Natural. I know for sure that same teacher teaching that book, but it might have been in another class I took with him. At any rate, Mr. Krasner identified The Natural as Bernard Malamud's reimagining Greek tragedy into a baseball novel. (Hence, the movie version is a desecration.)

103AlisonY
Jul 31, 4:11pm Top

>101 lisapeet: hope you enjoy it on a reread. I hated Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse when I read it for A-Level at school, but I loved it when I tried it again a few years ago.

104lisapeet
Jul 31, 5:21pm Top

>103 AlisonY: Whoa, I can't imagine reading To the Lighthouse in high school, even at the older end. Which brings me to

>102 rocketjk: Yeah, I do think whether one enjoys a book at that age, maybe particularly something so entrenched in the canon, comes down to how it's taught. I was definitely not the most attentive student in high school, and the private education my parents probably paid a lot for was honestly not very good--this was hippie boarding school in the late '70s, and both students and faculty were off the rails. On the other hand, I read voraciously and panoramically--and while I may have snoozed or daydreamed my way through classes, my friends and I avidly talked about what WE were reading. So I was very understimulated when it came to classroom reading and classics, but pretty hip on everything else. Which... hey, prepared me to be a good LT contributor, at the very least. I would really like to reread a lot of those books now, though, because I feel a little bit like I missed out.

105rocketjk
Jul 31, 7:16pm Top

>104 lisapeet: Interesting story about your high school days. I was in high school at just about the same time, from 1969 through 1973, but at a public school in New Jersey. This was in a community ranging from working class to upper middle class, so the school system was well supported by property tax revenue and the quality of the education was high. While understanding entirely the huge challenges of urban public school systems, I will always be a huge supporter of public schools overall.

>103 AlisonY: I read To the Lighthouse in a freshman college class. I remember not hating it, but having to push my way through it. I'd probably like it a lot better now!

106AlisonY
Aug 1, 4:35am Top

>105 rocketjk: To the Lighthouse was probably my standout read that year. I think there are life issues you can't appreciate at 17, but I really connected with Mrs Ramsay as an older reader.

107lisapeet
Aug 1, 6:23am Top

>105 rocketjk: Also a big public school fan (when they work right). My son went through the NYC public school system start to finish and got a far better education than I did.

>106 AlisonY: I can't quite imagine getting—much less relating to—the "angel of the house" concept at 17. I read it in my 40s and just loved it.

108Simone2
Aug 4, 3:29am Top

>98 AlisonY: Such a great review. I loved this Hemingway too. But I loved most of his books (the ones that I read), especially in retrospective!

109AlisonY
Aug 4, 7:39am Top

>108 Simone2: Thanks. I was expecting to hate his writing but I really enjoyed it. Will definitely read some more of his work in the future.

110AlisonY
Aug 4, 7:52am Top



41. Review - Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer

The concept of Chi Running was mentioned in Born to Run, and I was hugely attracted by its claims to make running something that is injury-free and enjoyable. I've yet to try out the tips, as ironically I'm still getting over my July running injury, but it all makes sound sense. It's just about the opposite of everything I do when I'm running, so I'm interested to see how I get on with the new techniques if and when I get back to it.

A great book - well explained in terms of not just how but why - but obviously a bit of a niche subject area.

4 stars - I live in hope that my running maybe become enjoyable at some point

111rocketjk
Aug 4, 12:15pm Top

>109 AlisonY: Many of Hemingway's short stories are quite good, as well.

112OscarWilde87
Aug 4, 1:57pm Top

>110 AlisonY: You're really reading up on running, aren't you? I do hope that those new techniques will help you enjoy running injury free! Can you maybe give me some pointers on what I should do? I love running as it helps me think and stay in shape at the same time.

113AlisonY
Aug 4, 4:51pm Top

>111 rocketjk: I'm not usually a short story lover, but never say never!

>112 OscarWilde87: It wasn't really intentional (to read up on running), but I got so inspired by Born to Run and so hopeful that I might be able to have injury-free running that it one book led to the other. Today was my first run since my ankle injury, and although I'm nervous to say it in case I wake up in agony in the morning it was a great run. I tried to apply as many of the chi running tips as I could, and it made a huge difference - it didn't take anywhere near the effort it usually does, so I came back ecstatic. My ankle has been a bit sore this weekend, so I hope I don't slide back again with injury - time will tell.

