Summer 2018, In My Stacks

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?

2018-07-25T14:31:57+00:00

18 Comments

  1. Naomi August 2, 2018 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    I can’t believe I haven’t read a book in 13 days. I can’t remember the last time I had such a stretch… Although I imagine there were one or two during the baby years. Your list is making me look forward to getting back to normal!
    Peninsula Sinking is sad, but how I love it!

    • Buried In Print August 3, 2018 at 10:08 am - Reply

      I can’t believe it either (but I can, too). You’ll be back to it in no time; it’s not like one of those hobbies where you lose your edge when you’re away from it for a spell. The opposite, i’d say. And I’ve already got a separate post written for the Huebert stories. So, so good. (Thanks, I think. Yes, thanks. But, sigh.)

  2. Laila@BigReadingLife July 30, 2018 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    As I’ve only read one Elizabeth Taylor (so far) I’m eager to see what you think of The Soul of Kindness. I really liked Exit West and read it in almost one sitting. 🙂

    • Buried In Print July 31, 2018 at 10:35 am - Reply

      Maybe I got that idea from your post, then, I can’t remember exactly, but I was definitely hoping it would work out like that. The Soul of Kindness is just as good as all her others!

  3. Rebecca Foster July 27, 2018 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Antarctic Navigation sounds like a good tonic for these hot months — though so long and dense that you’d really need to carve out the time for it. I’m currently in the midst of a doorstopper I started on the plane ride back, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. I’m aware that I need to be starting on August’s review books, but I just want to sink into an armchair and read it instead!

    I was underwhelmed by Wolf Hall, but its sequel is much better, and I do look forward to the final volume. I didn’t make it through the TV series.

    For the rest of the season, I plan to finish my 20 Books of Summer (a list that has featured plenty of substitutes), which is all books by women that I own in print. By the time the challenge ends in early September I’ll probably have managed more than 20 books that fit those criteria, which feels like a good achievement. I went back to the library today, but only got three books, so I’ll probably keep the borrowed stack fairly small for now.

    • Buried In Print July 27, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      Wait…so you only have THREE library books on loan right now? That must be a record! (I can count the number of times I’ve that that few in the past 13 years. Congrats!) The Orringer is on my TBR too. I’ve heard that it reads more quickly than it seems like it would? I’m actually really enjoying Wolf Hall so far, but I am only reading 10 pages each morning with a cup/glass of tea (depending how hot it is outside!) so it’s just a nice ritual at this point and I haven’t felt it dragging yet. For me, I find that I have to break the really long books into small sections; I’ll do that with Elizabeth Arthur’s novel, too, so that it doesn’t overwhelm. And, you’re quite right: I am definitely hoping for a chill in the air to counter the intense heat of the summer. Good luck with the rest of your 20!

      • Rebecca Foster July 28, 2018 at 7:25 am - Reply

        Well, only three from the public library, anyway. I wasn’t counting the university library ones (about 10). I tend to forget about them because they can be renewed indefinitely! [I was intrigued about you having an uncatalogued copy on your stack — I’m surprised you were allowed to borrow it!]

        The Invisible Bridge is very absorbing. I’ve gotten through 300+ pages in what’s felt like no time. I like gobbling up doorstoppers in great big chunks, but then again, your slow but steady approach can also be effective depending on the book.

        • Buried In Print July 31, 2018 at 10:34 am - Reply

          Phew – I’m relieved to know that they have some company, so they can have proper summer parties when you’re asleep. There are paperbacks in each branch which are tracked with barcodes but aren’t actually in the system’s catalogue, so they show up on my card as a number but no other information. It works out brilliantly at times (when, for instance, a new book highly in demand is in paperback and is just sitting there waiting for a nice home while there are hundreds of people in a queue for the properly catalogued copies) and not-so-brilliantly (when, for instance, you know you’ve returned all your paperbacks but one still appears on your card, but it’s not identified, so until someone else borrows that copy, it will appear as checked-out to you, and you can’t go looking for it because you don’t even know what it was). I assume you are as interested in geeky-library details as I am. The “great big chunks” theory really appeals to me, and I suspect that’s what authors wish for, but I also like feeling like all the reading projects are moving forward, even in very little bits.

          • Rebecca Foster July 31, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

            Oh yes, as a former library assistant I’m very interested to hear details like that! I can see how such a system could turn problematic. It reminds me of the rare cases when we had to do offline lending, and then hope that the database updated itself when we went back online.

            I also like making slow, steady progress on various projects at once. That’s the only way I get away with reading 10 or more books at a time! But usually there will be 2 or 3 books from that stack that dominate and get more of my daily attention.

            • Buried In Print July 31, 2018 at 2:19 pm

              Another advantage from the patrons’ perspective is that you can count on renewing the maximum number of times because only properly catalogued items are hold-able and ILL-able. Which is another reason I like to borrow the chunky books that way (like Wolf Hall, although by now it probably would have been fine to request that one through the stacks?). I know you’ll also appreciate the max-renewal possibilities. It amazes me how similar our reading stack habits are; I don’t think I know anyone else who reads so many titles simultaneously with similar juggling techniques. insert nearly overwhelmed juggler emoji

  4. Shivanee Ramlochan July 26, 2018 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    I’ll be joining you for the Louise Erdrich! Tweet my way when you’re ready to start? 🙂

    • Buried In Print July 27, 2018 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      I’ll start the habit now of posting about the “next” one in a tweet and tagging you there!

  5. annelogan17 July 26, 2018 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    I’m curious what you’ll think of Wolf Hall, I haven’t read it myself because I’ve found the length too daunting, but so many people love it!

    • Buried In Print July 26, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      At least it’s a big book with big print, rather than a big book with tiny print: small mercies!

  6. kaggsysbookishramblings July 26, 2018 at 7:28 am - Reply

    That’s a lot of books of which I’ve only read the Taylor which is marvellous! I think my only summer plans are to read as much as possible!

    • Buried In Print July 26, 2018 at 9:54 am - Reply

      That was my goal at the beginning of the season, but now I find intentions taking on a shape as we edge towards autumn (in which I tend to get swallowed by prizelist pursuits) and I see certain books/authors getting shoved aside (by me!) repeatedly.

  7. heavenali July 26, 2018 at 3:21 am - Reply

    I really enjoy Molly Keane novels, and I read Young Entry a couple of years ago I recently read Loving and Giving by her and loved it. I loved Wolf Hall when I read it just after it won the Booker, I still think it’s brilliant.
    My plans for the summer are numerous. I will continue with the Muriel Spark short stories I blogged about a few days ago and I have Viragos for AV/AA lined up as well as books for #WITMonth.

    • Buried In Print July 26, 2018 at 9:50 am - Reply

      That’s good to know. I am a little anxious about all the fox-hunting that I’ve heard characterizes her stories, but hopefully those scenes are short. (Mazo de la Roche has some of those too, but you can see her sympathies straight away as both times the fox escapes!) Did you enjoy Bring Up the Bodies just as much? I’m rather hoping that the third volume is due before long, so that I can look as though (by procrastinating) I’ve planned it brilliantly to finish all three in a year! Hee hee.

      I see that it’s Angela Thirkell for the next LT author of the month and Elizabeth von Arnim for the Birthday celebration, both of which I enjoy (lesser and greater amounts, respectively) so I should take a look with AV/AA in mind. You did inspire me to request a couple for WIT month with your planning post, so I will squeeze a couple of those in there too. Skinny ones!

Say something bookish, or just say 'hey'