September reading round-up

A young girl reading, by M Anchor (c. 1890)
A young girl reading, by M Anchor (c. 1890)

We have had a lovely, if busy, September. We started the month on holiday, which is a pretty good start to anything! I didn’t get much reading done there, but when I came home I started whizzing through books. I still haven’t posted about the second half of our holiday because I haven’t finished going through my photos still, but I’ll get there eventually. I think my next free evening is in about a fortnight…

What I did find time for this month was a giveaway of a new popular-science book called Sensation: the New Science of Physical Intelligence by Thalma Lobel, which you can still enter until midnight tomorrow. It’s a really interesting look at a new area of psychology, though I have a few caveats.

And finally, tomorrow sees the release of the For Books’ Sake poetry collection Furies, which should be a fantastic read as well as raising money for the charity Rape Crisis England & Wales. Check it out.

Books
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (My review)

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (My review)

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (My review)

Sensation: the New Science of Physical Intelligence by Thalma Lobel (My review)

Improper Stories by Saki

Short stories
“The assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983” by Hilary Mantel (available online)

“In dreams begin responsibilities” by Delmore Shwartz (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The lover of horses” by Tess Gallagher (Selected Shorts podcast)

 

Here’s to a wonderful October all round.

We are unconsciously influenced in the most amazing ways

Sensation

Sensation: the New Science of Physical Intelligence
by Thalma Lobel

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I will try to sort them out during this review, but apologies if it just comes off as a confused mess of thoughts!

Lobel is a psychologist who is interested in how our senses affect the way we think and links that to the way that we think metaphorically – a new area of psychology called “embodied cognition”. Sounds a bit complicated? Here are some examples to show how straightforward an idea it is: holding something warm makes us friendlier; the colour red makes us anxious; the smell of fish makes us feel suspicion. Yes, really.

The examples explored in the book vary quite a lot. Some of them seemed obvious to me (we equate weight and value, for instance), while others were surprising (touching something cold or hard makes us act more sternly). For me, Lobel certainly achieved her stated goal, which is to make readers question whether their senses are affecting their judgement. Am I agreeing to take on extra work because I’m holding a warm cup of tea? Am I choosing not to give money to that homeless person because they’re wearing black? Is that person genuinely good at their job or is it just that they’re tall?

“We are constantly exposed to environmental stimuli and cues…We experience much of our world quite consciously through our senses. But without noticing it, we are also unconsciously influenced in the most amazing ways by the physical experiences our senses convey. “

Which is all very interesting, and Lobel quotes a lot of studies rather than just making assertions. The training instilled in me by Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog meant I couldn’t help noticing that they’re mostly very small studies, but then it is a fairly new area of research and Lobel is careful to say when further studies back up the findings or when they are still needed.

Often, I found that a subject was obvious from one direction – that we think heavy things have more gravitas than light things, for example – but what was really interesting was when this was studied from the opposite direction. We estimate weights as heavier when they are somehow linked to a more serious subject (for instance a book deemed “important” compared with one that is supposedly random). We estimate heights as taller when the person is in a position of power. We perceive people as being nicer if they have a sweet tooth.

Despite the endless examples, Lobel has a very readable style. She is clearly excited by the science and manages to pass on her enthusiasm. She includes examples from books, films and TV as well as anecdotes from her own life to illustrate aspects of embodied cognition, which didn’t always hit the mark for me, but added personality and, coupled with her own involvement in this area of research, gave the book a personal touch.

“I had always thought of my grandfather as tall…In reality…he was on the shorter side of average. The pictures in my hands showed [this] but even then I checked with my mother to verify what my eyes were seeing. Even after learning that the grandfather I had always thought of as being tall was actually short, I still see him in my memory as towering over the rest of the family.”

My one problem with the book is possibly a problem I have with psychology in general – I don’t just want to know how behaviour is affected by sensory input, I want to why and this is only occasionally touched on. Lobel gets a bit defensive in an early chapter about psychology being considered a “soft science” but I can’t help observing that, compared with the other popular-science books I’ve read, this one was lacking that dogged search for the underlying truth, and I missed that.

I also want to know if these findings are universal or if they’re language-based. My guess would be that the link between red and danger and sex is universal, but the link between the smell of fish and feeling suspicion isn’t. But I want someone to tell me whether I’m right and why! Some of my questions were at least broached in the final chapter, but for the most part the answer was that more studies are needed, which I suppose is fair, but unsatisfactory.