The main pointers I took from the book that you might find useful are:

1. Your main effort should be coming from your core, not your legs. Make sure you have a straight column (without your stomach sticking out which many of us do). Try to imagine as you run that there is a big bungee cord attached to your middle and it's pulling you towards a point in the distance (I tried that a few times and it was quite useful). Your arms and legs (and also shoulders) should remain very relaxed.

2. Lean a little forward from your ankles (not too much, although if you're already a good runner you maybe can). Your speed should come from your lean - the more you lean, the faster you will go, but your stride should never be in front of your body (that was a major mistake I was making - it burns up far too much energy and also you heel strike hard when you land). As you get faster, your stride should extend behind you, not in front. When you lean, you automatically land more on the centre of your foot instead of the heel too.

3. Lift your feet after they land. This was the biggest game-changer for me. Keep strides short and a high cadence, and rather than pushing off from your foot that's on the ground concentrate on lifting it instead. His example was to imagine you are cycling small circles with your feet.

4. Pump your arms backwards, not forwards.

5. Head should not be too far back. Put your thumb and middle finger on your collar bone and stick your index finger up straight - your head should rest on this and no further back.

If you're into running it's worth buying the book as there was a lot more than that in it (such as training plans, stretches, etc.), but that's a good starting point.

114OscarWilde87
Aug 5, 4:15am Top

>113 AlisonY: Thank you so much! There seems to be a lot of helpful information in there and I will be paying attention to the pointers you gave me for my next run. I'm the same as you: many things I hadn't known and will do differently from now on. I really might give this book a try. Thanks for putting it on my radar!
I do hope that you will wake up as ecstatic as before and without sliding back into your ankle injury. Don't put too much strain on your ankle before it's completely healed, though.

115AlisonY
Edited: Aug 12, 4:55am Top



42. Review - Mud and Stars: Travels In Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler is a travel writer, and in this book she travels across Russia visiting the homelands of the great Russian writers. Along the way we discover something of the writers themselves, gather insights into their literary work and learn what it is like to be a Russian today in different parts of the country thousands of kilometres apart.

I have conflicted opinions on this book. On the positive, I learnt some more about a number of Russian writers, and I was particularly interested in reading about some writers I'd not heard of before. Her account of Ivan Goncharov's Oblamov piqued my interest, and Gogol was a new name to me. Surprisingly, one of the best parts of the book for me was when she looks at the English translator Constance Garrett, and gives some excellent examples of the differences between work by her and other early translators and those of modern successors. I will certainly be noting this when I next pick up a Russian classic - see this example between an early translation by the Maudes and a more modern translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky:

(From Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich')

Maudes - At the entrance stood a carriage and two cabs. Leaning against the wall in the hall downstairs near the cloakstand was a coffin-lid covered with cloth of gold, ornamented with gold cord and tassels, that had been polished up with metal powder. Two ladies in black were taking off their fur cloaks.

Pevear and Volokhonsky - At the entrance stood a carriage and two cabs. Downstairs, in the front hall by the coatrack, leaning against the wall, was a silk-brocaded coffin-lid with tassels and freshly polished gold braid. Two ladies in black were taking off their fur coats.

I know which version I prefer.

There were, however, aspects of Wheeler's writing that jarred with me too. She's clearly extremely well read around the Russian authors, and often assumed that her readers were too. A particularly irksome habit was flitting between talking about the authors to talking about various guides on her travels or people helping her learn the language in London, and then when she'd jump back to talking about the author again she'd refer to him by his first name, or jump into talking about his friend, by which stage my head was spinning with Russian names and I couldn't remember who was who.

Wheeler has a dry humour which sometimes was amusing but at other times felt a little bit 'gobby teenager'. I would probably summarise her view of Russia as a bit of a sh*t hole; whether that's true or not I'm not in a position to say as I've never travelled there, but often despite the country's vastness there was seemingly little to see or comment on beyond depressing ex-communist flats and cross looking people. Perhaps that is the reality of the place, but after a while from a travelogue perspective it became a little tedious at times.

