And just like that, it was August. Reading in July has been really enjoyable; unplanned, it became a bit of an experiment in reading outside of my comfort zone with a focus on non-fiction. Except for one DNF (something I don’t do very often), the whole month was a positive reading experience. It was also much slower in terms of reading – possibly because of the type of reading I was doing. However, besides a brief moment, of entirely unnecessary, scolding because I was quite a way of reaching my monthly average, I valued the forced indulgence of a slower reading experience. It felt less frantic.
Here’s what I read in July:
What’s a girl gotta do?
The month started with the last book in the Spinster trilogy series by Holly Bourne, swiftly followed by the companion novella. What’s a girl gotta do? gives Lottie her turn in the limelight and, in doing so, also highlights the amount of – to steal the phrase from Laura Bates – everyday sexism experienced by females. I have mixed feelings regarding my relationship with Holly Bourne’s books. On the surface, I enjoy them. I have read all of her books, bar her newest. How do you like me now?, and have read The Spinster Trilogy twice, included Am I normal yet? in my dissertation, and jumped at the chance to borrow It only happens in the movies from work. However, more times than not, I come away from here books feeling chastised, occasionally uncomfortable, and more often than not feeling guilty for my choices. I noticed this predominantly with It only happens in the movies – which I won’t go into because this is becoming a bit of a tangent, but I’d be really interested hear other people’s opinions. However, since I’ve become more aware of this feeling, I did notice that it carried across to her other books, especially What’s a girl gotta do? I really appreciate the commentary that Bourne is putting forward, it is a topical conversation and one that needs to happen. However, at some points, it felt a little aggressive and in response made me feel somewhat resentful and defensive.
And a Happy New Year?
And a Happy New Year while still touching on relatable and essential topics made me feel less like this. It brought the three girls back together again, giving them equal opportunity to update the reader on their lives and the concerns they held for the future. I especially liked the way in which the changes that university – both positive and negative – can have on an individual and the friends around them was highlighted. University is not always the positive place that you see littered on social media, and I think it’s imperative that those not so great experiences and periods of time are represented.
The world as it is
Do you ever pick up a book, usually on a whim, and you enjoy it so much that you feel sad about the fact that you might not have picked it up? This was one such book. You can read my full review here but, in essence, I have a distinct impression that this will be my favourite book of the year; an honour yet to be awarded by me to a non-fiction book.
The dead father’s club
Another book spotted out of the corner of my eye at work, I couldn’t resist either the bright pink cover or the author. Matt Haig is one of my automatic buy authors. However, I had been hesitant to purchase this one as it has widely been described as a children’s book. Everywhere but at the library where it was shelved with the adult fiction. For the first chapter or so I was frustrated with both the library’s shelving choice and the narrative voice. This seemed to be so clearly a children’s novel; the writing was simple and overly descriptive (much like the speech of a child), and the plot was not as gripping as I had hoped, partly because I’m not hugely receptive to any sort of fantasy or paranormal plot. However, once I had acclimated to the narrator, and I had become more embedded in the story I soon saw the reason for the shelving choice at work and started to question everyone else. This book is very dark, and I would even go so far as to say scary; it is worth noting though that I am of a somewhat nervous disposition. It also did not shy away from difficult topics, such as morals, right versus wrong, authority, family dynamics, mental health, and many more. There were moments when I stopped and pondered whether this could all be happening in the grief-stricken mind of a traumatised 11-year old, and I really enjoyed that intrigue.
Tin man (DNF)
Critically acclaimed, highly rated on Goodreads, and loved by a number of my friends, it seemed that this was one of those rare books where you really have to dig to find a negative comment. Therefore, even knowing that it was somewhat more literary than my usual reading choices, I went into this with relatively high expectations and looking forward to a writing style similar to that of Call me by your name. Unfortunately, I am going to have increase the negative comments by one. I really did not get on with this at all. The first chapter, told from Dora Judd’s perspective was promising; as the blurbs ascertained, tender and touching. I felt the emotion and rooted for Dora and her painting. However, as the story switched to Ellis’s perspective, it ground to a halt. Nothing progressed, nothing moved, nothing happened. I was bored. I persevered for a few days, having to talk myself into picking this up again but, upon realising that in all that time I had only made it through 60 pages -I am a relatively quick reader and, at just under 200 pages, I could have started and finished this novel in a day – I called it quits. That was two weeks ago, and I haven’t even glanced at it.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
If, in the future, there is a book that I think I will ultimately enjoy but I am hesitant due to the format, point me towards this book. Following my experience with Tin Man, and knowing that this was also different from my usual reading material, it took me a frustratingly long time to sit down with this charming collection of correspondence. More fool to me, it was wonderful. Warm, humane, quaint, humorous and touching, it had the atmosphere and emotion that I was hoping for.
Each writer (of the letters, I don’t know how Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows split the text between them) had a distinctive voice, and each was loveable in their own way. Unflinching in its descriptions of Nazi occupation, this is about community, about spirit, understanding everyone’s human and about how to find the positive in (almost) every situation. It is also about the power of books and how they can – if given a chance – change your life. Although not the highest rated book of this month, this short book is the one I envision pushing upon others the most.
The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles has been pretty much everywhere this year. People have raved about in blog posts, in Youtube videos, on Twitter, and in bookshops. The inevitability of me reading it was lurking for a long time before I gave into the niggle, stopped dismissing it as ‘historical fantasy’ and took it to the till. Madeline Miller has retold the tale of Achilles from Homer’s The Illiad (which I have not read) in such a bold, emotional way. It pulls you in head first and rarely gives you pause to gather your emotions. The fight between the Trojans and the Greeks is tactile, brutal, and utterly heart rendering. However, it pales in comparison between the battle inside Achilles. The struggle for good, against death, for love, and for fate, destiny and self-will.
I envy anyone who gets to read this for the first time.
Smoke gets in your eyes: and other lessons from the crematorium
More often than not, I struggle to find the best way to write about the books I’ve read. This one, however, is proving near impossible. I both loved and hated this book; it was fascinating and engrossing, but it was also unflinching, somewhat graphic, and ultimately made for an uncomfortable reading experience. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time where I had to stop at certain points, I had to take a break and distance myself from a topic. I both hated and loved that it made me so uncomfortable. It forced myself to re-evaluate my feelings about death, and why they were so … easily … challenged. I do highly recommend this memoir; it’s fascinating and written with so much respect. However, I would say that there is nothing should keep from the reader, ever step of many systems are laid out. Maybe approach with a little caution.
The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted
Strictly, this essay probably shouldn’t be classed as a book I have read either on here or on Goodreads. However, I loved it so much I had to share. Peaking between two much thicker spines in Waterstones it seemed serendipitous that this was found during a frustrating book shopping adventure. I don’t want to say too much about this as I think the surprise content was lovely. However, it is charming; a real love-letter to the gems that can be discovered in the ‘good bookshop’ (much like this essay).
Quality over quantity seems to have been the strap-line for July, and it was great.
Have you read any of these books? What did you read in July? Let me know in the comments below 🙂