It’s honestly a fascinating book and it has made me more aware of my sensory surroundings and how they might affect me.

Published 2014 by Icon Books.

Source: This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Challenges: This counts towards the 2014 Popular-Science Reading Challenge.

Sensation

WIN a copy of Sensation by Thalma Lobel

This competition is now closed.

Sensation

Icon Books have kindly offered me three copies of fascinating new book Sensation by Thalma Lobel to give away to you, my lovely readers. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

With Sensation, the world’s leading expert on the new science of physical intelligence, Thalma Lobel, brings us the first ever popular psychology book on “embodied cognition”: how the body profoundly affects our thoughts, emotions and decisions about everything from the people we like to the ways we work.

By sharing fascinating new findings – like how clean smells promote moral behaviour and sports teams in black jerseys are given more penalties than teams in other colours – Thalma Lobel reveals how shockingly impressionable we are to sensory input from the world around us.

Sensation is the first book to show how vulnerable we are to the unconscious influence of our senses over our minds.

Sensation

To WIN a copy of this book, just leave a comment before the end of Wednesday 1 October, and then I will pick out three random winners.

If you want to find out what I thought of Sensation, keep an eye on the blog for my review, coming shortly.

You had to have a lot of time left if you were going to start reading Bolaño

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe

After this book received universally good reviews from people I trust/have similar taste to (there’s a strong correlation there; I should probably investigate that sometime) I knew I would read it eventually, but I worried it would be super depressing. The “end of your life” part of the title is not euphemistic; it really is about the end of someone’s life. But it was a surprisingly entertaining, easy read. I’m not saying I didn’t get sad at all; I’m not that cold-hearted.

This is a memoir written by American publisher-turned-journalist Schwalbe about the books he and his mother Mary Anne read together when she was dying of cancer. They knew from her first diagnosis that the cancer was terminal, so there is no question how the book will end. This gives the book a largely matter-of-fact background of chemotherapy, pain relief and other palliative care, but also the emotional side of dealing with and preparing for death.

“I was fine until right after I fastened my seat belt. For me, there’s something about planes that isolates and intensifies sadness, the way a looking glass can magnify the sun until it grows unbearably hot and burns.”

The gradual change (for both Will and Mary Anne) from denial to anger to acceptance is clear without being overtly discussed. By which I don’t mean that they ever deny her diagnosis or expect a magical turnaround, but initially they don’t discuss death at all, they just get on with the surgery and trying out different chemo drugs. However, it is of course there the whole time. In fact, when Mary Anne is diagnosed, her daughter, Will’s sister Nina, is about to move to Switzerland with her family and must make the decision whether or not to go, which of course boils down to: does Mary Anne have weeks left or years?

This uncertainty is something I haven’t really read about before, though I know (and have known) people for whom it is true, and it is in some ways harder on the family than the fact of death itself. How far ahead do you allow yourself to plan? Do you book holidays? Do you throw great big birthday and other celebratory parties because they might be the last one with her? Following Mary Anne’s lead, the family slowly figure all these things out – while she can, she wants to do everything she can, including continuing to work and travelling abroad. As her health worsens and her energy levels drop, plans simplify and are built around what she can and can’t do.

“Those extraordinary chemicals, with their remarkable names, now sound totally different: Gemcitabine. Xeloda. Before they sounded like harsh detergents. Now they sound cool and magical, like a new rock band you’ve come to love.”

Mary Anne was a wonderful, inspiring woman. In fact, the whole family are and made me feel quite inadequate at times, but Mary Anne especially. After responding to an unsolicited begging letter from a nun, she quit a very good, secure job as the head of a New York girls’ school to start a charity for women refugees. She travelled to many of the least desirable parts of the world to meet for herself the people she was helping. The danger that she had put herself in time and again is brought home by the fact that during the timeline of this book, a friend and colleague of hers is held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But most importantly, of course, at least for this to be the book that it is, Mary Anne and Will share a deeply ingrained love for books. They discuss the books they read in depth, which appears to be something they have always done, but the difference now is twofold – they are choosing to read the same books, even calling it a book club, and they are spending more time alone together than perhaps ever (Will is the middle of three children, after all) as Will accompanies Mary Anne to the doctor, to chemo and spends more time with her at home. (I should add here that so too do Will’s father, brother and sister and all their partners, but this book is about Will and his mother and their time together.)

