Mid-year I tidy up the stack (down to a single book) and then begin anew, sometimes adding in some resolutions and other times relaxing (or setting aside) reading plans which seemed exciting and possible just a few months ago.

This year, more than ever, I look to my log to see if my ideas of my reading are matching the reality of my reading.

Have I been reading the books I planned on reading?

Have I been leaving enough wriggle room to include reading that I didn’t plan?

(I’ll share my figuring next week.)

Mostly the focus of my concern is working for something-like-balance.

Which is why there are a good number of chunky books in my stack for the rest of the summer, but also a good number of skinnier books too.

Thick Spines:
Molly Keane’s Young Entry (1928)
Elizabeth Arthur’s Antarctic Navigation (1994)
Robert Bringhurst’s A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999)
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2009)
Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997)
Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butcher’s Singing Club (2002)

M.J. Farrell’s Young Entry (1928)
As a pseudonym for Molly Keane, this novel landed on my shelves thanks to my obsession with the Virago Modern Classics imprint, which I discovered on the shelves of the library at the university in the sections where I wasn’t supposed to be browsing (i.e. the interesting parts). This author landed on my stacks for July because she’s the topic of the monthly read for the Virago group on LibraryThing. I’ve read a couple, but I can never remember which ones; it just seems simpler to begin at the beginning, with her first, the story of a “carefree and indiscreet” nineteen-year-old whose unladylike behaviour is at odds with the fortune she is poised to inherit.

Elizabeth Arthur’s Antarctic Navigation (1994)
This is one of those rush-to-buy-must-have volumes which has set on my shelf for more than twenty years; I’ve never managed to read past the first few pages. I’m not giving up, because just last summer I finally managed to read John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, in which I’d read the first two pages countless times and thought I’d never complete (let alone appreciate). Ironically, all the reasons I likely snapped it up are the very reasons that I stalled: it’s heavier than it looks, the print stretches in all directions on the page overfilling each one (like Paul Auster’s 4321, which also overturns the usual words/page customs), there are nearly 800 of those pages, and contains something of everything (ecopolitics, pacifism, mysticism, history, memoir, science, geography, oh my).

A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World, edited by Robert Bringhurst (1999)
“Native American oral literature has often been presented, wrongly, as a set of anonymous folktales. Here instead are the works of unforgettable individuals: the blind poet Ghandl, the crippled master myth-spinner Skaay, the cagey old historican Kilxhawgins and other Haida authors who speak with crystal clarity thought they speak from a vanished time.”

What is both most interesting and most intimidating are the sections in the original language, with the direct translation alongside and the poetic retelling nearby.

Bringhurst compares the experience of hearing these stories to the experience of looking at a painting; it has a quality of engagement which is different from the way in which a reader engages with written stories.

This makes the works that much more fascinating and challenging; this is a work I am absorbing very slowly.

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2009)
Somebody donated their copy of this to the local library, complete with its gift receipt (from 2009): untouched.

I wonder whether the recipient waited until the mini-series aired, watched it and marvelled over the story, allowing the gifter to assume that they read every page and enjoyed it immensely.

But I can sympathize because I began reading it not long after it was published and I admired the writing but I never fell into the story.

I donated my own copy of the book to a free library just last summer, but the BBC World Book Club’s announcement of their discussion with Hilary Mantel encouraged me to give it another try. And this time it clicked.

(And, no, I haven’t even watched the mini-series yet.)

Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1998)
One of my MRE Authors, since my first reading of The Bluest Eye (which I recently reread), I had always intended to read this, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I had the idea that it wasn’t one of her best. Instead, the group of women which populates these pages has turned out to be a perfect fit for my reading taste this season.

I read a little bit every day, taking time with the lyrical passages, always buoyed forwards by the characters.

Some daily reads have the air of a duty to them (a reading ritual which is more about practice than pleasure) but this daily read, for me, is a reminder of why Morrison is one of my favourite authors.

Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003)
Back in Argus, North Dakota, I wonder how different the landscape will be from when I last spent substantial time there, passing through the butcher’s shop only occasionally, in The Beet Queen. “What happens when the Old World meets the New – in the person of Delphine Watzka, a daughter of Argus whose origins are a mystery, even to her – turns out to be one of the great adventures of Fidelis’s life.” Moving from WWI to WWII, it’s no wonder that this volume is one of Erdrich’s longest, just over 400 pages.

Thin Spines:
Remaining volumes in the Jalna series
Elizabeth Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness (1964)
E.C. Osondo’s This House Is Not For Sale (2015)
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)
David Huebert’s Peninsula Sinking (2017)
Anosh Irani’s The Cripple and His Talismans (2004)

Remaining volumes in the Jalna series
Having begun to read the Jalna series last year, I am set to – finally – finish it this summer. I’m not sure I’ll recognize my stack without one of Mazo de la Roche’s bestselling novels in it. As the generation of boys moves through the Depression years, the pace seems to slow, at least in comparison to the earlier novels where a couple of decades might pass before the next book took up the mantle. “Am I never to be out of hearing of the howl of the hard times?” Relationships spark and splinter, ventures are celebrated and lost, and even the oak trees lining the highway in front of the property are not as solid as once thought.

Elizabeth Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness (1964)
“Just imagine, as a child, being told that some day one will have to belong to some other person, so finally that only death could put an end to it. You couldn’t blame the child for bursting into tears at the idea. To be under the same roof till kingdom come.”

This is Patrick and Flora discussing marriage and, indeed, it seems all that miserable for all involved.

And, yet, Elizabeth Taylor’s astute observations and wry appreciation of the ironies in our world, lightens the tone.

At times, one almost thinks she is reading a romantic story.

But then the doves fly straight into the sun.

E.C. Osondo’s This House Is Not For Sale (2015)
Next in my reading for Kinna’s Reading Africa Challenge, this landed on my TBR because of his Caine Prize win.

“A powerful tale of family and community, This House Is Not for Sale brings to life an African neighborhood and one remarkable house, seen through the eyes of a young member of the household. It lies in a town seemingly lost in time, full of colorful, larger-than-life characters.”

The first chapter reads like a fable, but I can see that the pages ahead hold a good bit of dialogue and family-goings-on.

Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)
Having read just two of his books, I am intrigued by the whispers of magical realism which surround this book.

Also, because stories about belonging (and not-belonging) are often amongst my favourites, I am particularly interested in this story.

Because I can freely renew my library copy multiple times (it is uncatalogued), I am waiting for a “between” time to read this one, probably on a weekend when I’m feeling chuffed with having finished off a good portion of the week’s stacks Monday-to-Friday. It feels like one to read all-in-a-burst.

I suspect it will be more lyrical than The Reluctant Fundamentalist and less amusing than How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Mostly, I’m just curious.

David Huebert’s Peninsula Sinking (2017)
Huebert’s collection, I have spread over several weeks, even though I normally read a story each day.

These are delicately constructed and tenderly told, but on the way home from the library with it, I cried on the subway reading the first story.

It. Is. Only. Four. Pages. Long.

It only took him that long to make me cry.

Thereafter, I approached each story with trepidation. There were many days when I knew I simply could not manage one.

And, yet, I never considered simply returning the volume. These are definitely worth reading.

Anosh Irani’s The Cripple and His Talismans (2004)
Because The Parcel (2016) was impressive…but hearing him speak on a panel at the International Festival of Authors that year was even more impressive…this read will determine whether he is going to nestle into my MRE Author (MustReadEverything) list.

I expect these will be striking stories, some fable-like and others with a more contemporary feel to them.

He has a way of drawing readers into compassion, deliberately, even relentlessly.

But I also expect that they will leave me craving a novel (even though I’ve enjoyed another short story by him immensely).

Have you read any of these? Have anything special lined up for the rest of the summer?