Would I read this again? No. Was I glad I read it? Probably yes, for the nuggets of very interesting information, but the writing wasn't tight enough and meandered too much when she hadn't enough material on a certain place and/or author. I also would have got more out of it if I had already read a number of the texts she refers to, but I feel like it shouldn't have been necessary to come to this type of book with existing background knowledge.

3 stars - a bit less smart commentary and more attention on content would have improved what was an interesting premise.

116AlisonY
Edited: Aug 13, 5:22pm Top



43. Review - The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien

A mysterious Balkan figure strides from the darkness into a quiet Irish pub one night. Charming and magnetic, he soon has the spellbound villagers eating out of his hand, but all is not as it seems and soon his past will become irreversibly blotted on the past of one inhabitant in particular.

I'm a little torn by this novel. I raced through the first half of it gripped by the mystery and inevitable sense of foreboding, but the second half lost some its mystique as O'Brien focused on the aftermath of redemption and retribution. The tension fizzled out for me from that point onwards, and the social and political messages of that second part seemed somewhat gritty and inconsistent with the spellbinding magic of the first half.

3.5 stars - a book of two halves that in truth are two different types of novel. It was too light a touch to do justice to the true human impact of the horrors of the Bosnian war, and that second half seemed incongruous with the sleepy Irish backwater of the first half.

117rocketjk
Aug 13, 5:47pm Top

"but all is not as it seems"

Is it ever?

Ha! I crack myself up. Sorry the book couldn't maintain its interest level for you. If you're looking for suggestions regarding novels to do with the Bosnian War (or even if you aren't :) ), I highly recommend The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon.

118AlisonY
Aug 13, 5:57pm Top

I know! I was wholly aware what a crud bit of clichéd writing that line in my review was but I couldn't muster up the will to think of something better especially when the premise was pretty clichéd anyway!

Actually one thing this novel did do was make me think some more about that war and how little I really know about it, so I'd made a mental note to start looking around for some books on the topic. You read my mind - thanks for the recommendation.

119RidgewayGirl
Aug 13, 6:08pm Top

>117 rocketjk: I'm reading The Lazarus Project now and it's fascinating so far.

120rocketjk
Edited: Aug 13, 6:55pm Top

>118 AlisonY: If you're looking for a good non-fiction source, I've reviewed this book on my "rocketjk catches up" thread in this group -- Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little. Not the last word on the subject, I'm sure, but a good starting place.

Also, I don't know where I get the chutzpah to tease about things not being what they seem. I've certainly used a cliche or two in my time!

By the way, in honor of "Free Association Tuesday" (which I just made up), I'm for some reason reminded of one of my menu pet peeves: " . . . to perfection." As in, "Two pork chops, grilled to perfection." Can't they just say, "Two grilled pork chops?" I'll give the cooks the benefit of the doubt that they're trying their best. It's not like there's a sliding scale of description, here. Oh, grilled to perfection. As opposed to what, "Grilled to pretty good?" "Grilled to the consistency of old shoe leather?" Sorry. Evidently it's also "Menu Grump Tuesday." What were we talking about, again?

>119 RidgewayGirl: Yes. My wife and I both loved it. Whenever I got a copy in my used bookstore, I always recommended it and sold it quickly. Never heard a discouraging word about it. My wife brought it to her reading group, as well.

121VivienneR
Aug 13, 7:12pm Top

>116 AlisonY: I didn't like Little Red Chairs as much as I had anticipated (still, I gave it four stars). O'Brien got a bit carried away with symbolism and mystic elements. I'm not a good audience for mysticism or religion.

>120 rocketjk: Your "Free Association Tuesday" is hilarious. Thanks for that, I needed a laugh.

122AlisonY
Aug 14, 8:19am Top

>120 rocketjk: oh I laughed at it myself, so don't worry - it was taken in good steam! I've added that second book to my wish list as well - thanks.

The types of restaurants that typically use the phrase "grilled to perfection" tend to be the ones with the sticky menus that I can't cope with.

>121 VivienneR: yep, I wish she'd stuck to the bits that worked. It felt like she was trying to shoehorn some subjects in when she really didn't need to.

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