“In the summer, Mom and I had read slender books. Now we were reading one long book after another. Maybe that was one way of expressing hopefulness—you had to have a lot of time left if you were going to start reading Bolaño, or Thomas, or Halberstam…I remarked to Mom how all the books we were reading then shared not just length but a certain theme: fate and the effects of the choices people make.”

The books they read are many and varied, though fairly firmly literary. Each chapter is named after a book that was of particular significance but the full list of books discussed is provided as an appendix and is six full pages long. You don’t need to have the books to follow the discussions of them but when it was a book I’ve read, I did feel a little glow of “I’ve read that! I could join this conversation!” The book discussions tend not to be so much about the style or quality of writing, but more about the subject matter. Often Will uses a book as a jumping-off point to tell us about Mary Anne’s life or anecdotes from earlier in their life together.

Ridiculously, considering the situation, I found myself at times jealous of the relationship Will and Mary Anne have through books. Not that I’m not close to my Mum. In fact, she gave me this book, which at the time I didn’t twig was especially significant. But currently we have very different taste in books. She likes memoirs/biographies to the exclusion of all else, so I don’t think we could come up with a very long list of books to share. Then again, this is of course a memoir and I really liked it, so perhaps I should lend it to her and have a mini book club next time we see each other. Hmm… But back to the review…

This feels like a very honest book. We learn about Will’s life, about the books he didn’t finish reading even though Mary Anne was eager to discuss them, about the blog that Mary Anne wrote in Will’s name to keep their extended family and friends up to date with her health (she felt it wouldn’t be suitable for it to written by her!) and about Will and Mary Anne’s different attitudes toward religion, plus of course about the long slow decline of terminal cancer. In the end, it was sad but not heartbreaking. I’m not sure if this is because Mary Anne was in her 70s and had lived a rich and full life, or if it is down to the way Will writes about her, about how intellectually sharp and full of hope and kindness she remained to the end.

I think Schwalbe found the right combination of topics here, so that it isn’t all about pain and suffering, or sorrow and self-reflection, or a biography of a great and inspiring woman, or even just about great books, but instead it’s a book that pays tribute to Mary Anne and appeals to the intellectual and emotional draw of books, while also dealing with a tough subject that we will all have to face up to at some point. He also found the right balance between writing about the pain and difficulty of his mother’s slow death and the positive side of the situation: he had the warning to start spending more time with his mother, and had rich, rewarding times with her at the end of her life.

I don’t think Schwalbe is himself a great literary writer, so this doesn’t have the writerly quality of Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, say (which in fact is one of the books discussed), but I suppose that makes this book more accessible and serves as a reminder that not every avid reader is also a great writer. I can’t see myself checking out Schwalbe’s book about e-mail, but I do think that if I read books covered in The End of Your Life Book Club I might well come back to it to remind myself what Will and Mary Anne had to say!

First published 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton.

Source: A Christmas present from my Mum.

Every sort of trouble I can think of, we’ve tried it out

Z

Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
by Therese Anne Fowler

In case you missed me effusing on Twitter, I loved this book. A lot. I picked it up on a whim in a bookshop, having heard nothing about it and with no idea what to expect. I only knew that I was interested in the subject matter, but of course that was no guarantee. It was a good whim: I was engrossed and tore through it, then regretted having read so fast.

This is a work of fiction, but Fowler did a lot of research, reading diaries, letters, articles and interviews from Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald and their friends, in order to reach her own interpretation of Zelda’s character. What she came up with was a character I felt I had a lot in common with – I know, I’m not an obvious comparison to the original flapper and embodiment of the jazz age, but such is the skill of a good writer!

The story follows Zelda from the day she first met Scott until her death, and the life they led was pretty exciting and event-filled, so on reflection a lot has been squeezed into these 350 or so pages, but it never felt rushed or crammed at all. Fowler has somehow given Zelda space to reflect and reminisce rather than just telling her story event by event, and by doing this the character comes truly alive.

“Before Scott’s success, before people everywhere had been ravaged by war and flu, there’d been little glamour in the literary world. To be a writer then was to be a drab little mole who thought big thoughts and methodically committed them to paper…With this group, though…and the postwar push for life, for fun, for all the things Scott and I were seeking and embodying, the literary world put its foot into the circle of the entertainment world’s spotlight.”

First of all, this is a story about true love. Although their marriage was far from perfect (in fact, arguably they were destructive for each other), Scott and Zelda were unusual among the circles they moved in, in that they were indisputably the love of each other’s life. This is backed up by the fact that, though this is a book in Zelda’s voice and very clearly on Zelda’s side, so that at times Scott is the bad guy, for the most part he is also a warm, relatable character, albeit one with a long long list of flaws! But then the portrait of Zelda acknowledges her flaws too. Until her health problems slowed her down, her drinking and partying was as out of control as Scott’s. They both struggled psychologically with feelings of inadequacy and failure – though for Scott this alternated with him being convinced he was a genius.

As those who know Zelda’s story will already be aware, it is psychological problems that give her and Scott an air of tragedy. She clearly suffered with mental health issues, but, from this novel at least, it seems that perfectly manageable issues were blown up into huge problems by a combination of stigma, prejudice, misdiagnosis and outdated treatments. Add to this Scott’s alcoholism and the intense jealousy that both felt, and you have a situation that was never going to end well.

“There’s a word for people who move from place to place, never seeming to be able to settle down for long: peripatetic. And there’s a word for people who can’t seem to stay out of trouble—well, there are a lot of words for such types…Every sort of trouble I can think of, we’ve tried it out—become expert at some of it, even, so much so that I’ve come to wonder whether artists in particular seek out hard times the way flowers turn their faces toward the sun.”

But for a while there, Scott and Zelda were on top of the world. They were very young when fame hit – they married when Zelda was 20 and Scott 23, and were hitting the headlines and gossip columns pretty much immediately. Fowler does a good job of showing the glamorous, romantic side of fame and the jazz age while acknowledging that Scott and Zelda were never truly as happy or carefree as they seemed to the outside world. She also acknowledges the very many famous names the Fitzgeralds befriended, without it ever feeling like namedropping.

Certainly, I am pre-disposed to like stories about all those artists in Paris in the 1920s, but that’s actually quite a small part of the overall story. What really gripped me most of all was Zelda’s aspiration to be an artist herself, independent of Scott. She was a writer, painter and ballerina, and dearly wished to fully become one or all of those things, but Scott never properly gave her his support. Time and again he would stop her from doing something she loved either in the name of her health or in the name of being a wife and mother. Admittedly, this is Fowler’s interpretation of the situation, but to me it felt that Zelda was a woman born 50 years too soon. Of course there were women in the 1920s (and long before that) working as writers, artists and dancers, but they had to be willing to completely split from conventionality, and Zelda loved Scott too much to risk losing him by doing something he so thoroughly disproved of.

“Imagine your body is youthful, firm, a pleasure to live inside of—and you’re wise enough already to know that this is fleeting, this body and its condition. It won’t last. None of it will last. And because it won’t, you allow the beautiful person who seeks you out to become as much a part of your day, a part of this place, as the poppies that grow beside the rocky path…You let it happen because all of it is illusory anyway.”

Fowler has done a wonderful job of giving Zelda a lyrical, living voice that transported me in time, place and emotions. Her Zelda is difficult and destructive but also wonderful and alive, so that her story is all the more heartbreaking.

So aside from the clunky and possibly misleading subtitle (is it just me or could that be interpreted as “a novel by Zelda Fitzgerald”?) I loved this book thoroughly and recommend it heartily. Predictably it has made me want to read Zelda’s own fiction and indeed more of Scott’s work too. And it’s made me feel a lot better about finding Hemingway mostly too brash and macho!

Published 2013 by Two Roads, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton.

Source: Foyles, Bristol.

Sunday Salon: Taking a break

The Sunday Salon

A week after getting home from a fortnight in France, it doesn’t quite feel like I never had a holiday at all, but the holiday relaxation is certainly fading fast.

As I mentioned while I was away, I didn’t get much reading done on holiday. I don’t know if that was because the books I read weren’t very absorbing, or because I was distracted by holiday stuff (Places to see! People to spend time with!) or because I’ve given myself too much reading that had to get done this year and not enough reading for fun, so that relaxing on holiday meant doing less reading. Whichever it was, I was disappointed to have only read a book and a half in two weeks. But since coming home I’ve powered through two and half books, all of which have pulled me right in and been a delight. So was it the choice of books after all, or did I need a reading break?

What about you? Do you ever need a break from reading? Does it worry you when it happens?

One of the good things about being home is that we can throw ourselves into the life of the city again. Friday night I went to see a production of Macbeth at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre. It was innovative, using electronic music and other modern effects to heavily cut the running time and really concentrate on the themes of madness, ambition and guilt. It was strange, intense and moving. Kudos to Filter theatre company for such a bold adaptation.

I’m going to get back to reading now. Maybe I can make it three books in a week!

Holiday in France: the reporters memorial

A friend suggested I blog about this after it was almost all I talked about when summarising our holiday! It certainly made a big impression on me.

A Robert Capa Memorial des Reporters

It started with a small memorial outside a museum in Bayeux to Robert Capa, a photographer whose work Tim and I are familiar with and admire, so we were interested to see something about him but also curious what claim Bayeux had to him. We continued along the path in grounds opposite the Commonwealth war cemetery and next we came to two marble slabs that said they were the entrance to a memorial to “journalists killed all over the world since 1944”, a joint project between Bayeux and Reporters Without Borders. Which seemed like a very good idea, and I walked on expecting just a peaceful garden of some kind. I hadn’t read the text properly (I think I’d tried to understand the French rather than looking at the English) so I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

Too many names

A long, tree-sheltered footpath flanked on both sides by marble slabs listing the name of every journalist killed under the year of their death (the photo above shows only a small section). It’s simple and powerful and heartbreaking, because there are so many names, and the numbers seem to be increasing. So much so that a second path has been started.

I’m not sure why this moved me more than the thousands of graves of soldiers just over the road (which was also pretty disquieting), but somehow it did. I could argue that soldiers sign up for the possibility of death, but of course in World War Two most of them didn’t get a choice. In fact, reporters have more choice about whether or not to go to a war zone, but then not all of these deaths were in a war zone. For those who want more than a list of names, there is an online archive.

Untitled

I suppose I can relate to the reporters, to their decision to tell the truth about the world. Not that I in any way consider myself worthy to stand alongside the men and women who risk their lives to make corruption, injustice and other important news known to the world, but I admire them in a way I just can’t admire a soldier. I can be (and indeed am) sad about the massive loss of life during war, but it’s not the same thing.

I don’t understand war, how anyone could take a fight to the level of massive loss of human life, and it is only through writing, both journalism and fiction, that I can at least try to comprehend. For anyone interested in what it’s like to be a reporter on war zones and other dangerous regions, I highly recommend the work of Joe Sacco, who is honest about the draw and the thrill, as well as the need to tell the stories of the real people affected.

(Back to more cheerful things, and maybe another book review, soon I promise!)

I am too diffused

The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook
by Doris Lessing

This book is more of an intellectual exercise than a novel, which has its rewards and makes it good fodder for discussion, but doesn’t make it the most enjoyable book I’ve read lately. Not that I hated it by any means, I’m glad I’ve read it, but I’m not convinced of Lessing’s skill as a writer so much as her intellect.

Having said there’s plenty to discuss, I’m not sure some of the more interesting things I got from it can go into this review as they reveal too much about the end of the book, but I’ll try to say what I can without spoilers and without sounding like a study guide (which, incidentally, there are plenty of for this book, because it’s that kind of book).

This is the story of two women, Anna and Molly, in 1950s London. (There are some flashbacks to earlier in their lives, particularly Anna’s, but the bulk of the story is in the 50s.) Molly is an actress, with a steady stream of small parts, or sometimes big parts in small shows. She has a grown son, Tommy, who lives with her and a fraught relationship with her ex-husband Richard. Anna is a writer who wrote one very successful book early in her life and has been living off the proceeds since. She is also a single mother, though the story of the child’s father is only gradually revealed. Both women have been communists, which proved a major influence on their lives.

“Looking back at those week-ends they seem like beads on a string, two big glittering ones to start with, then a succession of small, unimportant ones, then another brilliant one to end. But that is just the lazy memory.”

Essentially, the book is split into sections: there’s the “wraparound novel”, a seemingly straightforward narrative about Anna and Molly, titled Free Women. Then there are four notebooks kept by Anna, in which she writes about different aspects of her life, splitting herself and the way she observes the world. Anna writes multiple times that she can’t help fictionalising her own life, indeed it is never wholly clear whether Free Women is written by her, and therefore yet another fictionalised account, or if it is the supposedly objective “truthful” account.

“I was going to say disaster. That word is ridiculous. Because what is so painful about that time is that nothing was disastrous. It was all wrong, ugly, unhappy and coloured with cynicism, but nothing was tragic, there were no moments that could change anything or anybody.”

Anna’s previously published novel that she is living off was loosely based on her own experience in colonial Africa during the Second World War, and she writes several accounts of her time there in the notebooks, but they don’t entirely match up – sometimes she changes names, sometimes she refers to the version of the story told in her novel. When you add to this that Anna shares an awful lot in common with Doris Lessing, it all starts getting rather meta. Lessing’s own explanation of the book is that it’s a novel plus the notes an author makes surrounding it, which either demonstrates how much is discarded from the full “fictional” idea, or demonstrates how differently the same “true” story can be told, even by the same person.

“I am incapable of writing the only kind of novel which interests me: a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life. It is because I am too diffused.”

Which all sounds more complicated than it is to read. The writing style is pretty straightforward, though I found my interest wavered with the subject matter. The overriding theme of the notebooks is to analyse over and over, which I tended to find an interruption to the story rather than an enhancement, but arguably it was the whole point. Though Lessing claims in her introduction that the novel isn’t “about” anything except a person falling apart, it certainly has a lot to say about communism, feminism, friendship, writing, love, sex, relationships, parenthood, psychoanalysis and truth. I suppose you could try to read it as a straightforward narrative without trying to piece together the different versions of the same story, but for me that was part of the fun. I like that when I got to the end there were several ways to interpret it, both in terms of what “happened” and in what the “real” structure is.

“It’s a question of form. People don’t mind immoral messages. They don’t mind art which says that murder is good, cruelty is good, sex for sex’s sake is good. They like it, provided the message is wrapped up a little. And they like the messages saying that murder is bad, cruelty is bad, and love is love is love is love. What they can’t stand is to be told it all doesn’t matter, they can’t stand formlessness.”

However, I only fully engaged with relatively short sections (bearing in mind this is 550 pages of small print), when the story got under flow, in-between lists, newspaper cuttings, diary-style brief notes and the like. I didn’t warm to Anna, which is in some ways surprising as a writer struggling with anxiety and depression, contemplating motherhood and politics, full of concern about the world, should be right up my street! But I mostly found her cold and unemotional, even listless, making odd decisions about life, which I suppose might arguably be a better depiction of depression than many I’ve read.

Maybe it was just far too long. I certainly highlighted dozens of passages that I admired, either for the language or for the idea. I really liked learning more about communism in Britain in the 1950s, and about war-time in a British colony in Africa, but despite her Nobel Prize in Literature I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to Lessing.

First published 1962 by Michael Joseph.

Source: Paper copy bought from Toppings in Bath, e-book from Amazon. (I have both as I was going on holiday just before the book club and I only take my Kindle on holidays.)

August reading round-up

Girl Reading by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
Girl Reading by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

I’m posting this a few days late as I’m on holiday, which unusually has so far decreased my reading, not increased it. I think I may be discouraged as I’ve been reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing for book club for about three weeks and it’s a huge book so I’m still barely a third of the way through. I wonder how many of us will have made it to the end when book club meets next week? Also, Tim recommended one of his books for me to read on holiday so I’m about a third of the way through that as well. Between them I’m sure I read at least as much as one normal-length book last week!

Still, this week is a quiet one with the in-laws, so I’m hoping to get plenty of uninterrupted reading time. As long as I don’t get too distracted by photographing wildlife! More on that next week once we’re home again.

 
Books read

Sun Alley by Cecilia Ştefanescu (review here)

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (re-read for book club)

Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll: the Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science by Zoe Cormier (review over at For Books’ Sake)

Faces of Love and the Poets of Shiraz by Hafez, Jahan Malek Khatun and Obayd-e Zakani (review here)

Fighting on the Home Front by Kate Adie (review here)

 
Short stories read

“Yesterday” by Haruki Murakami (New Yorker, available online here)

“Picasso” by César Aria (New Yorker, available online here)

“Last meal at Whole Foods” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh (New Yorker, available online here)

“Apple cake” by Allegra Goodman (New Yorker, available online here)

“You can find love now” by Ramona Ausubel (New Yorker, available online here)

“The waitress” by Robert Coover (New Yorker, available online here)

“The fugitive” by Lyudmila Ulitskaya (New Yorker, available online here)

“The man in the woods” by Shirley Jackson (New Yorker, available online here)

“Box sets” by Roddy Doyle (New Yorker, available online here)

“Pending vegan” by Jonathan Lethem (New Yorker, available online here)

 
Happy September!